|Native to||Papua New Guinea|
|Region||Finschhafen District, Morobe Province|
|(2,100 cited 1978)|
Yabem belongs to the division of the Melanesian languages spoken natively (in 1978) by about 2,000 people at Finschhafen, which is on the southern tip of the Huon Peninsula in Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea, despite historical evidence that shows that the language originated in the northern coast. However, Yabem was adopted as local lingua franca along with Kâte for evangelical and educational purposes by the German Lutheran missionaries who first arrived at Simbang, a Yabem-speaking village, in 1885. Yabem was the first language for which the missionaries created a writing system because it was the first language that they encountered when they arrived. They even created a school system to provide education for the Yabem community.
By 1939, it was spoken by as many as 15,000 people and understood by as many as 100,000 (Zahn 1940). In the decade after World War II, the mission's network of schools managed to educate 30,000 students by using Yabem as the medium of instruction (Streicher 1982). Although the usage of Yabem as a local lingua franca was replaced by Tok Pisin, which was used in informal everyday life, such as religious meetings and the workplace, and English, which was used in more formal institutions like education and government in the 1950s, Yabem remains one of the best-documented Austronesian languages, with extensive instructional and liturgical materials (including many original compositions, not just translations from German or English) as well as grammars and dictionaries. The government wanted an easier assimilation to Western culture and values and access to their superior educational resources and so English was the most efficient language of instruction.
Still, the transition from the usage of Kâte and Yabem, which are languages with local origins, to Tok Pisin and English, which are languages with foreign origins, affected the dynamic of the people and their view of language and the church somewhat negatively.
Yabem also shares a close relationship with the Kela and Bukawa languages. In fact, many people who speak Bukawa also speak Yabem.
Yabem distinguishes seven vowel qualities.
The glottal stop, written with a -c, is distinctive only at the end of syllables. The only other consonants that can occur there are labials and nasals: p, b, m, ?. The liquid /l/ is realized as either a flap [?] or a lateral [l]. Syllable-structure constraints are most easily explained if labialized and prenasalized consonants are considered to be unit phonemes rather than clusters. However, Otto Dempwolff, who greatly influenced the German missionary orthographies in New Guinea, apparently did not sanction labialized labials, preferring instead to signal rounding on labials by the presence of a round mid vowel (-o- or -ô-) between the labial consonant and the syllable nucleus, as in vs. ômôê? 'you'll come' vs. ômê? 'he'll come' or ômôa 'you'll dwell' vs. ômac 'you'll be sick' (Dempwolff 1939). (Compare the orthographies of Sio and Kâte.)
|Voiceless stop||p / po-/pô-||t||k / kw||-c|
|Voiced stop||b / bo-/bô-||d||g / gw|
|Prenasalized||mb / mbo-/mbô-||nd||?g / ?gw|
|Nasal||m / mo-/mô-||n||?|
Yabem has a simple system of register tone that distinguishes high-tone syllables from low-tone ones. In the standard orthography, high-tone syllables are unmarked, and the nuclei of low-tone syllables are marked with a grave accent, as in oc 'sun' vs. òc 'my foot' or uc 'breadfruit' vs. ùc 'hunting net'. Tone distinctions in Yabem appear to be of relatively recent origin (Bradshaw 1979) and still correlate strongly with obstruent voicing contrasts (but not in its closest relative, Bukawa). Only high tones occur in syllables with voiceless obstruents (p, t, k), and only low tone occurs in syllables with voiced obstruents (b, d, g). The fricative /s/ is voiced in low-tone syllables but voiceless in high-tone syllables. Other phonemes are neutral with respect to tone and so occur in both high-tone or low-tone environments.
Yabem has nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouns and adverbs. Some categories, such as verbs and nouns, are distinguishable by the types of morphology that they are able to take.
Yabem nouns can take inalienable possessive suffixes, distinguishing person, number and inclusivity/exclusivity. Alienable possessives are indicated by a juxtaposed possessive word. Nouns can also take "affective" suffixes that indicate a speaker's attitude toward that thing: sympathy, affection or ridicule. Examples are from Bradshaw & Czobor (2005) unless otherwise stated:
Verbs are distinguishable by their prefixes. They can take pronominal prefixes to indicate person, number, and irrealis/realis mode, as can be seen above in the Morphology section.
Some words can function as either nouns or verbs and thus take either nominal or verbal morphology:
Most of these are derived from the sense of the noun originally, though some appear to be derived from actions expressed by verbs:
Yabem has a nominative-accusative system of alignment, as is evidenced by the pronominal prefixes that appear on verbs that always mark the subject of either a transitive or intransitive verb. There is no case-marking on the nominals themselves, and word order is typically SVO. Examples are from Bradshaw & Czobor (2005:10-34) unless otherwise noted:
Subject prefixes can also occur with full subject pronouns, as is shown in the example below. Both bolded morphemes refer to the first-personal singular.
Word order (SVO) is another marker of the nominative/accusative system. Below, the first person singular free pronoun precedes the first whether it is the subject of an intransitive verb or the agent of a transitive verb.
Yabem, like many other languages of the area, both Oceanic and Papuan, has no passive voice. There is also no morphological method to create a causative. Detransitivization can be accomplished via periphrastic reflexive/reciprocal phrases, as can be seen below. Example is from Bradshaw (1999:289-91).
Yabem shows elements of morphological fusion and agglutination but is not very high in either respect. The primary factor determinative of fusion/agglutination degree is lexical category. Verbs, for example, take subject prefixes, which fusionally mark person, number, inclusivity (for the first person plural), realis/irrealis, and high- and have low-tone variants. Nouns also display low levels of agglutination, sometimes taking possessive suffixes. Verbal derivation is not something that occurs morphologically although nominalization does so. Some derivational morphology for nominalization can be seen below in building a noun via the agentive suffix. In the second example, the patient of a verb (in this case -àwêwàga 'woman') is combined with the agent (here ?ac 'man') to construct an agentive nominalized form. Examples are from Bradshaw & Czobor (2005:30) 
Relative clauses are created by use of the demonstrative pronouns/adjectives, which come in several forms themselves.
The three series above represent three degrees of proximity in the demonstratives. First series correlates to something nearest or most relevant to the 1st person (the speaker), and the second series corresponded to the 2nd person (addressee), while the third series corresponds to what is nearest or most relevant to the 3rd person (non-speech act participant). The forms beginning with t- are those that offer a specific or precise degree of evidentiality (with regard to the referent). Examples of this degree of precision can be seen below.
The bolded forms in the above table are the short forms of these demonstratives. They are phonologically reduced but carry no difference in meaning from the long forms. It is these short demonstratives that are used to create relative clauses. The three degrees of proximity as well as the two degrees of evidential precision still come into play when these forms are used as relative pronouns.
It is of note that the t- pronoun may precede the n- form, or two n-/n- forms may co-occur, but the n- form may never precede the t- form. This means that ta?...na? and na?...na? are acceptable but not *na?...ta?.
Yabem has a rich serial verb construction system (SVC). It incorporates both different subject (switch-subject) SVCs and same subject SVCs. The SVC system is symmetrical. The two verbs of the SVC must agree in mode (realis/irrealis) and must have the same object if they are transitive. Semantic usages include directionals, resultatives, causatives, comitatives and adverbial modifiers:
First person plural inclusive and exclusive are not distinguished in the free pronouns, but are distinguished in the subject prefixes and the genitives.
|1st person inclusive||aêàc||aêàgêc|
|1st person exclusive||aê||aêàc||aêàgêc|
The short, underdifferentiated genitive forms are often disambiguated by adding the free pronoun in front.
|1st person inclusive||(aêàc) nê?|
|1st person exclusive||(aê) ?oc||(aêàc) ma|
|2nd person||(aôm) nêm||(amàc) nêm|
|3rd person||(e?) nê||(êsêàc) nê?|
Verbs are prefixed to show the person and number of their subjects. (The 1st person plural exclusive and 2nd person plural prefixes are homophonous but can be disambiguated by using the free pronouns in subject position.) The singular prefixes also distinguish Realis and Irrealis mood (which usually translates to Nonfuture vs. Future tense). Each prefix also has a high-tone (H) and a low-tone (L) allomorph to meet the tone requirements of each of five conjugation classes.
|Person||Singular Realis (H/L)||Singular Irrealis (H/L)||Plural Realis=Irrealis (H/L)|
|1st person inclusive||ta-/da-|
|1st person exclusive||ka-/ga-||ja-/jà-||a-/à-|
Preposed genitive pronouns are used to mark alienable possession by humans, as in ?oc àndu 'my house', nêm i 'your fish', nê jàc 'his brother-in-law (wife's brother)'. Inalienable possession is marked by suffixes directly on the nouns denoting the possessions, which are typically kinship relations and body parts. The underdifferentiated suffixes are often disambiguated by adding the free pronoun in front of the suffixed noun. The final -i on the plurals of kin terms is a distributive marker, indicating some but not all of the class to which the noun refers.:21-29
|1st person inclusive||gwadê?i|
|1st person exclusive||gwadêc||gwadê?i|
|1st person inclusive||ôli?|
|1st person exclusive||ôlic||ôli?|
Genitive relations for other than humans are not marked by either the genitive pronouns (for alienables) or the genitive suffixes (for inalienables). Instead, inherent possession of nouns as progeny or parts of wholes is marked by a prefix ?a-, as in (ka) ?alaka '(tree) branch', (lôm) ?atau '(men's house) owner', and (talec) ?alatu '(hen's) chick'. The same is true of adjectives (attributes of other entities) when derived from nouns, as in ?adani 'thick, dense' (< dani 'thicket') or ?alemo? 'muddy, soft' (< lemo? 'mud').:26-31
Other genitive constructions
Nouns denoting persons use a genitive suffix of -nê in the singular and -nê?.
'of the lord's way'
The plural version of the suffix is applied to plural nouns or singular nouns that are plural in meaning.
'the people's field'
Compound nouns are often composed of two parts, the first of which is the genitive of the second.
'smoke of a fire'
Sometimes the compounds are metaphorical in their meaning.
'spring (of water)'
Some compounds include a possessive suffix on the first element of the compound.
'my head's hair' = 'my head hair'
'your nose's hole' = 'your nostril'
Some elements of these body part compounds exist only within the compound.
Less common are compounds that do not expression possessive, but some other kind of genitive relationship, such as apposition.
lit. 'people of the sword' = 'warriors'
'clay for pots'
Traditional counting practices started with the digits of one hand, then continued on the other 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. As in other Huon Gulf languages, an alternate form of the numeral '1' (te?) functions as an indefinite article. The numeral luagêc '2' can similarly function as an indefinite plural indicating 'a couple, a few, some'. The numeral root ta '1' suffixed with the adverbial marker -ge? renders 'one, only one', while the numeral '2' similarly suffixed (luàgêc-ge?) renders 'only a few'. Reduplicated numerals form distributives: tage?-tage? 'one by one', têlêàc-têlêàc 'in threes', etc.:52-54
|1||ta(-ge?) / te?||'one-ADV' / 'a(n)'|
|6||leme?-te? ?anô ta||'hand-one fruit one'|
|7||leme?-te? ?anô luàgêc||'hand-one fruit two'|
|8||leme?-te? ?anô têlêàc||'hand-one fruit three'|
|9||leme?-te? ?anô àclê||'hand-one fruit four'|
|10||leme?-lu ~ lemelu||'hands-two'|
|11||leme?-lu ?anô ta||'hands-two fruit one'|
|15||leme?-lu ?a-leme?-te?||'hands-two its-hands-one'|
|20||?ac te?||'man one'|
Due to the limited amount of consonants and vowels in the Yabem language, pronunciation is critical in order to get the correct meaning across. In some cases, simply changing the accent on a letter can change the meaning of a word entirely.
|Numeral||Meaning of word||IPA|
|2||'your mother's brother'||sa-m
<sa- 'mother's brother' + -m 'your (singular)'
< g (?) - 'third person singular subject, realis'; - 'eat'
|8||'he will carry'||e-tolo?|
|20||to put on top of||-sÀ?|
|25||'all at once'||tÍp|
|29||'I called out'||ka-kÚ?|
|30||'I speared (something)'||ga-gÙ?|
|31||'I provoked trouble'||ka-kilÍ|
|32||'I stepped over (s.t.)'||ka-gelÌ|
*Table taken from Tonogeneis in the North Huon Gulf Chain by Malcolm D. Ross