Native toPapua New Guinea
RegionMilne Bay Province
Native speakers
20,000 (2000 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3tbo
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Tawala is an Oceanic language of the Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea. It is spoken by 20,000 people who live in hamlets and small villages on the East Cape peninsula, on the shores of Milne Bay and on areas of the islands of Sideia and Basilaki. There are approximately 40 main centres of population each speaking the same dialect, although through the process of colonisation some centres have gained more prominence than others.[2]


Tawala has a consonant inventory of 19 consonants, an average vowel quality inventory of five vowels, and an also average consonant-vowel ratio of 3.[3]


Tawala consonants
Labial Alveolar Retroflex Velar Glottal
Plosive p b t d k g ʔ
Labialised Plosive ɡʷ
Nasal m n
Labialized Nasal
Fricative s h
Approximant j ɭ w

/j/ may have a fricative quality [z] when between low vowels.


Tawala vowels
Front Central Back
High i u
Mid e o
Low a

/a/ can be fronted before /u/ as [æ] in a stressed syllable.


Non-verbal clauses

Tawala, like many Austronesian languages, makes frequent use of non-verbal constructions and phrases. This means sentences lacking verbs, not sentences being unspoken. In these situations, the verbs are simply implied by the subject, object, and context. From the following are a few simple examples of non-verbal clauses: in all there is no copula nor verb:[4]

Polo hai am
pig there food
The pigs have food
Tauyai uyahi-yai ega geno-na ma tam tunawa-m om geno
weEXC 'at'-1PL.EXC NEG worry-DEF but youSG alone-2SG yourSG worry
For us it is not a worry, but it is your worry only.


There are three demonstratives in Tawala. All three are stressed emphatic free form words which can function as spatial deictics, and two can also be used as demonstrative pronouns.[5] Well established in the freedom of their use, they frequently occur as the only word in non-verbal sentences.

Spatial Deictics

Tawala has three demonstrative spatial deictics:[5]

PROXIMAL geka near speaker or hearer
NEUTRAL naka not near speaker
DISTAL noka out of sight of speaker or hearer

Tawala's demonstratives can appear in non-verbal sentences where their function is predicative and there is no subject. Following is the simplest example of this permutation:

Tau geka
I here
I am here

Each demonstrative also has a semi-reduplicated form which repeats the first syllable: ge-geka, na-naka, no-noka. The reduplicated form specifies exact location or time. For example, this non-verbal sentence is taken from a letter, hence the form here parallels the written original:

E-tugu-tugula no-noka
3SG.PRES-DUR-sit RED-there
He has been sitting right there (in the exact position we put him)

The demonstrative may also be marked for directional deixis -near the hearer:

Polo e-ge-ge-hi a-howa-tepa-ni
pig 3SG.PRES-DUR-come.up-DEI RED-there-DEI
The pig is coming up right towards you

Referential pronouns

While all three demonstratives function as spatial deictics, two also have a referential function as demonstrative pronouns.[5]

PROXIMAL geka this
NEUTRAL naka that

Demonstratives typically precede and modify nouns:

geka dobu
this village
this village

They may function as heads of full noun phrases (NP):

Geka amaka a-howa-tepa-ni
this already ISH-spit-top-3SG
I have already worked magic on it

The demonstrative naka is used as a complementizer:

Hi-i-wogatala naka apo iyowai hi-na-bagibagi
3PL-DUR-plan that FUT how 3PL-POT-work
They were planning how they would (do their) work.

And when speakers their discussion they will often conclude with the following nonverbal clause:

...na-naka noka pite
RED-that that like
... it is exactly like that

Demonstratives function within discourse to maintain topic and prominence; they can be placed at the end of a NP as well, where they indicate topicalisation. Topicalisation is very common across both verbal and non-verbal sentences. The neutral demonstrative naka is commonly used in complex sentences to this end, but both neutral and proximal terms are applicable:

Ma [odubo-na naka] a-lau-hilage duma
and old-3SG thatTOP 1SG-DUR-finish very
But as for the old times, I used to get very tired.

Topicalisation can also occur with a demonstrative in the following phrase, so that two demonstratives are used consecutively:

Ma [meyagai geka] [naka meyagai dewadewa duma-na]
and village thisTOP that village good very-3SG
As for this village that is very good village.

And a longer example of demonstrative pronouns:[6]

Ma [geka u houga-na] ega emoemota-na [noka dewa-hi odubo-hi]...
and this LOC time-DEF NEG ability-3SG there custom-DEF old-3PL
But at this time it is not possible for those old customs...

Phonological history

Tawala demonstratives are reflexes of the small set of demonstratives found in Proto-Oceanic[4] (POC): *e/ *ne designating 'near speaker', *a/*na designating 'near addressee', and *o/*no designating 'distant from both speaker and addressee'.[7] The Tawala reflexes have experienced both phonological and semantic change through time and geographic shifts but remain clearly descended from POC. The origin of the suffix -ka is not known, though it is also found with spatial interrogative meka 'where' and the conjunction yaka, and similar suffixes may be found across Pacific languages.[8]

Though the other reflexes are clear, ge- is not obviously a reflex of POC *e/*ne, however the Maiwala (a nearby dialect of Taupota) form is yana, so a series of phonological shifts leading to the phonemes is plausible.

The neutral form naka includes the POC meaning of 'near hearer', overlapping the meaning of the proximal form geka. Speakers can thus use deictic forms appropriate to themselves or their hearers.

Comparison to neighboring languages

Though it can feature demonstratives following nouns, Tawala is primarily a demonstrative-noun order language. This order is typical of languages in the immediate vicinity like Saliba and Wedau, which are also closely related, however languages surrounding the mainland area of the Milne Bay Province are predominantly noun-demonstrative order and Trans-New-Guinean.[9] This may suggest a historic localized transit of Papuan Tip languages to the province.

Data on distance-contrast in spatial deictics in the area of Tawala is less prevalent, however three-way contrast, as present in Tawala, appears common to the Milne Bay Province, and three-way distinction is generally more common in Pacific languages as a whole.[8] There are less defined borders between languages of two- and three-way contrast in the Papuan Tip than for d-n order, however.[9]


In Tawala, negation is most commonly shown through the negative particle ega, which always appears before the predicate of a clause.[10] When the initial vowel is lengthened, forming eega, the negative particle is taken as the predicate of an existential clause,[11] or as an interjection/response to indicate ‘no’.[12]

Ex. (1) Negation using ega[13]

(1) ega a tano po puwaka
NEG POSS.3SG garden and pigs
"He has no garden or pigs."

Ex. (2) Negative existential predicate, eega[11]

(2) Eega
"(it is) not (so)."

Ex. (3) Negative response, eega[12]

(3) eega

The negative particle can also take the future tense marker apo as a prefix to form a negative adverb apega. This construction combines with the irrealis and potential mood across both verbal and non-verbal clauses.[10]

Ex. (4) Negative non-verbal clause in irrealis mood[14]

(4) apega gadiwewe
FUT.NEG rain
"(it will) not rain."

Ex. (5) Negative verbal clause in irrealis mood[10]

(5) apega toleha-na a-ta-dewa-ya
FUT.NEG feast-DEF 1SG-IRR-make-3SG
"I will not provide the feast."

Intensified negation

Negation can be intensified by adopting the condition marker wai- as a suffix to the negative particle ega;[15] However this construction appears to be limited to the use of response or interjection.[12]

Ex. (6) Intensified negation[12]

(6) ega wai
"no way/definitely not."

Negation of non-verbal clauses

As Tawala allows for both verbal and non-verbal clauses, the negative particle will never occur within a clause level noun phrase.[13] For example, if the negative particle were placed between a noun and an adjective, then both would be considered constituents of the clause, with the adjective fulfilling the function of the predicate. The following example illustrates this kind of construction.

Ex. (7) Negation of descriptive clause [13]

(7) bada ega dewadewa-na
man NEG good-3SG
"the man is not good."
Negation of non-verbal clauses: Existential clauses

Existential clauses are common non-verbal clauses which occur within spoken Tawala, though they only occasionally occur within extended discourse. In Tawala, an existential clause consists of a nominal predicate and can often be negated by the addition of the negative particle that precedes the predicate.[11]

Ex. (8) Negation of existential clause[11]

(8) ega wipoya po ega wayau
NEG hot and NEG cold
"(it is) not hot and (it is) not cold."

Most negative existential clauses cannot be made positive by simply removing the negative particle, a stative clause would be required instead.[11] The below example illustrates this asymmetry. Ex. (9) Asymmetry of positive and negative existential clauses[11]

(9) ega wipoya > I-wipoya/*wipoya
NEG hot 3SG-hot
"(it is) not hot." "(it is) hot."

Negative existential clauses are constructed in the irrealis mood when the negative adverb precedes the existential nominal predicate,[14] as shown in example (4).

As mentioned earlier, the negative particle can be taken as the predicate of an existential clause. This construction is used when asking polar questions.[16] The second clause in the following example illustrates its use.

Ex. (10) Negative existential predicate in polar question[16]

(10) he-ne-nei imahi bo eega?
3PL.PRES-DUR-come properly or NEG
"Are they coming properly or not?"
Negation of non-verbal clauses: Descriptive clauses

Descriptive non-verbal clauses, where an adjective acts as the predicate of the clause, are not often constructed in the negative. In the instances where this does occur, it implies that the negative condition is permanent.[17]

Ex. (11) Negation of descriptive clause[17]

(11) gamogamo ega lupalupa-na
animal NEG flying-3SG
"The animal does not fly."
Negation of non-verbal clauses: Possessive clauses

As Tawala always places the negative before the predicate and never within a noun phrase, if a negative particle is found between two nouns, it indicates a possessive clause.[18] Compare the example below, which combines an equative and possessive clause.

Ex. (12) Negation of possessive clause[19]

(12) ega Limi natu-na babana Limi ega natu-na
NEG Limi child-3SG because Limi NEG child-3SG
"(That) is not Limi's child because Limi has no child."

Negation of verbal clauses

Negation of verbal clauses in Tawala follow the same rules applied to non-verbal clauses: for clauses in the past or present tense, the negative particle precedes the predicate, while the negative tense adverb precedes the predicate for clauses in the future tense. These clauses will either carry the irrealis, potential or hypothetical mood.[20][21]

Ex. (13) Negative durative irrealis[22]

(13) ega lawa i-ta-hagu-hagu-hi
NEG person 3SG-IRR-DUR-help-3PL
"He doesn't help people."

Ex. (14) Past irrealis[20]

(14) ega wam i-ta-nei
NEG boat 3SG-IRR-come
"The boat didn't come."

Ex. (15) Hypothetical[21]

(15) inapa ega u-na-ne-nae apo hi-na-pani-m
"If you don't go they will imprison you."

Ex. (16) Negative durative potential[21]

(16) ega u-na-tu-tou
"You don't need to cry."

Ex. (17) Future potential[21]

(17) apega hi-na-nei
"They won't come."
Negation of verbal clauses: Prohibitions

Prohibitive constructions within Tawala are constructed by placing the negative tense adverb before a verbal predicate,[21] as illustrated in the example below.

Ex (18). Prohibitive command[21]

(18) apega u-na-nae
"You must not go."



Tawala distinguishes three persons: first, second and third. There are only two grammatical numbers, singular and plural although first person plural makes a distinction between inclusive and exclusive.[23]
Although there are five classes of pronouns in Tawala only the independent pronouns class should be considered as pronouns proper as they are the only class consisting of free forms. The remaining four classes occur with independent pronouns in a phrase.<refEzard (1997), p. 72</ref>

Independent Pronouns

Person Number
Singular Plural
1INC tau tauta
1EXCL tauyai
2 tam taumi
3 tauna tauhi

Subject prefix and object enclitic

Subject prefixes and object enclitics attach to a verb to mark person and number of both subject and object respectively.

Object Enclitic -u/we -m -ni/ya -ta -yai -mi -hi
Subject Prefix a- u- i- ta- to- o- hi-

Example: The following examples demonstrate the use of some of the above personal pronouns in context.

Tauhi hai mae hi-nonogo-ge-ni.
they their stay 3PL-prepare-TRV-3SG
"They prepared their residence."


Tawala distinguishes alienable and inalienable possession.

Possessive pronouns

Alienable possession is constructed by a free-standing possessive pronoun that marks the person and number of the possessor.

Person Number
Singular Plural
1INC u ata
2 om omi
3 a hai

Example: The following examples demonstrate the use of some of the above personal pronouns in context.

Lawa hai tano hi-dewa-hi.
person POSS.3PL garden 3PL-make-3PL
"The people made their gardens."
Pronominal enclitics

Inalienable possession is constructed by attaching a pronominal enclitic to the possessed noun.

Person Number
Singular Plural
1INC -u/we -ta
1EXCL -yai
2 -m -mi
3 -na -hi

Example: The following example demonstrates the use of some of the above personal pronouns in context.

polo ae-na
pig leg-POSS.3SG
"The pig's leg."


  1. ^ Tawala at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Ezard (1997), p. 6
  3. ^ "The World Atlas of Language Structures Online". Archived from the original on 2010-06-12. Retrieved 2010-06-03., chapters 1-3
  4. ^ a b Ezard (1997), p. 21
  5. ^ a b c Ezard (1997), p. 76
  6. ^ Ezard (1997), p. 144
  7. ^ Ross (1988)
  8. ^ a b Ross (2004)
  9. ^ a b "World Atlas of Language Structures". Lexikon des gesamten Buchwesens Online. doi:10.1163/9789004337862__com_230581. Retrieved 2021-03-26.
  10. ^ a b c Ezard (1997), p. 79
  11. ^ a b c d e f Ezard (1997), p. 181
  12. ^ a b c d Ezard (1997), p. 81
  13. ^ a b c Ezard (1997), p. 205
  14. ^ a b Ezard (1997), p. 180
  15. ^ Ezard (1997), p. 56
  16. ^ a b Ezard (1997), p. 251
  17. ^ a b Ezard (1997), p. 186
  18. ^ Ezard (1997), p. 184
  19. ^ Ezard (1997), p. 185
  20. ^ a b Ezard (1997), p. 120
  21. ^ a b c d e f Ezard (1997), p. 123
  22. ^ Ezard (1997), p. 121
  23. ^ Ezard (1997), p. 72
  24. ^ a b c Ezard (1997), p. 73
  25. ^ Ezard (1997), pp. 73–74