Wandamen language

Native to Indonesia
Region Cenderawasih Bay
Native speakers
5,000 (1993)[1]
  • Windesi, Bintuni, Wandamen
Language codes
ISO 639-3 wad
Glottolog wand1267[2]

Wandamen is the commonly used name for an Austronesian language of Indonesian New Guinea, spoken across the neck of the Doberai Peninsula or Bird's Head. However, several speakers of the Windesi dialect have stated that 'Wandamen' and 'Wondama' refer to a dialect spoken around the Wandamen Bay, studied by early missionaries and linguists from SIL. They affirm that the language as a whole is called 'Wamesa', the dialects of which are Wandamen, Windesi, and Bintuni.[3]ga



There are five contrastive vowels in Wandamen, as is typical of Austronesian languages.[3] These vowels are shown in the tables below.

Wandamen Vowel Phonemes[3]
Front Central Back
High i u
Mid e o
Low a
(Near) Minimal Pairs for Wandamen Vowel Phonemes[3]




ra go
re eye
ri type of traditional dance
ron ironwood tree
ru head

Five diphthongs appear in Wandamen. They are /au/, /ai/, /ei/, /oi/, and /ui/. 2-vowel and 3-vowel clusters are also common in Wandamen. Almost all VV-clusters contain at least one high vowel, and at least every other vowel in a larger cluster must be a high vowel.







iau niau cat
ioi nioi knife
iai ai kiai dire toenail
iou ariou flower
iui βiui 3sg-write


There are 14 consonants in Wandamen, three of which are marginal (shown in parentheses in the table below).

Wandamen Consonants[3]
Bilabial Coronal Velar
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive p b t d k (g)
Fricative β s
Affricate (d͡ʒ)
Tap/Trill r/ɾ
Lateral (l)

Labial, coronal and velar places of articulation are contrastive in Wandamen. Coronal plosives sound relatively dental and may therefore be referred to as alveolar or alveo-dental until palatography can be executed to corroborate this.[3][4] Lateral /l/ and affricate /d͡ʒ/ appear only in loanwords, while all other sounds occur in native Wandamen words. The voiced velar fricative /g/ is a marginal phoneme because it only appears following /ŋ/.

The coronal tap and trill are in free variation, though the trill tends to occur more in word-initial or word-final position and in careful speech.

Place and manner contrasts as described above are supported by the minimal and near-minimal pairs found in the following table. Where possible, Wandamen words have been selected to show native (non-loan) phonemes in the environment /C[labial]a_a/.

(Near) Minimal Pairs for Wandamen Consonant Phonemes[3]
Phoneme Wandamen (IPA) English Gloss
p mapar valley
b baba big
t βata good, true
d padamara lamp
k makarabat eel
g maŋgar yell
m mamara clear
n manau already
ŋ waŋgar rat
β βaβa under
s masabu broken, cracked
r marapa rau paddy oat leaf


Velar plosive [g] only appears following [ŋ], and [ŋ] can only appear without a following [g] if it is stem-initial.

Glide Phonotactics

There are no underlying glides in Wandamen, [j] and [w] are allophones of the vowel phonemes /i/ and /u/. This phonetic alternation is obligatory, permitted, or prohibited, depending upon environment.

Vowel surfaces as Glide Env. 1 Env. 2 Env. 3
Obligatorily #_V V_V
Optionally C_V V_C V_#
Never C_C #_C C_#

High vowels must become glides word-initially preceding a vowel or intervocalically. They may optionally become glides when adjacent to a single vowel. Finally, high vowels never become glides between two consonants, depriving the syllable of a nucleus. Nor do glides appear word-initially preceding a consonant or word-finally following a consonant, in which case the syllable structure would be at odds with the Sonority Sequencing Principle.

Flow Chart of Consonant Cluster Phonotactics

Consonant Cluster Reduction

Complex onsets and codas are not permitted in Wandamen, and consonant clusters across syllable boundaries are usually reduced, such that /C1C2/ surfaces as [C2]. However, there are three exceptions to this; clusters of homorganic nasals and voiced plosives are permitted to surface, as are consonant-glide clusters that form through the morphophonological processes described above. Additionally, an underlying cluster of a consonant followed by /β/ /r/ or /k/ does not reduce but surfaces as a nasal followed by a homorganic voiced plosive, both of which derive their place features from underlying /C2/.

Data from related languages of the Yapen and Biakic groups suggests that historically, /β/ /r/ and /k/ were *b *d and *g in Proto-Eastern Malayo-Polynesian. In this case, these phones would have formed a natural class of voiced plosives to which phonological rules could uniformly apply.[3]


Wandamen has a 3-syllable, right-aligned stress window, meaning that primary stress falls on the final, penultimate, or antepenultimate syllable of the Pword. However, the distribution is not even; in a random sampling test of 105 audio clips, 66 tokens had primary stress on the penultimate syllable. With the addition of enclitics, primary stress sometimes shifts towards the end of the word to stay within the stress window, but since Wandamen prefers its metrical feet to be trochees, stress usually jumps from the head of one foot to the next, rather than jumping single syllables.

Secondary stresses are apparent in words of more than two syllables and, in cases of shifting stress, can be added at the beginnings of words to reduce lapses (several adjacent syllables without any stress). In the example below, the addition of the enclitic determiner =pai causes primary stress to shift to the right by two syllables (a single foot), and a secondary stress is added to the left in order to fill the lapse.

ma.rá.ri.a → ma.rà.ri.á=pai

child child=DET

"the child"

However, secondary stress always precedes primary stress and clitics are never able to carry stress in Wandamen. These two factors mean that the addition of multiple enclitics sometimes cause large lapses at the ends of words. For example, the construction below has a 5-syllable lapse at the end.



"we friends"

This would appear to be a violation of the 3-syllable stress window, but the fact that clitics never carry stress indicates that they may combine with their hosts at the level of the Pphrase rather than at Pword, where the stress window is relevant. Additionally, lapse is evaluated at the level of the Pword, meaning that stress in the following word never shifts to compensate. That is to say, stress in a word following the above construction would never shift leftwards for the purpose of reducing the lapse between words. This is in contrast to clash, (adjacent stressed syllables) which is evaluated at the level of the phonological phrase. Thus, to avoid clash, stress can shift within a word to compensate for the presence of a stressed syllable across a word boundary. For example, the word ka.tú 'small' typically has a stressed final syllable. However, when followed by yá.na 'there' as in the phrase below, stress within ka.tú shifts to avoid two adjacent stressed syllables.

ma.rá.ri.a ka.tú yá.na → ma.rá.ri.a ká.tu yá.na

child small there

"small child there"

In summary, lapse avoidance can only occur at the level of Pword, while clash avoidance is relevant at the level of Pphrase.[3]


In much of the literature on Wandamen an orthography is used which is based on the orthographic system of Indonesian. This orthography diverges from IPA notation in the following cases:

/β/ is notated ⟨v⟩

/d͡ʒ/ is notated ⟨j⟩

/j/ is notated ⟨y⟩

/ŋ/ is notated ⟨ng⟩ – clusters of /ŋg/ therefore appear as ⟨ngg⟩


  1. Wandamen at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Wandamen". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Gasser, Emily A., "Windesi Wamesa Morphophonology" (2014). Linguistics Graduate Dissertations. Paper 1. http://elischolar.library.yale.edu/ling_graduate/1
  4. Gasser, Emily. 2015. Wamesa Talking Dictionary, pilot version. Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages. http://www.talkingdictionary.org/wamesa

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