Vanimo Coast
northern New Guinea coast near Vanimo
Linguistic classificationNorthwest Papuan?
  • Skou

The Sko or Skou languages are a small language family spoken by about 7000 people, mainly along the Vanimo coast of Sandaun Province in Papua New Guinea, with a few being inland from this area and at least one just across the border in the Indonesian province of Papua (formerly known as Irian Jaya).



Skou languages are unusual among Papuan languages for being tonal; all Skou languages possess contrastive tone.[1] Vanimo, for example, has three tones, high, mid, low.

Example minimal sets illustrating tonal contrasts in various Skou languages:[1]

Lakes Plain languages, spoken in a discontiguous area to the southwest, are also tonal. Because of the apparent phonological similarities and sharing of stable basic words such as ‘louse’, Foley speculates the potential likelihood of a distant relationship shared between the Skou and Lakes Plain families, but no formal proposals linking the two families have been made due to insufficient evidence.[2] Additionally according to Foley, based on some lexical and phonological similarities, the Keuw language (currently classified as a language isolate) may also possibly share a deep relationship with the Lakes Plain languages. Like the Lakes Plain languages, Keuw also possesses constrative tone.

Lepki, Kaure, and Kembra, spoken in mountainous inland regions of the Indonesia-PNG border to the southwest of the Skou-speaking area, are also tonal.[2]


Skou languages can be isolating or polysynthetic.[1]


Skou languages were first linked by G. Frederici in 1912. In 1941, K.H. Thomas expanded the family to its current extent.

The Sko family is not accepted by Søren Wichmann (2013), who splits it into two separate groups.[3]

Donohue (2007) and Donohue and Crowther (2005) list Nouri as a mixed language having features of both the Piore River and Serra Hills subgroups.[4][5]

Sko (Laycock 1975)

Laycock posited two branches, Vanimo and Krisa:

Skou (Ross 2005)

However, Krisa is poorly supported and Malcolm Ross abandoned it.

Macro-Skou (Donohue 2002)

Mark Donohue proposed a subclassification based on areal diffusion he called Macro-Skou.

Donohue (2004) notes that is unclear if extinct Nouri is in the Piore River or Serra Hills branch.

Sko (Foley 2018)

Foley (2018) provides the following classification.[1]

Foley's Inner Sko corresponds to Donohue's Western Skou.

Miller (2017)

The Piore River branch was renamed Lagoon in Miller (2017).[6] The older names of the Piore River languages were from village names; Miller has since renamed them as Bauni, Uni, Bouni, and Bobe, though it is debatable whether they are all distinct languages.

Usher (2020)

Usher groups the languages as follows, with each node being a reconstructable clade, and giving the family a geographic label rather than naming it after a single language. The Eastern languages are typologically quite distinct from the Western languages and I'saka.[7]


The pronouns Ross reconstructs for proto-Skou are,

I *na we *ne
thou *me you ?
he *ka they (M) *ke
she *bo they (F) *de

The Skou languages also have a dual, with a distinction between inclusive and exclusive we, but the forms are not reconstructable for the proto-language.

Pronouns in individual Skou languages:[1]

pronoun I'saka Barupu Wutung Skou
1.SG nana něná niɛ
2.SG mama měmá
3M.SG kia ʔe ke
3F.SG umu ce pe
1.PL numu měmí nɛtu ne
2.PL yumu mŏpú ɛtu e
3.PL i.e. yéi tɛtu te


Sko family cognates (I'saka, Barupu, Wutung, Skou) listed by Foley (2018):[1]

Sko family cognates
gloss I'saka Barupu Wutung Skou
‘hand’ dou eno noʔɛ̃ no
‘tooth’ e ʔũ kə̃
‘breast’ ni to no no
‘woman’ bu bom wũawũa pɛɨma
‘bird’ ru
‘dog’ naki naʔi nake
‘water’ wi pi pa
‘old’ tuni tɔra rõtoto
‘eat’ a ou (u)a a

A cognate set for 'louse' in Sko languages (reconstructing roughly to *nipi in Proto-Sko) as compiled by Dryer (2022):[8]

Language (group) louse
Serra Hills ni, nip, nipi
Warapu mi
Western Sko pi, fi, pĩ
Isaka ẽĩ

Vocabulary comparison

The following basic vocabulary words are from Voorhoeve (1971, 1975),[9][10] as cited in the Trans-New Guinea database.[11] More recent data from Marmion (2010)[12] has been added for Wutung and from Donohue (2002)[13] (as cited in the ASJP Database) for Skou.

gloss Wutung
(Marmion 2010)[12]
(Voorhoeve 1975)[10]
(Donohue 2002)[13][14]
(Voorhoeve 1971, 1975)[9][10]
head hlúqbùr kəsu. rebi röbe; rö́e
hair tàng ta ta ta
ear qúrlùr le
eye lúrtô rəto lu; luto lutɔ̀
nose ha ha
tooth qúng ke*
leg knaŋku tãe
louse hehe fi fi
dog náqî naki nakE nakɛ́
pig tyamu pálɛ
bird tîng ta* tåå; tãŋã
egg kuekue ku tã kò
blood hnjie hi hi hi
bone qêy e e ee
skin mà; nua na ro nö re; nö rɔ̀
breast no no*
tree ri ri; rite ri
man panyua teba kE ba ba; keba; kébanè; teba
woman wungawunga 3mE pemɛ̀
sun hlàng hrã ra* rãã́
moon kE ke
water tya pa pa
fire hie hae ra ra
stone wólòng koŋũ wu* hũ; wũ
eat sàqèngpùà (1.SG) a* kã; pã; tã
one ófà ofa ali* alì
two hnyûmò hime hi*tu* hĩ́to

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f 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.
  2. ^ a b Foley, William A. (2018). "The languages of Northwest New Guinea". 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. 433–568. ISBN 978-3-11-028642-7.
  3. ^ Wichmann, Søren. 2013. A classification of Papuan languages. In: Hammarström, Harald and Wilco van den Heuvel (eds.), History, contact and classification of Papuan languages (Language and Linguistics in Melanesia, Special Issue 2012), 313–386. Port Moresby: Linguistic Society of Papua New Guinea.
  4. ^ Donohue, Mark; Crowther, Melissa (2005). "Meeting in the middle: interaction in North-Central New Guinea". In Andrew Pawley; Robert Attenborough; Robin Hide; Jack Golson (eds.). Papuan pasts: cultural, linguistic and biological histories of Papuan-speaking peoples. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 167–184. ISBN 0-85883-562-2. OCLC 67292782.
  5. ^ Donohue, Mark P. 2007. A Grammar of the Skou Language of New Guinea. Unpublished manuscript.
  6. ^ Miller, Steve A. 2017. Skou Languages Near Sissano Lagoon, Papua New Guinea. Language and Linguistics in Melanesia 35: 1–24.
  7. ^ New Guinea World, Vanimo Coast
  8. ^ Dryer, Matthew S. (2022). Trans-New Guinea IV.2: Evaluating Membership in Trans-New Guinea.
  9. ^ a b Voorhoeve, C.L. "Miscellaneous Notes on Languages in West Irian, New Guinea". In Dutton, T., Voorhoeve, C. and Wurm, S.A. editors, Papers in New Guinea Linguistics No. 14. A-28:47-114. Pacific Linguistics, The Australian National University, 1971. doi:10.15144/PL-A28.47
  10. ^ a b c Voorhoeve, C.L. Languages of Irian Jaya: Checklist. Preliminary classification, language maps, wordlists. B-31, iv + 133 pages. Pacific Linguistics, The Australian National University, 1975. doi:10.15144/PL-B31
  11. ^ Greenhill, Simon (2016). " - database of the languages of New Guinea". Retrieved 2020-11-05.
  12. ^ a b Marmion, Doug (2010). Topics in the Phonology and Morphology of Wutung (PDF). Canberra: Australian National University.
  13. ^ a b Donohue, Mark. Skou Dictionary Draft. Ms.
  14. ^ Wichmann, Søren (2020). "The ASJP Database". Retrieved 2021-01-20.
  • Laycock, Donald C. (1975). "Sko, Kwomtari, and Left May (Arai) phyla". In Stephen A. Wurm (ed.). Papuan languages and the New Guinea linguistic scene: New Guinea area languages and language study 1. Canberra: Dept. of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University. pp. 849–858. OCLC 37096514.
  • Ross, Malcolm (2005). "Pronouns as a preliminary diagnostic for grouping Papuan languages". In Andrew Pawley; Robert Attenborough; Robin Hide; Jack Golson (eds.). Papuan pasts: cultural, linguistic and biological histories of Papuan-speaking peoples. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 15–66. ISBN 0858835622. OCLC 67292782.