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The Awyu-Ndumut Languages Website

The Awyu-Ndumut Languages

Digul Wambon
Yonggom - Wambon


Language Background

Shiaxa is an Awyu language spoken along the Shiaxa river. Drabbe, who published a short Shiaxa grammar sketch in 1950, notes that the clans that live along the Shiaxa river do not have a general name for themselves nor a name for their language, and so he named the language after the river along which it is spoken. The number of Shiaxa speakers is unknown. Drabbe also describes a variant of Shiaxa called Jenimu, spoken along one of the tributaries of the Shiaxa river; what is described here concerns only Shiaxa proper.

Some Language Facts

In Shiaxa as in other Awyu-Ndumut languages, both person and number (of the subject) are marked by a suffix on the verb. The subject (and the object) are often not expressed in Shiaxa; one knows from the context and the person-number marking on the verb who or what the subject of a clause is. It is then all the more surprising that Shiaxa makes no distinction between second and third person but only a distinction between first person and non-first person. This way, the clause

second and third person

could mean either ‘you(sg) heard’, ‘she heard’, ‘he heard’ or ‘it heard’. The correct meaning can only be determined by the context in which the clause appears. According to Foley, this conflation of second and third person is common in (highland) Papuan languages (Foley 1986:72). However, Cysouw (2003) has found that in many Papuan languages that have a so-called 2/3 homophony (a conflation of second and third person), there is also a dual form. The only Papuan languages where he found a complete 2/3 homophony and no dual form, are Kombai, Wambon and ‘Awyu’ (an old term for Awyu-Ndumut languages excluding North Wambon), which are all Awyu-Ndumut languages, and in Moroari, a Trans-Fly language (Cysouw 2003:131-132). Cysouw found a complete 2/3 homophony only in two other languages besides these Papuan languages. Thus, the conflation of 2nd and 3rd person found in Shiaxa and other Awyu-Ndumut languages is typologically rare.