Yele Language
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Yele Language
Yélî Dnye
Native toPapua New Guinea
RegionRossel Island, Louisiade Archipelago
Native speakers
3,750 (1998)[1]
Language codes
Coordinates: 11°21?S 154°09?E / 11.350°S 154.150°E / -11.350; 154.150Coordinates: 11°21?S 154°09?E / 11.350°S 154.150°E / -11.350; 154.150[2]
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The Yele language, or Yélî Dnye, is the language of Rossel Island, the easternmost island in the Louisiade Archipelago off the eastern tip of Papua New Guinea. There were some 4,000 speakers in 1998, comprising the entire ethnic population.[1] The language remains unclassified by linguists.


For now, the language is best considered unclassified. It has been classified as a tentative language isolate that may turn out to be related to the Anêm and Ata language isolates of New Britain (in a tentative Yele - West New Britain family). Typologically it is more similar to the Oceanic languages of southern New Guinea than to the isolates of New Britain. Word order tends to be SOV (verb-final).[3]

Stebbins et al. (2018) classifies Yélî Dnye as an isolate.[3] They explain similarities with Austronesian as being due to contact and diffusion.


Yele has a uniquely rich set of doubly articulated consonants. In nearly all the languages of the world which have them, these are labial-velar consonants—that is, they are pronounced simultaneously with the lips and the back of the tongue, such as a simultaneous p and k. Only Yele is known to contrast other doubly articulated positions: besides labial-velar, it has two distinct labial-alveolar positions (laminal/dental and apical/postalveolar), as illustrated below.

The two coronal articulations are (1) laminal/dental and slightly pre-alveolar, sometimes transcribed t?, n?, etc. (see denti-alveolar consonant), and (2) apical and slightly post-alveolar, sometimes transcribed ?, ? etc., ?, ?, etc., or simply t, n, etc.

There are two other doubly articulated consonants, [l] as in lvámê (a type of cane) and [j]. The Yele w is labial-dental [ð?][verification needed]. These doubly articulated consonants contrast with labialization (SIL 1992/2004). Many articulations may also be palatalized. Stops may be either pre- or (except perhaps for /p/) post-nasalized. The consonant inventory includes the following:

Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Labial-velar
plain lab. pal. lab. & pal. plain lab. pal. plain lab. pal. plain lab. plain lab. pal.
Nasal m m? m? m n? nm n? nm n ? m
Plosive p p? p? p t? tp t t? tp t k k? k? k?p
Fricative ? ?
Approximant ð? l l l? j j

It is not clear how many of the labial-velar and labial-alveolar consonants such as m may also be labialized or palatalized. Nor is it clear how many of these articulations occur prenasalized or with nasal release, but besides those noted above, the following are noted in SIL 1992/2004: /mb?, mb, n?d, t?n, tpnm?, ?k?, k/.

The oral stops /p t? k/ (that is, apart from dental /t?/) are voiced between vowels and when prenasalized. The (post-)alveolar is further reduced to an (apparently dental) flap [] between vowels. Some of the palatalized alveolar stops are pronounced as fricatives or affricates, such as [t?] (or perhaps [?]) and [nd?] (or perhaps [?]), but SIL (1992/2004) contradicts itself as to which these are.

Yele also has many vowels, a noteworthy number of which are nasalized:

Front Central Back
Oral Nasal Oral Nasal Oral Nasal
Close i ? ? u ?
Near-close e ?? ? o õ?
Open-mid ? ?
(Near-)open æ æ?? ? ã ?

(The distinction between open-mid and close-mid nasal vowels is rather unusual, and SIL (1992/2004) provides no examples of the close-mid vowels. They also fail to provide an example of æ?.)

Vowels may occur long or short. SIL (1992/2004) interprets other vowel sequences as being separated by /j, w/ rather than as diphthongs.

Given that vowels may be long or short, Yele syllables may only be of the form V or CV, and in the former case, apparently only /a/ or /u/.


Orthography â a á d é e ê gh i î k l m n ? ng o ó p t u v w y
IPA ? a æ t? e ? ? ? i ? k l m n? n? ? ? o p t? u ? w? j

The multigraphs for complex consonants are not always transparent. The labial-velar and labial-alveolar consonants are written with the labial second: kp, dp, tp, ngm, nm, ?m, lv. Prenasalized /mp/ is written mb, but /nt?/ and /?k/ are written nt and nk to distinguish them from nd /nt?/ and ng /?/. Prenasalized stops are written with an m when labial, including doubly articulated stops, as with md /nmtp/ or mg /mk?p/, and with n otherwise. Nasal release is likewise written n or m, as in dny /t?n/, kn /k?/, dm /tpnm/, km /k?pm/. Labialization is written w, and palatalization y, apart from ch for /t?/ and nj for /nt?/ (it is not clear if ch and nj are dental or (post-)alveolar).

Of the vowels, only a and u occur initially. Long vowels are written doubled, and nasal vowels with a preceding colon (:a for /ã/), except for short vowels after a nasal consonant (or a nasal release?), where vowel nasality is not contrastive.


Yele has been studied extensively by cognitive linguists. It has an extensive set of spatial postpositions. Yele has eleven postpositions equivalent to English on; using different ones depending factors such as whether the object is on a table (horizontal), a wall (vertical), or atop a peak; whether or not it is attached to the surface; and whether it is solid or granular (distributed).


Yele has two sets of pronouns: free and possessive.

I n
we two n?o
we nmo
thou n?i
you two tp?
you nmo
he/she -
they -


Selected basic vocabulary items in Yélî Dnye:[4]

gloss Yélî Dnye
bird ?mê; ?mo
blood wêê
bone dînê
breast ngmo
ear ngwe?e
eat ma
egg w:uu
eye ngwolo
fire ndê; ndyuw:e
give yeede
go lê; lili; nî
ground mbwóó; têpê
hair gh:aa
head ny:oo
leg yi
louse y:emê wee
man pi
moon d:ââ
name pi
one ngmidi
road, path maa
see m:uu
sky mbóó; vyââ
stone chêêpî
sun kââdî
tongue dêê
tooth nyóó
tree yi
two miyó
water mbwaa; tolo
woman kumbwada; pyââ

Sample text

Kiye w:ââ u pi Peetuuki, ka kwo, Doongê. Nê kuu. Daa a w:ââ. Nkal u w:ââ. Nkal ngê yinê kaa ngê. W:ââ dono. Pi yilî u te. U nuu u pi da tóó. Pi u lama daa tóó. M:iituwo Yidika, Mépé tp:oo mî kiye ngê. Daanté. Mépé dono ngê pyodo. Apê, W:ââ mbwámê nînê châpwo. Nkal ngê kwo, "Up:o" . W:ââ mî mbêpê wo, chii mênê. Mépé ngê w:ââ mbwámê mêdîpê châpwo. Awêde ka kwo, Doongê. Pi maa daa t:a. A danêmbum u dî.

"The savage dog is called "Peetuuki", and he lives at Doongê. It's nothing to do with me. It's not my dog. It's Nkal's dog. He raised it. It's a bad dog. It bites everyone. It doesn't like anyone. Recently it bit Mépé's son, Yidika. It really bit him hard. Mépé became very angry, and said, 'I'm going to kill that dog'. The dog ran away into the bush, so Mépé could not kill it. So now it's still there at Doongê, so there's not a safe road through there. That's the end of my story." (SIL 1992/2004)


  1. ^ a b Yele at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Prostar Sailing Directions 2004 New Guinea Enroute, p. 177
  3. ^ a b Stebbins, Tonya; Evans, Bethwyn; Terrill, Angela (2018). "The Papuan languages of Island Melanesia". In Palmer, Bill (ed.). The Languages and Linguistics of the New Guinea Area: A Comprehensive Guide. The World of Linguistics. 4. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 775-894. ISBN 978-3-11-028642-7.
  4. ^ Henderson, James E. and Anne Henderson, compilers. 1999. Rossel to English, English to Rossel Dictionary. Dictionaries of Papua New Guinea, Vol. 9. Ukarumpa: Summer Institute of Linguistics.


  • James E. Henderson, 1995. Phonology and grammar of Yele, Papua New Guinea. Pacific Linguistics B-112. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • Peter Ladefoged & Ian Maddieson, 1996. The sounds of the world's languages. Oxford: Blackwells. ISBN 0-631-19814-8
  • Stephen C. Levinson, 2003. Space in Language and Cognition: Explorations in Cognitive Diversity. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-01196-5
  • Phonology sketch from SIL, 1992/2004 [1]

External links

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