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Revision as of 15:46, 12 March 2021 by Mfergus3 (talk | contribs) (Alienable Possession)

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Word Classes

  1. Nouns n
  2. Verbs v
  3. Pronouns prn
  4. Adverbs adv
  5. Prepositions pr
  6. Interjections ij
  7. Numerals num
  8. Conjunctions
  9. Topic markers
  10. Exclamations

Note the absence of adjectives in Biak

Grammar Points

Verb number/person inflection

Verbs combine with pronomial subject affixes (mainly prefixes, a few infixes) that express number and person of the subject. In addition to singular and plural, Biak also has a dual and a paucal. For 1st person dual and plural, Biak also distinguishes between inclusive and exclusive. There are at least three ways to combine verbs with pronomial affixes, and this is mainly determined by the beginning of the verb stem.


Example: «srow» (meet)

srow<v><tv><p1><sg> ↔ yasrow

srow<v><tv><p2><sg> ↔ wasrow

srow<v><tv><p3><sg> ↔ isrow

srow<v><tv><p1><du><ex> ↔ nusrow

srow<v><tv><p1><du><inc> ↔ kusrow

srow<v><tv><p2><du> ↔ musrow

srow<v><tv><p3><du> ↔ susrow

srow<v><tv><p3><pc> ↔ skosrow

srow<v><tv><p1><pl><ex> ↔ nkosrow

srow<v><tv><p1><pl><inc> ↔ kosrow

srow<v><tv><p2><pl> ↔ mkosrow

srow<v><tv><p3><pl><an> ↔ sisrow

srow<v><tv><p3><pl><inan> ↔ nasrow


Example: «arok» (be straight)

arok<v><iv><p1><sg> ↔ yarok

arok<v><iv><p2><sg> ↔ warok

arok<v><iv><p3><sg> ↔ darok

arok<v><iv><p1><du><ex> ↔ nuyarok

arok<v><iv><p1><du><inc> ↔ kuyarok

arok<v><iv><p2><du> ↔ muyarok

arok<v><iv><p3><du> ↔ suyarok

arok<v><iv><p3><pc> ↔ skarok

arok<v><iv><p1><pl><ex> ↔ nkarok

arok<v><iv><p1><pl><inc> ↔ karok

arok<v><iv><p2><pl> ↔ mkarok

arok<v><iv><p3><pl><an> ↔ sarok

arok<v><iv><p3><pl><inan> ↔ narok


Note that the pattern for CV-initial verbs is not so predictable. For some words, the inflection is determined lexically; for instance, «so» (throw) is inflected according to the CV-pattern, while «so» (follow) is inflected according to the CC-pattern.

Example: «so» (throw)

so<v><tv><p1><sg> ↔ yaso

so<v><tv><p2><sg> ↔ swo

so<v><tv><p3><sg> ↔ syo

so<v><tv><p1><du><ex> ↔ nuso

so<v><tv><p1><du><inc> ↔ kuso

so<v><tv><p2><du> ↔ muso

so<v><tv><p3><du> ↔ suso

so<v><tv><p3><pc> ↔ skoso

so<v><tv><p1><pl><ex> ↔ nkoso

so<v><tv><p1><pl><inc> ↔ koso

so<v><tv><p2><pl> ↔ mkoso

so<v><tv><p3><pl><an> ↔ siso

so<v><tv><p3><pl><inan> ↔ naso

Noun Specificity

Nonspecificity is used to refer to entities that do not yet exist in this world. It is marked by the use of nonspecific articles -o for singular and -no for plural.

yuk<n><nspc><sg> ↔ yuko

yuk<n><nspc><pl> ↔ yukno

Specificity is marked with pronominal articles attached to the end of a noun phrase. They are closely related to free personal pronouns and pronominal affixes:

free personal pronoun pronominal article
1SG aya  ?/=ya-i
2SG aw aw-ya/=aw-i
3SG i =ya/=i
1DU.INC ku =ku-ya/=ku-i
1DU.EX nu =nu-ya/=nu-i
2DU mu =mu-ya/=mu-i
3DU su =su-ya/=su-i
3PC sko =sko-ya/=sko-i
1PL.INC ko =ko-ya/=ko-i
1PL.EX inko =inko-ya/inko-i
2PL mko =mko-ya/mko-i
3PL.AN si =s-ya/=s-i
3PL.INAN na =na

Wardo<n>+inko<prn><pers><p1><pl><ex><spc> ↔ Wardoinkoya

yuk<n>+i<prn><pers><p3><sg><spc> ↔ yukya


Givenness is marked by «an», and the allomorph «nan». «an» is used if the preceding word ends in a consonant, while «nan» is used after vowels.

rum<n>+i<prn><pers><p3><sg><giv> ↔ rum anya

kpu<n>+i<prn><pers><p3><sg><giv> ↔ kpu anya

waw<n>+i<prn><pers><p3><sg><giv> ↔ waw anya

ikoi<n>+i<prn><pers><p3><sg><giv> ↔ ikoi nanya

Complex Articles

Biak has complex articles that can indicate givenness, number/gender/specificity, and (optionally) direction, demonstrative, and motion. For specificity, the «-i» ending is always used (for example, «mkoi» instead of «mkoya»). Givenness, which is indicated by «an» or «nan», is attached as a prefix. Direction, demonstrative, and motion are attached as suffixes, in that order.


directional meaning
rum in
ri out
ra sea, water
re land
pon front, east
pur back, downriver
yas up, upriver
vav down
vun middle
var side


demonstrative meaning
ne this
ya that
wa that over there


motion marker meaning
ma moving to Target = speaker
fa moving to Target other than speaker
ra moving away

mko<prn><pers><p2><pl><spc><giv>+purya<det><dem>+fa<adv> ↔ nanmkoipuryafa (nan-mko-i-pur-ya-fa: GIV-2PL-SPC-back-that-to.there)

i<prn><pers><p3><sg><spc>+wa<det><dem>+ma<adv> ↔ iwama (i-wa-ma: 3SG.SPC-over.there)

i<prn><pers><p3><sg><spc>+yasya<det><dem> ↔ iyasya (i-yas-ya: 3SG.SPC-up-that)

i<prn><pers><p3><sg><spc>+raya<det><dem> ↔ iraya (i-ra-ya: 3SG.SPC-sea-that)

sko<prn><pers><p3><pc><spc><giv>+purwa<det><dem> ↔ anskopurwa (an-sko-pur-wa: GIV-3PC.SPC-back-over.there)

Possession (Alienable/Inalienable)

Biak makes a formal distinction between alienable and inalienable (mainly restricted to certain body parts, kinship terms, and locational nouns) possession.

Alienable Possession

The possessive pronominals consist of the possessive formative ve inflected for person, number, and gender of the possessor, and the article closing off related to the (person,) number, and gender of the possessed. This table illustrates the construction of possessive pronominals.

Basic Possessive Pronominals
Possessor↓ Possessum→ SG DU PC PL.AN PL.INAN
1SG (a)ye=d-i/=d-ya (a)ye=su-ya/-i (a)ye=sko-ya/-i (a)ye=s-ya/-i (a)ye=na
2SG be=d-i/=d-ya be-=su-ya/-i be=sko-ya/-i be=s-ya/-i be=na
3SG v<y>e=d-i/=d-ya v<y>e=su-ya/-i v<y>e =sko-ya/-i v<y>e =s-ya/-i v<y>e =na
1DU.INC ku-ve=d-i/=d-ya ku-ve=su-ya/-i ku-ve=sko-ya/-i ku-ve=s-ya/-i ku-ve=na
1DU.EX nu-ve=d-i/=d-ya nu-ve=su-ya/-i nu-ve=sko-ya/-i nu-ve=s-ya/-i nu-ve=na
2DU mu-ve=d-i/=d-ya mu-ve=su-ya/-i mu-ve=sko-ya/-i mu-ve=s-ya/-i mu-ve=na
3DU su-ve=d-i/=d-ya su-ve=su-ya/-i su-ve=sko-ya/-i su-ve=s-ya/-i s su-ve=na
1PC sko-ve=d-i/=d-ya sko-ve=su-ya/-i sko-ve=sko-ya/-i sko-ve=s-ya/-i sko-ve=na
1PL.INC ko-ve=d-i/=d-ya ko-ve=su-ya/-i ko-ve=sko-ya/-i ko-ve=s-ya/-i ko-ve=na
1PL.EX (i)nko-ve=d-i/=d-ya (i)nko-ve=su-ya/-i i (i)nko-ve=sko-ya/-i (i)nko-ve=s-ya/-i (i)nko-ve=na
2PL mko-ve=d-i/=d-ya mko-ve=su-ya/-i mko-ve=sko-ya/-i mko-ve=s-ya/-i mko-ve=na
3PL.AN se=d-i/=d-ya se=su-ya/-i se=sko-ya/-i se=s-ya/-i se=na
3PL.INAN nbe=d-i/d-ya nbe=su-ya/-i nbe=sko-ya/-i nbe=s-ya/-i nbe=na

The following example indicates that the possessor is 1SG (first row) and the possessed is 3SG (first column): "my son"

det<det><pos><px1sg><sg><spc> ↔ yedya

An example with the possessor 1PC and the singular possessum:

det<det><pos><px1pc><sg><spc> ↔ skovedya

This example indicates that the possessor is 3S (3rd row) and the possessed is 3SG (1st column): "ikák anine snonsnon vyedya Kormsamba" - "This snake's name was Kormsamba."

det<det><pos><px3sg><sg><spc> ↔ vyedya

This example indicates that the possessor is 1PL.EX (10th row) and the possessed is 3SG (first column):

det<det><pos><px1pl><pxex><sg><spc> ↔ inkovedya

This example indicates that the possessor is 3SG (3rd row) and the possessed is 3PL.AN (4th column): "vín anya vyesya" - "the woman's relatives'"

det<det><pos><px3sg><pl><an><spc> ↔ vyesya

This example indicates that the possessor is 3SG (3rd row) and the possessed is DU (2nd column):

det<det><pos><px3sg><du><spc> ↔ vyesuya

Inalienable Possession

Inalienable morphology is found with kinship terms, several anatomy/body parts, locational nouns, and some nouns referring to a part of a whole. The alienable construction allows for both possessed-possessor and possessor-possessed order, whereas the inalienable form does not. The inalienable construction allows for the possessor-possessed order.

Inalienable can only be used as:

  • The head of a compound where the second part specifies further. Examples of this are illustrated in the table.
  • As participating in one of the paradigms for inalienable bodyparts. These paradigms relate to whether the anatomy parts appear in pairs. However, these concepts are not explored for brevity.

Included below is a section of Alienable nouns referring to bodyparts, formed on the basis of inalienable roots.

Inalienable root compound refers to meaning of second member as free word
we "leg" wemin entire leg min = 'member of a group'
wepur knee pur = 'back'
wempin toe not attested
wevam downside of foot = sole bám = 'wall', 'slope'
webon calf bon = 'fruit','hill'
sne "belly area" snewar belly, between hips and ribs wár = 'water'
snepum naval pum = 'that which comes out'
sva "mouth" svadon the entire mouth do = inside
svardip lip not attested
mka "eye" mkamor area around eye, specifically eyeball mor = 'seed', 'tuber'
mkabir mka(bi)biren eyelid not attested
mkabei area directly above eye bei = 'shell'

All of the above compounds are alienable stems and can be used inalienable possessive construction. However, it cannot use the inalienable root as the head of an alienable construction. Note the following examples, both of which translate to "She was pregnant":

The following sentences are semantically equivalent. The first uses the compound snewar, and the second uses the formation of the alienable noun sneri for "her belly":

snewar<n> ↔ snewar

det<det><pos><p3><px3sg><spc> ↔ vyedya

ba<v><p3><sg> ↔ iba

sne<n><pos> ↔ sneri

ba<v><p3><sg> ↔ iba

Cannot do: Sne vyedya iba, which uses the inalienable root at the head of the alienable construction.

Notice the difference, the alienable construction does not apply to the second case.

Another example: wemin<n> ↔ wemin


Below is a list of some of the common conjunctions (not comprehensive).

Form Meaning
ma 'and'
kukr(u) 'with','because'
inkukr(u) 'because
(in)fa 'so that'
ra 'until'
rawo ~ rao 'until'
rya/indya (=in+rya) 'so'
vo 'while'
voi 'but'
imboi (=in+voi) 'but
(in)(fa) + sama(+ ido) 'so that'
(fa) + (in) sama(+ ido) 'so that'
(in)fama 'but','however'

indya<cnjcoo> ↔ indya

indo<cnjsub> ↔ indo

ma<cnjcoo> ↔ ma

ra<cnjsub> ↔ ra

voi<cnjcoo> ↔ voi


Form Meaning as a preposition
ro location,'at'
ra 'along','over'
ve 'to'
kukr 'with'
snar 'because of'
ker 'from'
bur 'from'
yov 'to'

kukr<pr> ↔ kukr

ker<pr> ↔ ker

bur<pr> ↔ bur

ro<pr> ↔ ro

snar<pr> ↔ snar


The main source we consulted was Biak, description of an Austronesian language of Papua. We also got some information from [1].