Greater Awyu
Digul River
Digul watershed, New Guinea
Linguistic classificationTrans–New Guinea
Proto-languageProto-Digul River
  • Awyu–Dumut
  • Becking–Dawi
  • Sawi
Awyu-Dumut languages.svg
Map: The Awyu–Dumut languages of New Guinea
  The Awyu–Dumut languages (other languages not shown)
  Other Trans–New Guinea languages
  Other Papuan languages
  Austronesian languages

The Greater Awyu or Digul River languages, known in earlier classifications with more limited scope as Awyu–Dumut (Awyu–Ndumut), are a family of perhaps a dozen Trans–New Guinea languages spoken in eastern West Papua in the region of the Digul River. Six of the languages are sufficiently attested for a basic description; it is not clear how many of the additional names (in parentheses below) may be separate languages.


The Awyu (pronounced like English Ow you) and Awyu–Dumut families were identified by Peter Drabbe in the 1950s.

Voorhoeve included them in his proposed Central and South New Guinea group.[2] As part of Central and South New Guinea, they form part of the original proposal for Trans–New Guinea.[3]


The classification below is based on Usher[4] and de Vries et al. (2012),[5] who used morphological innovations to determine relatedness, which can be obscured by lexical loanwords.

Sawi is classified on pronominal data, as the morphological data used for the rest of the family is not available.

Pawley and Hammarström (2018) exclude Awbono-Bayono, treating it as a separate family.[6]

Various other languages can be found in the literature. Ario (Sumagaxe)[7] is listed in Wurm, Foley, etc., but not in the University of Amsterdam survey and has been dropped by Ethnologue. Ethnologue lists a 'Central Awyu', but this is not attested as a distinct language (U. Amsterdam). In general, the names in Ethnologue are quite confused, and older editions speak of names from Wurm (1982), such as Mapi, Kia, Upper Digul, Upper Kaeme, which are names of language surveys along the rivers of those names, and may actually refer to Ok languages rather than to Awyu.

van den Heuvel & Fedden (2014) argue that Greater Awyu and Greater Ok are not genetically related, but that their similarities are due to intensive contact.[8]


Proto-Digul River
Reconstruction ofGreater Awyu languages


Usher (2020) reconstructs "perhaps" 15 consonants and 8 vowels, as follows:[9]

m n
p t s k
mb nd ndz ng ngʷ
w ɾ j
i u
e o
ɛ ɔ
a ɒ


Usher (2020) reconstructs the pronouns as:[9]

sg pl
1 *nup
2 *ngup *ngip

Ross (2005) reconstructs the pronouns of the Awyu–Dumut branch as follows:

sg pl
1 *nu-p *na-gu-p
2 *gu-p *ga-gu-p
3 *e-p, *[n]ege-p, *yu-p *ya-gu-p

The suffix *-p and the change of the final TNG *a vowel to *u do not appear in the possessive pronouns: *na, *ga, *ya/wa, *na-ga, *ga-ga, *ya-ga.

Basic vocabulary

Healey (1970) and Voorhoeve (2000)

The following selected reconstructions of Proto-Awyu-Dumut, Proto-Awyu, and Proto-Dumut by Voorhoeve are from Healey (1970)[10] and Voorhoeve (2000),[11] as cited in the Trans-New Guinea database:[12]

gloss Proto-Awyu-Dumut Proto-Awyu Proto-Dumut
head *kɑibɑn; *xaiban *xaiban; *xɑibɑn *kɑbiɑn; *kebian
hair *möxö; *muk; *ron *mox; *mux; *ron *mökö-ron; *muk; *ron
ear *turun *turun *turutop; *turu=top
eye *kerop *kero *kerop
nose *togut *togut
tongue *fɔgat; *fɔgɛt; *pogɑt *fagɛ; *fɑge *ogat; *pɑgɑt
louse *gut *go; *gu; *ɑgu *gut
dog *angay; *ɑgɑi; *set *sɛ; *(y)ange; *(y)angi; *yɑgi *agay; *ɑgɑi; *tit
pig *wi *wi *uy
bird *yet *yi *yet
egg *wɑidin *mugo *wɑdin
blood *gom *gon *gom
bone *bogi *mit
skin *kɑt; *xa(t) *xɑ; *xa *kotay; *kɑtɑy
breast *ɑm; *om *om; **om *om; *ɔm
tree *yin *yin *in
woman *ran; *rɑn *ran; *rɑn *ran; *rɑn
sky **xuit *xuito *kut
sun *seyɑt *sɑt
moon *wɑkot *wɑkot
water *ox *ɔx; *óxo *ok
fire *yin *yin
stone *irop *ero; *iro *irop
name *füp; *pip *fi *fip; *üp
eat *ɑde; *en; *ɛn- *ɑde-; *en; *ɛn- *ɑde; *en; *en-
two *rumo; *rumon *okorumon; **ok=rumɔ(n) *irumon; *rumo

Usher (2020)

Some lexical reconstructions of Proto-Digul River and lower-level reconstructions by Usher (2020) are:[9]

gloss Proto-Digul River Sawuy Proto-North Digul Proto-Central Digul
head *kamb[e̝]jan *kabe̝jan *kambijan
leaf/hair *mo̝k moːx *mo̝k *mo̝k
tongue *te̝p seːp ~ seɸ *te̝p
skin/bark *kat *kat
breast aːm *am *ɒm
dog *tit siːr *tit *tit
bird *ndzeːt eːr *dze̝t *je̝t
egg *mug[o/ɔ] mugo *mugɔ
sun/day *[a]tap ataːp
moon *wakɔɾ oxaːr *wakɔɾ *wakɔɾ
water aːx *[a/ɔ]k *ɔk


See also: Kaeti language § Evolution

Greater Awyu reflexes of proto-Trans-New Guinea (pTNG) etyma are:[6]

Wambon language:

Mandobo Atas language:

Pisa language:

Syiaxa language:


  1. ^ New Guinea World, Digul River – Ok
  2. ^ Voorhoeve, C.L. 1968. “The Central and South New Guinea Phylum: a report on the language situation in south New Guinea. Pacific Linguistics, Series A, No. 16: 1-17. Canberra: Australian National University.
  3. ^ McElhanon, Kenneth A.and C.L. Voorhoeve. 1970. The Trans-New Guinea phylum: explorations in deep-level genetic relationships. Pacific Linguistics, Series B, No. 16. Canberra: Australian National University.
  4. ^ New Guinea World - Digul River
  5. ^ Lourens de Vries, Ruth Wester, & Wilco van den Heuvel. 2012. "The Greater Awyu language family of West Papua", pp. 269–312 of Hammarström & van den Heuvel (eds.), History, Contact and Classification of Papuan Languages. (Language and Linguistics in Melanesia Special Issue). Port Moresby: Linguistic Society of Papua New Guinea.
  6. ^ a b Pawley, Andrew; Hammarström, Harald (2018). "The Trans New Guinea family". 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. 21–196. ISBN 978-3-11-028642-7.
  7. ^ Multitree qgz
  8. ^ van den Heuvel, W. & Fedden, S. (2014). Greater Awyu and Greater Ok: Inheritance or Contact? Oceanic Linguistics 53(1), 1-36. University of Hawai'i Press.
  9. ^ a b c New Guinea World
  10. ^ Healey, A. 1970. Proto-Awyu-Dumut Phonology. In Wurm, S.A. and Laycock, D. C. (eds). Pacific Linguistic Studies in honour of Arthur Capell. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  11. ^ Voorhoeve, C. L. 2000. Proto Awyu-Dumut phonology II. In A. Pawley, M. Ross, & D. Tryon (Eds.), The Boy from Bundaberg: studies in Melanesian linguistics in honour of Tom Dutton (pp. 361–381). Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  12. ^ Greenhill, Simon (2016). " - database of the languages of New Guinea". Retrieved 2020-11-05.

Further reading