Indo-Pacific Languages
A Controversial Notion

> Literature references and annotations by Dick Grune,
Last update: Thu Mar 30 22:22:30 2023.

These references and annotations were originally intended for personal use and are presented here only in the hope that they may be useful to others. There is no claim to completeness or even correctness. Each annotation represents my understanding of the text at the moment I wrote the annotation.
> No guarantees given; comments and content criticism welcome.

There is an array of isolated languages, stretching from Nepal to the Pacific Ocean, characterized by using tV for 1st person singular and nV for 2nd person singular, a combination that is rare to non-existent elsewhere. Whether these languages are related is controversial, with Greenberg for, and most of the rest of the linguists against. Indo-Pacific does not include the Australian languages, nor the Tasmanian language(s), which had 1sg m. and 2sg ŋ. .

List from Whitehouse's PNAS Kusunda paper, Table 1.

Nepal (86°17'E) - Kusunda, 1 speaker, 1sg tsi, 2sg nu, 1pl tok, 2pl nok; nom-acc; Class 1: person=root=number, Class 2: root=person=number; TAM in aux.

Andaman Islands (92°45'E) - Present Great Andaman, 5 speakers, 1sg ʈhayo, 2sg ñyo; nom-acc; class-marking, root=classmarker=TAM

Timor, Alor, Pantar (124°56'E) - These are Papuan

Halmahera (127°52'E) - West Mákian, 12000 speakers, 1sg de, 2sg ni; 1incl ene, 2pl ini, 1poss ti, 2poss ni; structure Austronesian: SVO, prepositions, no marking on verb, but has noun classes, with concord (see also Ternate, Tidore)

New Guinea - Bird's Head - Maybrat, ~22000 speaker, 1sg tuwo, 2sg nuwo,

Trans New Guinea: proto-TNG 1sg na, 2sg [ŋ]ga, Ross 2007: not I-P

New Britain (150°44'E) - There are two families: East New Britain and West New Britain;
East New Britain languages (Baining, Taulil, Butam): the pronouns Ross (2001) reconstructs for the proto-language are 1sg *ŋ(u)a, 2sg *ŋi(a).
West New Britain languages:
Anêm ~500 speakers, 1sg nae/ue, 2sg nin (Wiki);
Ata ~2000 speakers, 1sg e, 2sg nini (Wiki).
These may be Indo-Pacific for other reasons, but they are not 1sg tV, 2sg nV. The Wikipedia has them as Papuan.
Sulka ~2500 speakers, 1sg dok, 2sg yen, but that may be misleading, because dok turns into ku- and ngu- in conjugations.

New Ireland - Kuot (151°29'E)

Rossel Island (154°09'E -

Solomon Islands (159°'E) - Engdewu,Oceanic, 1sg kuh, 2sg muh, not I-P

Santa Cruz Islands (166°15'E) -

* Ross, M., Pronouns as a Preliminary Diagnostic for Grouping Papuan Languages, 2007, pp. 52.

Previous grouping of the Papuan languages has left contradictory results, and the author blames mass comparison. Returning to the comparative method, the seven steps of which are enumerated very clearly in Table 3 in the article, it is pointed out that it starts with determining what to compare. One needs a set-forming criterion (a diagnostic) to determine the set of languages that one is going to compare.
     The author chooses similarity between the personal pronouns of the languages. This results in a grouping in families (or phyla?) that is very different from previous groupings. A group similar to Trans New Guinea (TNG), characterized by 1sg na, 2sg [ŋ]ga, emerged, but few of the other previous groups were recognized. The reasons for this are analyzed. The analysis involves interesting considerations about the coast lines of the island sea from 6000 BP to today.

     Next to TNG 23 non-TNG fsmilies were recognized.


2.4 Papuan families other than Trans New Guinea

pg 7: Takia and Maisin no TNG pronouns

pg 16: In Northwest Melanesia: Sulka and Kol (on New Britain) and Kuot (on New Ireland), classified by Wurm (1975) as members of his East Papuan phylum

pg 24: Yapen Island: In the northwest area, the most striking feature is that three groups recognised in Wurm’s classification, namely West Papuan, East Bird’s Head and the Yava group (the part of the Cenderawasih Bay family situated on Yapen Island) may perhaps constitute a single ‘extended West Papuan’ linkage. [Also Wikipedia Yawa_languages] Also apparently belonging with the East Bird’s Head group are the Sentani group (a TNG group in Wurm et al.’s classification), the isolate Burmeso (1sg da, 2sg ba), as well as Tause and Weirate, two languages included in Clouse’s (1997) classification. Languages of all these groups except the Amberbaken subgroup of West Papuan reflect a form *da or *di ‘I’. West Papuan languages reflect *na or *ni ‘you (singular)’, whilst East Bird’s Head, Sentani, Burmeso and Tause/Weirate reflect *ba or *wa ‘you (singular)’.

again paper no details, more how this came to be.

pg 42: North Halmahera + Bird's Head: 4 languages + proto-NH. Unnumbered Table given on pg 43. points out that Proto North Halmahera *mi- 1PL.EXC need not be a borrowing from Austroneasian kami, as per Voorhoeve, but may derive from ""*pV- may have been a first person plural prefix which did not make the exclusive/inclusive distinction.

     Bernouilli's theorem about "probability" vs. Bayesian probability (pg 45)


* Dol, P., A Grammar of Maybrat: A Language of the Bird’s Head Peninsula, 2007, pp. 346.

pg 74: 11sg tuwo, 2sg nuwo


* Whitehouse, P., Usher, T., et al., Kusunda: An Indo-Pacific Language in Nepal, 2004, pp. 4.

Takes Indo-Pacific as a given (the third author is Merritt Ruhlen and the paper was communicated to PNAS by Murray Gell-Mann).


* Voorhoeve, C.L., Isolates: Irian Jaya, 1975, pp. 4.
After the recognition of Morwap, Molof, Usku, Tofamna, and Kaure as (probably) belonging to the TNG phylum, only two isolates remain in Irian Jaya: Taurap (= Tauraf = Borumeso = Burmeso), and Warenbori (= Warembori = Waremboivoro). The first is characterized by 1sg dawo, 2sg bawo; the second by 1sg iwi, 2sg awi. [DG: Neither are candidates for Indo-Pacific.]