Torricelli languages

Torricelli languages
Torricelli languages
New Guinea
Linguistic classification: a primary family of Papuan languages
West Wapei

The Torricelli languages are a language family of about fifty languages of the northern Papua New Guinea coast, spoken by only about 80,000 people. Named after Torricelli Mountains. The most populous and best known Torricelli languages are the Arapesh, with about 30,000 speakers.

The most promising external relationship for the Torricelli family is the Sepik languages. In reconstructions of both families, the pronouns have a plural suffix *-m and a dual suffix *-p.

The Torricelli languages occupy three geographically separated areas, evidently separated by migrations of Sepik-language speakers several centuries ago.



Wilhelm Schmidt linked the Wapei and Monumbo branches, and the coastal western and eastern extremes of the family, in 1905. The family was more fully established by David Laycock in 1965. Most recently, Ross broke up Laycock and Z’graggen's (1975) Kombio branch, placing the Kombio language in the Palei branch and leaving Wom as on its own, with the other languages (Eitiep, Torricelli (Lou), Yambes, Aruek) unclassified due to lack of data.

  • Wom
  • Arapesh languages (see)
  • Maimai branch: Nambi (Nabi), Wiaki (Minidien), Siliput, Yahang, Heyo, Beli
  • West Wapei branch: Seti, Seta, One (a dialect cluster)
  • Monumbo branch: Monumbo, Lilau
  • Marienberg branch: Bungain, Wiarumus (Mandi), Muniwara (Juwal), Urimo, Kamasau, Elepi, Buna
  • Wapei branch: Gnau, Yis, Yau, Olo, Elkei, Au, Yil, Dia (Alu), Ningil, Sinagen (Galu), Yapunda, Valman
  • Palei branch: Urim, Urat, Kombio, Agi, Aruop, Wanap (Kayik), Amol (Alatil, Aru), Aiku (Ambrak, Yangum)

Typological overview

The Torricelli languages are unusual among Papuan languages in having a basic clause order of SVO (subject–verb–object). (In contrast, most Papuan languages have SOV order.) It was previously believed that the Torricelli word order was a result of contact with Austronesian languages, but it is now thought more likely that SVO order was present in the Torricelli proto-language (Donohue 2005).


The pronouns Ross reconstructs for proto-Torricelli are,

I *ki we two *ku-p we *ku-m, *əpə
thou *yi, *ti you two *ki-p you *ki-m, *ipa
he *ətə-n, *ni they two (M) *ma-k they (M) *ətə-m, *ma, *apa-
she *ətə-k, *ku they two (F) *kwa-k they (F) *ətə-l

See also


  • Donohue, Mark (2005). "Word order in New Guinea: dispelling a myth." Oceanic Linguistics 44: 527-536.
  • Ross, Malcolm (2005). "Pronouns as a preliminary diagnostic for grouping Papuan languages." In: Andrew Pawley, Robert Attenborough, Robin Hide and Jack Golson, eds, Papuan pasts: cultural, linguistic and biological histories of Papuan-speaking peoples, 15-66. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

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