Native toIndonesia
Ethnicity1,850 (2000)[1]
Native speakers
1,000 (2007)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3sob

Sobei is one of the Sarmi languages spoken in three villages (Sarmi, Sawar, and Bagaiserwar) near the district center of Sarmi in Papua province of Indonesia. Ethnologue (2005) cites two third-party population estimates of 1,000 and 1,850, while Sterner estimates the population at 1,500 (1975) and 2,000 (1987), based on actual residence in the area.


Sobei reflexes of some common Austronesian etyma include ima 'hand', betwe 'star', daidu 'two', faso 'paddle', fau 'four', mam 'father', nen 'mother', natu '(his/her) child', niwe 'coconut', pana 'food', puwe 'betelnut', rani 'water', rau 'leaf', -sa 'up', -si 'down', siso 'breast', tafi 'sugarcane', tano 'rain', temto 'man', tesese 'one', tou 'three', wane 'sand', yafu 'fire' (all gleaned from J. Sterner 1975).


Front Central Back
High i u
Mid ɛ o
Low a


Labial Dental Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n
Plosive voiceless p t c k ʔ
voiced b d g
Fricative f s
Liquid r
Semivowel w j



Sobei distinguishes alienable possession from inalienable possession by directly suffixing nouns in the latter type of relationship, principally body parts and kin terms. The morphophonemics are often complex: natu’ 'my child', natun 'his/her child', netrirse 'our child(ren)', netrise 'their child(ren)'; dabu'sa'a 'my head', dabusa'a 'his/her head', debrirsa'a 'our heads', debrisa'a 'their heads' (Sterner 1987). The following paradigm of the inalienably possessed noun tema- 'father' is from Sterner (1976). The intermediate -ri- before the possessive suffix serves as a plural marker. As an independent pronoun, ri is 3rd person plural ('they'). Some kin terms that do not take the possessive suffixes nevertheless have plural forms ending in -(r)i: wawa-ri 'uncle-PL', tinan-i 'mother-PL', nabai-yi 'cousin-PL' (Sterner 1976).

Person Singular Plural
1st person inclusive tema-ri-rse
1st person exclusive tema-' tema-ri-mse
2nd person tema-m tema-ri-mse
3rd person tema-n tema-ri-se

Independent pronouns

Person Singular Plural
1st person inclusive rer
1st person exclusive ya mim
2nd person u yam
3rd person e ri


Sobei verb stems can include a number of aspectual, reciprocal, modificational, or directional affixes, but every verb is minimally prefixed to show the grammatical person and number of its subject and grammatical mood (realis or irrealis). Mood markers differ according to whether the stem is simple or complex, and some classes of verbs show stem allomorphy in their conjugational paradigms. (See Sterner 1987.)

Person/Number Realis Irrealis
1SG yomi ima
2SG umi ama
3SG ema ama
1PL INCL timi tama
1PL EXCL mimi 'a'ma
2PL mimi 'a'ma
3PL rimi riama
Person/Number Realis Irrealis
1SG yofi yafei
2SG ufi afei
3SG efei afei
1PL INCL tifi tafei
1PL EXCL mifi 'a'fei
2PL mifi 'a'fei
3PL rifi riafei
Person/Number Realis Irrealis
1SG yotin itan
2SG utin atan
3SG etan atan
1PL INCL titin tatan
1PL EXCL mitin 'a'tan
2PL mitin 'a'tan
3PL ritin riatan
Person/Number Realis Irrealis
1SG win an
2SG win kin
3SG an an
1PL INCL tin ta'an
1PL EXCL min 'e'kin
2PL min 'e'kin
3PL rin riekin
Person/Number Realis Irrealis
1SG wen wan
2SG wen en
3SG den an
1PL INCL ten tan
1PL EXCL men 'e'en
2PL men 'e'en
3PL ren rie'en


  1. ^ a b Sobei at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)