Languages in Papua New Guinea

There are three official languages: English, Tok Pisin or pidgin and Hiri Motu, and between 650 and 750 local languages. About a third of the local languages have been classified as Austronesian. These are spoken in many islands, some coastal villages and a few inland areas such as the Markham Valley, Morebe Province. Austronesian languages are confined to small communities and spoken by about 15 percent of PNG’s population. The other languages have been classified as non-Austronesian and divided into 13 groups. While most are spoken by small communities a few are spoken by over 10,000 people. The numerically largest language, Enga, is spoken by over 150,000 people. Linguists have detected Austronesian loanwords in many of the non-Austronesian languages of the highlands. Austronesian languages mostly have rather simple structures and sound systems; most non-Austronesian languages tend to be extremely complex. Austronesian languages found in Melanesia were at one time referred to simply as Melanesian languages, and the non-Austronesian languages as Papuan.

Over 200 local languages have been written down. Most of this work has been done by missionaries, or religious bodies such as the Summer Institute of Linguistics, for the purpose of translating the Bible and giving religious instruction in the vernacular.

See also: Written Languages in Papua New Guinea