Social & Historical Context

Varieties & Affiliation

Arapesh forms part of the geographically defined set of Papuan or non-Austronesian languages that are indigenous to mainland New Guinea and its neighboring islands. Genealogically, Arapesh belongs to the Torricelli family, a group whose characteristics include subject-verb-object word order, nominative-accusative syntactic alignment, relatively simple verbal morphologies, complex nominal systems involving a high degree of irregularity in patterns of plural formation, and, to varying degrees, phonologically-based gender classification and agreement.

The Arapesh family includes four major languages: Mountain Arapesh or Bukiyip, Southern Arapesh or Mufian, Bumbita Arapesh or Weri, and Abu', with the latter three languages forming a sub-group. However, given the considerable chaining of phonological, lexical, and grammatical features as one moves from village to village (a common distributional pattern in New Guinea), Arapesh is perhaps best understood as one long dialect chain on which this language classification is superimposed. For this reason, the archived sources are categorized by village whenever possible. Most of the recordings in the archive represent the Cemaun dialect of Mountain Arapesh, the variety traditionally spoken in the villages of Wautogik and Kotai.

Arapesh people refer to their own speech using variants of the form buk: bukiyip, bɨkip, buki, abu'. Bumbita Arapesh speakers refer to their speech as weri (as in many communities of this region, the language is referred to by its word for 'no').


Conrad, Robert J. 1978. A Survey of the Arapesh Language Family of Papua New Guinea. Workpapers in Papua New Guinea Languages 25: Miscellaneous Papers on Dobu and Arapesh, pp. 57-77. Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea: Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Dobrin, Lise M. 2011. Phonological Classification and Agreement: Evidence from Weri. Poster presented at the Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, Pittsburgh, PA, January 2011.

Donohue, Mark. 2006. Torricelli languages. Encyclopaedia of Language and Linguistics (2nd Edition), Vol. 13, ed. Keith Brown, 1-3. Oxford: Elsevier.

Foley, William A. 1986. The Papuan Languages of New Guinea. Cambridge: University Press.

Foley, William A. 2000. The Languages of New Guinea. Annual Review of Anthropology 29:357-404.

Gray, Rachel, Thom Retsema, and Rachel Hiley. 2008. A Sociolinguistic Survey of the Abu' Arapesh [aah], Ulau-Suain [svb], and Kap [ykm] Languages. Dallas: SIL International.

Laycock, Donald. 1973. Sepik Languages: Checklist and Preliminary Classification. B25. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

Lewis, M. Paul (ed.), 2009. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International.

Nekitel, Otto. 1985. Sociolinguistic Aspects of Abu', A Papuan Language of the Sepik Area, Papua New Guinea. Doctoral dissertation, Australian National University.

Ross, Malcolm. 2005. Pronouns as a Preliminary Diagnostic for Grouping Papuan Languages. Papuan Pasts: Cultural, Linguistic, and Biological Histories of Papuan-speaking Peoples, ed. A. Pawley, R. Attenborough, J. Golson, and R. Hide, 15–66. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

Ross, Malcolm. n.d. Pronouns as Preliminary Evidence for Grouping Papuan Languages. Papuan Languages and the Trans New Guinea Phylum, ed. Andrew Pawley, Malcolm Ross, and Meredith Osmond. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.