Iwal language

Native to Papua New Guinea
Region Morobe Province
Native speakers
2,100 (2011)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 kbm
Glottolog iwal1237[2]

Iwal (also called Kaiwa from Jabêm Kai Iwac "Iwac highlanders") is an Austronesian language spoken by about 1,900 people from nine villages in Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea (Cobb & Wroge 1990). Although it appears most closely related to the South Huon Gulf languages, it is the most conservative member of its subgroup.


Iwal distinguishes 5 vowels and 16 consonants. Unlike most of its neighboring languages, it distinguishes the lateral /l/ from the trill /r/, the latter derived from earlier *s, as in aru from Proto-Oceanic (POc) *qasu 'smoke', ruru- from POc *susu 'breast', and ur from POc *qusan 'rain'. Otherwise it appears to be the most phonologically conservative language in the South Huon Gulf chain (see Ross 1988:154–160). It has retained POc *t as /t/ (not /l/ or /y/) and POc *mw as /mw/ (not /my/ or /ny/), as in mwat 'snake' from POc *mwata.

Vowels (orthographic)

Front Central Back
High i u
Mid e o
Low a

Consonants (orthographic)

Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Voiceless stop p t k
Voiced stop b d g
Nasal m n ng
Fricative v s -h-
Lateral l
Rhotic r
Approximant w y


Pronouns and person markers

Free pronouns

Person Singular Plural Dual Paucal
1st person inclusive eitit tutlu totol
1st person exclusive ayeu ~ au amei eilu eitol
2nd person mie yem yemlu yemtol
3rd person ei eisir sulu sotol

Genitive pronouns

Person Singular Plural
1st person inclusive a-nd
1st person exclusive a-ngg a-meimei
2nd person a-m a-im
3rd person a-ne a-s

Possessive suffixes

Person Singular Plural
1st person inclusive -(a)nd
1st person exclusive -(a)ngg -(a)nggamei
2nd person -m (-am > -em) -(a)nggaim
3rd person -Ø (-a > -e) -s


Iwal deictics correlate with first, second, and third person, each of which has a long and a short form. The latter appear to be anaphoric in usage. Deictics also serve to bracket relative clauses: ete/ebe ... ok/nok/nik. By far the most common brackets are ebe ... ok, but if the information in the clause is associated with either speaker or addressee, the brackets are likely to be ete ... nik or ete ... nok. Deictics may occur either in place of nouns or postposed to nouns, as in nalk etok 'that earth/soil'.


Traditional Iwal counting practices started with the digits of the left hand, then continued on the right hand, and then the feet to reach '20', which translates as 'one person'. Higher numbers are multiples of 'one person'. Nowadays, most counting above '5' is done in Tok Pisin; in the Iwal New Testament, all numbers above '5'except bage isgabu '10'are written with Arabic numerals and most likely read in Tok Pisin.

Numeral Term Gloss
1 dongke/ti 'one'
2 ailu 'two'
3 aitol 'three'
4 aivat 'four'
5 bage tavlu 'hands half/part'
6 bage tavlu ano dongke 'hands half right one'
7 bage tavlu ano ailu 'hands half right two'
8 bage tavlu ano aitol 'hands half right three'
9 bage tavlu ano aivat 'hands half right four'
10 bage isgabu 'hands both/pair'
15 bage isgabu be va tavlu 'hands both and feet half'
20 buni amol ti '[?] person one'
100 buni amol bage tavlu '[?] person hands half [= '5']'

Bioclassifying prefixes

One unusual feature of Iwal is a small set of bioclassifying prefixes: ei- (POc *kayu) for trees, wer- for edible greens, man(k)- (POc *manuk) for birds, ih- (POc *ikan) for fish.


Word order

The basic word order in Iwal is SVO, with (mostly) prepositions, preposed genitives, postposed adjectives and relative clauses. Relative clauses are marked at both ends, and so are some prepositional phrases. Negatives come at the ends of the clauses they negate. There is also a class of deverbal resultatives that follow the main verb (and its object, if any).

'He'll chop down the canoe tree.'
'The roots did not go deep into the ground.'
'They'll see the things I have done.'

Verb serialization

Verb serialization is very common in Iwal. Within a serial verb construction, all verbs must agree in tense and the perfective marker is itself a serialized verb. Negatives come at the ends of the clauses they negate.

'He'll chop it down and it'll go and lie there.'
'Then he won't sit on the ground.'
'It rolled on down until it stopped.'


The primary source for this article is Bradshaw (2001), whose copyright holder is Joel Bradshaw, whose contributions here are licensed under the GFDL.


  1. Iwal at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Iwal". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
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