Documentation of Walman, Poko-Rawo, Sreenge and Yeri [ISO 639 van; rwa; lsr; yev]
Dryer, Matthew Principal Investigator
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Approximately one sixth of the languages of the world are spoken in Papua New Guinea and the Indonesian province of Papua, which constitutes the western third of the island of New Guinea. In many areas of Papua New Guinea, the English-based creole Tok Pisin is replacing the village languages as greater contact across areas has increased the need for a common language. As a result, many languages are becoming endangered, yet most of the languages of New Guinea are completely undescribed. Dr. Lea Brown and Dr. Matthew Dryer (University at Buffalo) will continue and complete a detailed description of Walman (a Torricelli language), continue their work on Poko-Rawo (a Sko language), with the ultimate goal of producing a short description of the language, and begin work on two other Torricelli languages, Sreenge and Yeri. For all these languages, documentation will include a grammatical description, a dictionary, and archiving their materials, including texts in digital audio format. The Torricelli family, with 48 languages, is the seventeenth largest language family in the world, but one of the least documented: only one of these languages has a monograph-length description. This project will produce two more, and begin work on a third. Apart from documenting languages before they become extinct, documenting languages in a poorly documented family can contribute to our understanding of what is possible in human language. Dr. Brown's and Dr. Dryer's research on Walman has already documented one very unusual property: the word for 'and' used to conjoin two noun phrases (as in 'the man and the woman') is a verb, with the first conjunct as subject, the second as object. In addition to documenting these languages, Dr. Brown and Dr. Dryer will be developing orthographies for these languages and working with the communities to obtain government approval of these orthographies that will make it possible for the communities to have elementary schools conducted in the village languages.