RegionPapua New Guinea
Native speakers
6,000 (2015)
Language codes
ISO 639-3foi

Foi, also known as Foe or Mubi River, is one of the two East Kutubuan languages of the Trans-New Guinea family spoken along Lake Kutubu and Mubi River, located in the Southern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea.[1] Dialects of Foi are Ifigi, Kafa, Kutubu, Mubi.[2] A Swadesh list for the Foi language was documented by The Rosetta Project in 2010.[3] The estimated number of Foi speakers as of 2015 is between 6,000 and 8,000.[4]



Foi is a subject–object–verb language, similar to most languages in Papua New Guinea.

Foe adopts the usage of focused objects as sentence-initial. In noun phrases, Foi follows the pattern of Noun + Quantifier and Adjective + Noun.

Adverbial phrases are marked postpositionally by clitics in Foi.

Foi also has a series of evidentials to mark the verbal aspect of seen, unseen, deduced, possibility, and mental deduction.


The subject or focus transitive in a sentence is marked with -mo as shown in example (1) below.








no-mo agira nibi'ae

I-FOC sweet.potato eat.did

'I ate the sweet potato'

Where the focus is on the person who is eating the sweet potato.

Subject or Focus Transitive Marking
Base Form Marked for Subject or Focus Transitivity
1 sg. na(no) no-mo
2 sg. naʔa nomaʔa-mo
3 sg. jo jo-ø
1 pl. excl. jia jia-mo
1 pl. incl. jija jija-mo
2 pl. haʔa hemaʔa-mo
3 pl. jaʔa jaʔa-ø
1 dl. excl. jage jage-mo
1 dl. incl. jaʔa jaʔa-ø
2 dl. hagaʔa hagemaʔa-mo
3 dl. hagera hagera-mo


Foi has separate words for today and yesterday, as well as two, three, four and five days prior and hence.


Singular, dual, and plural are distinguished in personal pronouns. In addition, Foe also marks clusivity for first-person pronouns.

Personal Pronouns of Foi
Person Singular Dual Plural
1 Inclusive na(no) jaʔa jija
1 Exclusive jage jia
2 naʔa hagaʔa haʔa
3 jo hagera jaʔa

It was not made clear if a reported minimal distinction in the first-person plural form between the inclusive jia and exclusive jija is real.



Foi features 5 vowels.


The 16 consonants including the glottal stop used in Foi are:

Bilabial Labiodental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal     m n    ñ
Stop     b t    d k    g ʔ
Non-sibilant fricative f    v
Sibilant fricative s       h
Approximant     w       j
Trill     r

Allophonic variation of [t], [d] and [r] is common.[5]

The vowel /y/ was mentioned as a consonant by Franklin, suggesting that the research was phonetically noted in Americanist phonetic notation. [5] The table above has been amended according to the standards of International Phonetic Alphabet.

Body-part counting system

Foi adopts the body-part counting system. This feature can also be found in approximately 60 Trans-New Guinea Languages such as Fasu and Oksapmin. [5]

Counting typically begins by touching (and usually bending) the fingers of one hand, moves up the arm to the shoulders and neck, and in some systems, to other parts of the upper body or the head. A central point serves as the half-way point. Once this is reached, the counter continues, touching and bending the corresponding points on the other side until the fingers are reached. [6]

Body-part corresponding to number in Foi[5]
Number Gloss Translation Number Gloss Translation
1 'little finger' mena-gi 20 'side of nose' to
2 'ring finger' ha-gi 21 'eye' i
3 'middle finger' i-gi 22 'cheekbone' bobo
4 'index finger' tugu-bu 23 'ear' kia
5 'thumb' kaba 24 'upper neck' fufu
6 'palm' tama 25 'lower neck' heno-go
7 'wrist' bona-gi 26 'collarbone area', keno
8 forearm' kwebo 27 'shoulder' ki
9 'inside elbow' karo-habo 28 'upper middle arm' ame-ni
10 'upper middle arm' ame-ni 29 'inside elbow' karo-habo
11 'shoulder' ki 30 forearm' kwebo
12 'collarbone area', keno 31 'wrist' bona-gi
13 'lower neck' heno-go 32 'palm' tama
14 'upper neck' fufu 33 'thumb' kaba
15 'ear' kia 34 'index finger' tugu-bu
16 'cheekbone' bobo 35 'middle finger' i-gi
17 'eye' i 36 'ring finger' ha-gi
18 'side of nose' to 37 'little finger' mena-gi
19 'ridge of nose' kisi

Language status

According to Ethnologue, the language status of is '5*', referring to the situation whereby the language is anticipated to be in vigorous use by all, based on the informed guess made by editorial team due to the lack of information. This status is based on Lewis and Smino's (2010) Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (EGIDS).[1]

Further reading


  1. ^ a b "Foi". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2020-04-01.
  2. ^ International encyclopedia of linguistics. Frawley, William, 1953- (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2003. ISBN 0-19-513977-1. OCLC 51478240.((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)
  3. ^ Foi Swadesh List. The Rosetta Project.((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. ^ Niles, Don; Weiner, James F. (2015), "Introduction:: Foi Songs and the Performance, Publication, and Poetry of Papua New Guinea Sung Traditions", Songs of the Empty Place, The Memorial Poetry of the Foi of the Southern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea, ANU Press, pp. xv–l, ISBN 978-1-925022-22-3, JSTOR j.ctt16wd0gx.6
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Franklin, Karl J. (2001). "Kutubuan (Foe and Fasu) and Proto Engan". In Andrew, Pawley; Malcolm, Ross; Darrell, Tryon (eds.). The boy from Bundaberg: Studies in Melanesian linguistics in honour of Tom Dutton (PDF). Pacific Linguistics. Vol. 514. The Australian National University. pp. 143–154. doi:10.15144/PL-514.
  6. ^ The languages and linguistics of the New Guinea area : a comprehensive guide. Palmer, Bill (Linguist). Berlin. 4 December 2017. ISBN 978-3-11-029525-2. OCLC 1041880153.((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)