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Manam language

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Title: Manam language  
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Subject: North New Guinea languages, Linguistic modality, Western Oceanic languages, South Huon Gulf languages, Grammatical number
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Manam language

Manam is a Kairiru–Manam language spoken mainly on the volcanic Manam Island, northeast of New Guinea.


  • Phonology 1
    • Vowels 1.1
    • Consonants 1.2
    • Allophony 1.3
    • Syllable structure 1.4
    • Stress 1.5
  • Syntax 2
  • Morphology 3
    • Number 3.1
      • Pronouns 3.1.1
    • Reduplication 3.2
      • Nouns 3.2.1
      • Adjectives 3.2.2
      • Verb aspects 3.2.3
    • The verb 3.3
      • Subject marking 3.3.1
      • Mood 3.3.2



Front Central Back
High i u
Mid e o
Low a


Bilabial Alveolar Velar
Stop p b t d k ~ ʔ ~ q ɡ
Nasal m n ŋ
Fricative (t)s (d)z
Lateral l
Flap ɾ ~ r


Some vowels become glides in diphthongs, e.g. /u/, /o/ > [w] and /i/, /e/ > [j]. /i/ and /u/ are 'weaker' than /e/ and /o/, so that the syllable /kuo/ becomes [kwo] and not *[kuw]

According to Turner, /k/ is more and more often realized as [ʔ], while some older speakers have [q].

Syllable structure

The Manam syllable is (C)(V1)V(V1)(C1), the only exception is a syllabic [m̩].

There are some phonotactic restrictions on the prevalent syllable structure. E.g. V1 cannot be [a], whereas V must be [a] as long as it’s not the syllable’s sole vowel. C can be any consonant, whereas C1 must be a nasal consonant.


Stress is phonemic: /ˈsara/ 'palm tree', /saˈra/ 'seagull'. The stress falls on one of the three last syllables of a word, and stressing the penult syllable is the most common: /ˈnatu/ 'child', /maˈlipi/ 'work'. If the last syllable ends in a nasal consonant, it will be stressed instead: /naˈtum/ 'your child'. Some inflections and affixes do not alter the stress of the root word: /iˈto/ 'he learned' (i- is a 3rd person prefix), /siˈŋabalo/ 'in the bush' (-lo is a locative suffix).

In the orthography, stressed vowels can be underlined in order to avoid ambiguities. Ie. /ˈsara/ sara 'palm tree', /saˈra/ sara 'seagull'.


The main word order in Manam is SOV:

tamoata boro i-un-i
man pig 3SG.SUB-hit-3SG.OBJ
"The man hit the pig."



Manam has an unusual, though regionally common, four-way distinction between singular, dual, trial, and plural number. Singular and plural are marked on the verb and sometimes on the adjective, but not on the noun.


Person Number
Singular Dual Trial Plural
1st Inclusive kitaru kitato kita
Exclusive ngau
keru keto keka
2nd kaiko
kamru kamto kam
3rd ngai diaru diato di


Reduplication can be either leftward (sa-salaga) or rightward (salaga-laga). There is no point in distinguishing 'partial' and 'total' reduplication, since at most two syllables are reduplicated.


Rightwards reduplicated nouns can either take on a meaning related to the original word, or function as an agentive marker:

moata snake
moata-moata worm
malipi the work
malipi-lipi worker


Here are two examples of how number can be marked on the adjective through the different kinds of reduplication:

Rightward reduplication (singular)

udi noka-noka ripe banana
tamoata bia-bia the big man

Leftward reduplication (plural)

udi no-noka ripe bananas
tamoata bi-bia the big men

Verb aspects

The verb

The verb always marks the subject and the mood; these are fused together. Optional suffixes includes such things as object, direction, aspectual markers, benefactive and various kinds of intensifiers and quantifiers. Here’s a schematical overview of the Manam verb:

Outer prefixes Verb nucleus Outer suffixes
Inner prefixes Root Inner suffixes
Subject/mood marking Manner prefix
aka- transitive
Verb root -ak- transitive Object marking
Optional suffixes

Subject marking

The marking of subject is obligatory. In addition to expressing number and person, the pronouns have fused with the mood markers (see below) called realis and irrealis.

Person Singular Plural
Real Irr Real Irr
1st Inclusive ta-
Exclusive u- m- ki- ga-
2nd ku- go- ka- kama-
3rd i- nga- di- da-


The realis mood (REAL) is used for actual events of the past or present, i.e. things that are certain to have happened, things that are "real". Accordingly, the irrealis (IRR) mood describes anticipated events in the future, or events that the speaker wishes were real.

ura nga-pura
rain 3SG.IRR-come
"it will rain"
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