Languages of the New Guinea region

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    Background: Geographical and Socioeconomic The island of New Guinea is linguistically the most diverse area on earth. According to Nettle (1999: 117), New Guinea has 1,109 languages and 27 stocks in an area of 786,000 square kilometres. This is three times as many languages and stocks in proportion to area as any other continent-sized region in the world. Estimates of the number of languages in New Guinea range from 850 to 1,200, and of the number of its lineages from the low 20s to 60 or more. By any figures within these ranges New Guinea displays startling diversity. In order to profile New Guinea's structural diversity, Comrie and Cysouw (2012) take a sample of 48 New Guinea languages from Haspelmath et. al. (2005) and compare it with the latter's worldwide sample. The diversity of the New Guinea sample turns out to be a microcosm of planet-wide structural diversity. The topic of this chapter is areality among the languages of the New Guinea Region (henceforth NGR). The NGR recognized by scholars (e.g. Comrie and Cysouw 2012; Foley 1986, 2000; Wurm 1975a) extends beyond the island of New Guinea itself to embrace islands to its west and its east (Map 28.1), and is defined as the region in which languages conventionally labelled ‘Papuan’ are found. It also contains numerous Austronesian languages. A count based on the Ethnologue (Lewis, Simons and Fennig 2014) gives 1,365 NGR languages. Austronesian languages belong to a well researched language family (Blust 2013). Proto-Austronesian was located in Taiwan, and archaeology suggests that from about 2200 BCE its daughters spread out to occupy the Philippines, bits of Mainland Southeast Asia, most of the Indo-Malaysian archipelago, Madagascar, small mainly coastal enclaves on the island of New Guinea, and the Pacific islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia (Bellwood et al. 2011). Austronesian speakers had reached the Bismarck Archipelago (New Britain, New Ireland and the Admiralty Islands) to the east of New Guinea by 1300 BCE. Whereas Austronesian is a single lineage, ‘Papuan’ denotes a number of apparently unrelated lineages which share in common only that they are spoken in the NGR and are not known to be related to any lineage outside the NGR. The westernmost known Papuan language is Tambora, now extinct, on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa (Donohue 2007a). The easternmost is Savosavo of Savo Island in the middle of the Solomon Islands (Map 28.1).
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook of Areal Linguistics
    Editors Raymond Hickey
    Place of PublicationCornwall, United Kingdom
    PublisherCambridge University Press
    ISBN (Print)9781107051614
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


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