Ndu languages

Ndu languages
Sepik River basin, Papua New Guinea
Linguistic classification: Sepik
8–12 languages

The Ndu languages are the best known family of the Sepik languages of northern Papua New Guinea. Ndu is the word for 'man' in the languages that make up this group. The languages were first identified as a related family by Kirschbaum in 1922.

Abelam is the most populous language, with about 45,000 speakers, though Iatmül is better known to the outside world. There are eight to twelve Ndu languages, depending on how dialects are classified. Ethnologue 15 counted them as,

Iatmul, Ngala, Manambu, Yelogu, Abelam (Ambulas), Boiken, Sawos (Malinguat, Keak), Kwasengen (Hanga Hundi),

and edition 16 added,

Burui, Gaikundi (Sos Kundi), Koiwat, Sengo.

Most Sepik and neighboring languages have systems of three vowels, /ɨ ə a/, that are distinct only in height. Phonetic [i e u o] are a result of palatal and labial assimilation of /ɨ ə/ to adjacent consonants. The Ndu languages may take this reduction a step further: In these languages, /ɨ/ is used as an epenthetic vowel to break up consonant clusters in compound words. Within words, /ɨ/ only occurs between similar consonants, and seems to be explicable as epenthesis there as well, so that the only underlying vowels that need to be assumed are |ə| and |a|. That is, the Ndu languages may be a rare case of a two-vowel system, the others being the Arrernte and Northwest Caucasian languages. However, contrasting analyses of these same languages may posit a dozen vowel monophthongs.[1]


  • William A. Foley (2005). "Linguistic prehistory in the Sepik–Ramu basin." In: Andrew Pawley, Robert Attenborough, Robin Hide and Jack Golson, eds, Papuan pasts: cultural, linguistic and biological histories of Papuan-speaking peoples. Pacific Linguistics 572. 109-144. Canberra: Australian National University.
  • Donald C. Laycock (1965). The Ndu language family (Sepik District, New Guinea). Pacific Linguistics C-1. Canberra: Australian National University.

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