EthnicityArapesh people
eastern Sandaun Province and northern East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea
Linguistic classificationTorricelli
  • Arapesh
The Torricelli languages as classified by Foley (2018)

The Arapesh languages are several closely related Torricelli languages of the 32,000 Arapesh people of Papua New Guinea. They are spoken in eastern Sandaun Province and northern East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea.

The Arapesh languages are among the better-studied of Papuan languages and are most distinctive in their gender systems, which contain up to thirteen genders (noun classes) with noun-phrase concordance. Mufian, for example, has 17 noun classes for count nouns plus two extra noun classes, i.e. proper names and place names.[1] (See that article for examples.)


The most notable feature of the Arapesh phoneme inventory is the use of labialization as a contrastive device.


Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
plain labialized plain labialized
Nasal m n ɲ
Stop voiceless t k
voiced d ɡ ɡʷ
Fricative s h
Flap ɾ
Lateral l


Front Central Back
High i ɨ u
Mid e ə o
Low a

Arapesh syllables have the structure (C)V(V)(C), though monosyllables always contain coda consonants.

Higher central vowels /ɨ ə/ sometimes break up consonant clusters in the middle of words.


Pronouns in Arapesh and other related Torricelli languages:[2]

Kombio Mountain
Urim Urat Aruop Kayik
1sg apm yek~eik aeʔ kupm ŋam am kəmex
2sg yikn ɲak~ɲek inəʔ kitn nin yi kiyox
3sg kɨl ənan~nani ənən kil kin din təno
1pl an(t) okok~kwakwi apə men poi mendi kupox

Vocabulary comparison

The following basic vocabulary words are from the Trans-New Guinea database:[3]

gloss Abu' Arapesh[4] Bukiyip[5]
head bʌrʌkʰa berag
hair bʌrʌkʰa
ear ɛligʌ atah
eye ŋʌim nabep
nose mutu
tooth nʌluh nau̥h̥
tongue ʌhʌkʌ jaham
leg burʔah aijag
louse numunʌl
dog nubʌt nybat
pig bul
bird ʌlimil aramir
egg ʌlhuʌb juhuryb
blood usibɛl ausibør
bone pisitʌnʌgel bøløpigør
skin beni'koh jageniu̥h̥
breast numʌb
tree lʌ·wʌk lawag
man ʌʔlemʌn araman
woman numʌto ara- matoku
sun uʔwʌh aun
moon 'ʌ'un aun
water ʌbʌl bør
fire unih nih̥
stone utʌm utom
road, path iʌh
name ɛigil
eat 'nʌsʌh
one etin
two biəs bium


Recent shifts have moved Arapesh languages from the typical Papuan SOV to a SVO order, along with a corresponding shift in adpositional order. Most modifiers usually precede the noun, though as a result of changes in word order genitives and nouns do not have a fixed order.

The language's unique gender system is largely based on the ending of the noun. There are cognate pairings of each gender for singular and plural numbers. The whole gender system, unlike most of the comparable complexity in Niger–Congo languages, is sex-based: Gender IV is for all female beings and Gender VII for male ones. Arapesh culture forbids the use of personal names, so that kinship nouns are used extensively to address even intimate relatives.

Arapesh languages also have a system of verbal nouns: there by default belong to gender VIII.

Gender agreement, along with that for person and number, occurs with all adjectives, numerals and interrogative pronouns and the subject and object of verbs. Verbs in Arapesh languages are inflected by means of prefixes. The basic template for this inflection is the order SUBJECT-MOOD-ROOT.


  1. ^ Alungum, John; Conrad, Robert J.; Lukas, Joshua (1978). "Some Muhiang Grammatical Notes". In Loving, Richard (ed.). Miscellaneous Papers on Dobu and Arapesh. Ukarumpa: Summer Institute of Linguistics. pp. 89–130.
  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. Vol. 4. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 197–432. ISBN 978-3-11-028642-7.
  3. ^ Greenhill, Simon (2016). "Language Family: Torricelli". Retrieved 2020-11-05.
  4. ^ Summer Institute of Linguistics Language Survey of Abu, 1975.
  5. ^ Laycock, D. C. (1968). "Languages of the Lumi Subdistrict (West Sepik District), New Guinea". Oceanic Linguistics. 7 (1): 36–66. doi:10.2307/3622846. JSTOR 3622846.

Further reading