Sepik–Ramu languages

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New Guinea
Linguistic classificationProposed language family

The Sepik–Ramu languages are a hypothetical language family of New Guinea linking the Sepik, Ramu, Nor–Pondo (Lower Sepik), Leonhard Schultze (Walio–Papi) and Yuat families, together with the Taiap language isolate, and proposed by Donald Laycock and John Z'graggen in 1975.[1]

Sepik–Ramu would consist of a hundred languages of the Sepik and Ramu river basins of northern Papua New Guinea, but spoken by only 200,000 people in all. The languages tend to have simple phonologies, with few consonants or vowels and usually no tones.

The best known Sepik–Ramu language is Iatmül. The most populous are Iatmül's fellow Ndu languages Abelam and Boiken, with about 35,000 speakers apiece.

Malcolm Ross and William A. Foley separately re-evaluated the Sepik–Ramu hypothesis in 2005. They both found no evidence that it forms a valid family. However, all of the constituent branches, except for Yuat within Ramu, remain individually valid in his evaluation. Ross links Nor–Pondo to Ramu in a Ramu–Lower Sepik proposal, places Leonhard Schultze (tentatively broken up into Walio and Papi) within an extended Sepik family, and treats Yuat and Taiap as independent families.



This list is a mirror of the classification in Ethnologue 15.

Sepik–Ramu phylum (based on Laycock 1973)

Foley (2018)[edit]

Uncontroversially coherent subgroups accepted by Foley (2018):[2]


Below is a comparison of proto-Ndu, proto-Lower Sepik, and proto-Ottilien reconstructed by and listed in Foley (2005).[3]

gloss proto-Ndu proto-Lower Sepik proto-Ottilien
man, person *ntɨw *nor *namot
water *ŋkɨw *arɨm
fire *ya *awr *s(u)ək
sun *ɲa *ra(u)
moon *mpapmɨw *m(w)il ? *kər(v)i
breast *mɨwɲ *nɨŋgay *mɨr
tooth *nɨmpɨy *sisiŋk ? *nda(r)
bone *apə *sariŋamp *ɣar
tongue *tɨkŋa *minɨŋ *mi(m)
eye *mɨyR *tambri *rəmeak
nose *tam(w)ə *ŋgum
leg *man *namuŋk *or ?
ear *wan *kwand-
name *cɨ *ɣi
pig *mp(w)al *numpran *rəkəm
snake *kampwəy *wakɨn *ndop
mosquito *kɨvɨy *naŋgun *ŋgit
eat *kɨ *am(b) *amb
go *yɨ *wa *saŋg
come *ya *ya *kɨp
sit *rə *sa *mbirak
stand *rap(m) *-tik
one *nək *mb(w)ia- *kaku
two *ri-pa- *mbuniŋ
three *-ram

Due to its highly divergent lexicon, Foley does not classify Sepik with Lower Sepik and Ramu.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Laycock, D. C. and Z'graggen, John A. 1975. The Sepik-Ramu Phylum. In Wurm, S.A. (ed.), Papuan Languages and the New Guinea Linguistic Scene, New Guinea Area Languages and Language Study 1, 729-763. Australian National University.
  2. ^ Foley, William A. (2018). "The Languages of the Sepik-Ramu Basin and Environs". In Palmer, Bill (ed.). The Languages and Linguistics of the New Guinea Area: A Comprehensive Guide. The World of Linguistics. 4. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 197–432. ISBN 978-3-11-028642-7.
  3. ^ Foley, William A. (2005). "Linguistic prehistory in the Sepik-Ramu basin". In Andrew Pawley; Robert Attenborough; Robin Hide; Jack Golson (eds.). Papuan pasts: cultural, linguistic and biological histories of Papuan-speaking peoples. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 109–144. ISBN 0858835622. OCLC 67292782.