|Halmahera (Maluku Islands) and Bird's Head Peninsula (West Papua)|
|Linguistic classification||One of the world's primary language families|
Distribution of the West Papuan languages
The West Papuan languages are a proposed language family of about two dozen non-Austronesian languages of the Bird's Head Peninsula (Vogelkop or Doberai Peninsula) of far western New Guinea, the island of Halmahera and its vicinity, spoken by about 220,000 people in all. It is not established if they constitute a proper linguistic family or an areal network of genetically unrelated families.
The best known "West Papuan" language is Ternate (50,000 native speakers) of the island of the same name, which is a regional lingua franca and which, along with neighboring Tidore, were the languages of the rival medieval Ternate and Tidore sultanates, famous for their role in the spice trade.
The German linguist Wilhelm Schmidt first linked the West Bird's Head and North Halmahera languages in 1900. In 1957 H.K.J. Cowan linked them to the non-Austronesian languages of Timor as well. Stephen Wurm believed that although traces of West Papuan languages were to be found in the languages of Timor, as well as those of Aru and Great Andaman, this was due to a substratum and that these languages should be classified as Trans–New Guinea, Austronesian, and Andamanese, respectively. Indeed, most of the languages of East Nusa Tenggara and Maluku appear to have some non-Austronesian influence.
In 2005, Malcolm Ross made a tentative proposal, based on the forms of their pronouns, that the West Papuan languages form one of three branches of an extended West Papuan family that also includes the Yawa languages, and a newly proposed East Bird's Head – Sentani family as a third branch.
Timothy Usher, also somewhat tentatively, accepts Yawa and East Bird's Head, but not Sentani, as part of West Papuan itself, so the family can remain under that name.
Holton and Klamer (2018) do not unequivocally accept the unity of West Papuan, but note that certain proposals linking "West Papuan" groups together may eventually turn out to be fruitful. Ger Reesink suggests that the West Papuan family should be considered an areal network of unrelated linguistic families, noting the lack of adequate evidence for genetic relatedness.
The pronouns Ross reconstructs for proto-West Papuan are,
|I||*da, *di-||exclusive we||*mam, *mi-|
|thou||*ni, *na, *a-||you||*nan, *ni-|
|she||*mV||they||*yo, *ana, *yo-|
These are shared by the "core" West Papuan families. Hattam reflects only "I" and "thou", and Amberbaken only "thou", "you", and "she".
Ross's Extended West Papuan languages have forms in *d for "I" and *m for "we". (Most Yawa forms of "we" have m, such as imama, but they are too diverse for an easy reconstruction.) These are found in all branches of the family except for the Amberbaken isolate.
|West Papuan||*da, *di-||*na, *ni, *a-||*mam, *mi|
|EBH-Sentani||*da, *di||*ba~wa, *bi||*meme, *me|
Basic vocabulary of two West Bird's Head languages (WBH) (Moi and Tehit) and three language isolates (Mpur, Abun, Maibrat), quoted by Holton & Klamer (2018) from Miedema & Reesink (2004: 34) and (Reesink 2005: 202); these show diverse non-cognate forms among Papuan languages of the Bird's Head Peninsula:
|gloss||Moi (WBH)||Tehit (WBH)||Mpur||Abun||Maibrat|
|chicken||kelem tole||kokok||kokor||dam kukur||kok|
|gloss||Galela (NH)||Pagu (NH)||Moi (WBH)||Tehit (WBH)|
Word order is SVO in the West Bird's Head family and in western North Halmahera languages (Ternate, Tidore, West Makian, and Sahu; due to Austronesian influence). SVO word order is also present in the isolates Abun, Mpur, and Maibrat.
Abun and Mpur are fully tonal languages, with Mpur having 4 lexical tones, and Abun having 3 lexical tones. Meyah and Sougb are pitch-accent languages. All other languages of the Bird's Head Peninsula are non-tonal.:134–135
Of all the Papuan languages spoken in the Bird's Head Peninsula, Abun has the largest consonant inventory with 20 consonants, while neighboring Maybrat has the smallest with 11 consonants. Large consonant inventories similar to that of Abun are also found in the North Halmahera languages, such as Tobelo, Tidore, and Sahu.:583