Kiwai Language
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Kiwai Language
Native toPapua New Guinea
RegionWestern Province, Fly River delta
Native speakers
ca. 30,000 (2011)[1]
  • Kiwai
  • Doumori
  • Coast Kiwai
  • Southern Coast Kiwai
  • Daru Kiwai
  • Eastern Kiwai
  • Island Kiwai
  • Gibaio
  • Kope (Gope, Era River)
  • Urama
  • Arigibi (Anigibi)
Language codes
kiw - Northeast Kiwai
kjd - Southern Kiwai

Kiwai is a Papuan language, or languages, of southern Papua New Guinea. Dialects number 1,300 Kope, 700 Gibaio, 1,700 Urama, 700 Arigibi (together "Northeast Kiwai"), 3,800 Coast, 1,000 Daru, 4,500 Island, 400 Doumori (together "Southern Kiwai"). Wurm and Hattori (1981) classify Arigibi as a separate language.


Kiwai is a long/low island located on the Eastern side of the Southern entrance to the delta of the Fly River (Papua). The origin for the name Kiwai, is uncertain. The first occurrence of it, was in place names in "Dowdee" (Daudai).

Daudai was the chosen name that islanders of New Guinea, had given.


Male and Female have specific words that are indicated to them. An interesting thing, is that there are some words that indicate the gender. East Asian languages also has a gender system within their vocabulary too.


  • 17 Letters
    • Represent sounds
    • The vowels are a, e, i, o, u
    • Diphthongs: ai, au
    • Consonants are k, g, t, d, n, p, b, m, s, v, r
    • Semivowel: w

Parts of speech

  1. Nouns
  2. Adjectives
  3. Pronouns
    1. Personal
    2. Relative
  4. Interrogative words and particles
  5. Verbs
  6. Adverbs
  7. Postpositions
  8. Conjunctions
  9. Interjections
  10. Numerals
  11. Syntax
  12. Colloquial Phrases


There are a variety of different ways that nouns are used in the Kiwai language. Some of the derivations of nouns are primitive. Meaning, the words are not derived from anything previous. For example, just like in English, nouns and verbs can be related. The process of reduplication, within noun or verb, is also existent. Some nouns can be combined with two other nouns.

An important word in relation to nouns, is a gerund. A gerund is created from a verbal word-base by prefixing k-.


Adjectives will always precede a noun.

  • Verbal Adjectives
  • Negative Adjectives
  • Interrogative Adjective
  • Assertive Adjective
  • Demonstrative Adjective
  • Comparison of Adjectives


Personal pronouns indicate person and number

  • Gender is not indicated
  • Inclusive Person
  • Exclusive Person
  • Possession
  • Relative Pronouns


Verbs are consisted of a "verbal word-base" in the Kiwai language. It is extended by suffixes and prefixes.

Verbal Word-Base: Verbal Word-Bases always begin and end with either a vowel, or a diphthong. It is the simplest form of a verb that is used in speech forms.


Syntax is the arrangement of words in order to create a well-structured sentence. For the Kiwai language, there are principal rules for the positioning of words.

  1. The subject precedes verb/predicate
  2. The D.O (direct object) precedes the verb, which then follows the subject
  3. The word that modifies the subject/object precedes
  4. Numerals precede nouns
  5. Sometimes the extensions of the predicate precede the verb
  6. If time is involved, the indications of time will normally appear at the beginning of a sentence
  7. Infinitive phrases will appear at the end of sentences
  8. Particles will precede the verb


  • Numbers can be indicated by suffixes
    • Possible usage with/without the numerals
  • Simple nouns have no numbers
  • Few nouns have a separate plural form


There are six main dialects of this language.

  1. Tureture
    1. By the mouth of the Binature River
  2. Kiwai
    1. In the villages of Kiwai Island
    2. Has been adopted as the standard language for mission purposes in the Delta (By London Missionary Society)
  3. Domori
    1. Island in the Fly Delta northwest of Kiwai
  4. Wabuda
    1. Island between the Eastern mouth of the Fly and Bamu Delta
  5. Sisiami
    1. Village on the Dibiri branch of the Bamu Delta
  6. Goaribari
    1. Mouth of the Bamu Delta

Kiwai Dialects are different in terms of vocabulary. Grammar is also different, but not too much. However, it is still of the same linguistic group.

Vocabulary - Kiwai And English

E. Baxter Riley, had collected words to be added in the Kiwai-English vocabulary. A lot of the texts and translations have been modified and added by S.H.R.

Verbal Forms: Verbs will be placed under the simple form of the word-base, under the five vowels (a,e,i,o,u). Compounds are followed immediately after. However some of the compounds will be located only under some prefixes. These prefixes being: ar, em, emar, emow, er, erem, im, imar, imow, ir, irim, iriw, irow, iw, iwar, or, oror, ow, owar, and owor. The word-base, will then be located by ignoring the following initial letters/syllables in words.


Below are some reflexes of proto-Trans-New Guinea proposed by Pawley (2012). The dialect given is Island Kiwai, unless otherwise indicated.[2]

proto-Trans-New Guinea Kiwai (Island)
*tukumba[C] 'short' (?) kopu
*takVn[V] 'moon' sagana
*sumbu 'white ashes' tuwo
*pi(n,nd)a 'sister' abida
*niman 'louse' nimo
*ni '1PL' ni(mo)
*mbena 'arm' (Kerewo Kiwai bena 'shoulder')
*mb(i,u)t(i,u)C 'fingernail' pitu
*ma?gat[a] 'teeth, mouth' mangota, magata
*m(i,u)ndu 'nose' wodi (Gope (N.E. Kiwai) modi)
*kV(mb,p)(i,u)t(i,u) 'head' epuru, (Wabuda kepuru)
*kuk(a,u)m(o,u) 'cold' (Bamu kukamu, Sisiame kukamo)
*ka(nd,t)(e,i)kV 'ear' gare
*k(a,o]ndok[V] 'foot' Gope (N.E. Kiwai) oto, Morigi kota
*inja 'tree, wood, fire' (S. Kiwai era)
*amu 'breast' amo
*a(mb,m)u 'tail' (?) wapo
*(nd,s)umu(n,t)[V] 'hair' (?) muso (metathesis?)


Further reading


  • Brown, Jason; Muir, Alex; Craig, Kimberly; Anea, Karika (2016). A Short Grammar of Urama. Canberra: Asia-Pacific Linguistics. hdl:1885/111328. ISBN 9781922185228.
  • Brown, Jason; Peterson, Tyler; Craig, Kimberley (2016). "Belief, Evidence, and Interactional Meaning in Urama". Oceanic Linguistics. 55 (2): 432-448. doi:10.1353/ol.2016.0020.

La Trobe University

  • Sidney Ray, A Grammar of the Kiwai Language, Fly Delta, Papua, with a Kiwai Vocabulary (London Missionary Society: Edward George Baker, 1931)

External links


  1. ^ Northeast Kiwai at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Southern Kiwai at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Pawley, Andrew (2012). Hammarström, Harald; van den Heuvel, Wilco (eds.). "How reconstructable is proto Trans New Guinea? Problems, progress, prospects". History, Contact and Classification of Papuan Languages. Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea: Linguistic Society of Papua New Guinea (Language & Linguistics in Melanesia Special Issue 2012: Part I): 88-164. hdl:1885/38602. ISSN 0023-1959.

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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