A sociolinguistic sketch of New Guinea

Mark Donohue

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    New Guinea is home to the greatest number, and greatest diversity, of languages in the world. In an area only 2000 km long, over 1,000 languages are regularly spoken, belonging to at least 50 families. The largest language in the area has less than 200,000 speakers; the smallest known stable, non-endangered language situation is Masep, which is not known to be related to any other languages, and has less than 40 speakers (Clouse et al. 2002). Politically the region is split into two, with the eastern half the territory of Papua New Guinea independent since 1975, and the western half formerly being a Dutch territory, but Indonesian since annexation in 1961; each half has its own national language(s). In addition to the enormous ‘baseline’ complexity that such a linguistically diverse environment guarantees, the island has been subject to four different colonial administrations, each with their own official languages (Dutch and Malay in the west, English in the east), and has generated three pidgins/creoles that have achieved widespread use in different areas (local Malay varieties in the west, Tok Pisin in most of the east and Hiri Motu in the south half of the east), as well as the official languages.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Sociolinguistics Around the World
    Editors Martin J Ball
    Place of PublicationLondon and New York
    PublisherRoutledge, Taylor & Francis Group
    ISBN (Print)9780415422789
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


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