Yele language

Yélî Dnye
Native to Papua New Guinea
Region Louisiade Archipelago
Native speakers
3,800 (1998)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 yle
Glottolog yele1255[2]

Yele and the language families of the Solomon Islands.
  Yele (lower left)

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] For now it is best considered a language isolate, but it 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, however, it is more similar to the languages of southern New Guinea than to those of New Britain.

Yele is one of the better-known East Papuan languages. It 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 a uniquely rich set of doubly articulated consonants. In nearly all the languages of the world which have them, these are labial–velar consonantsthat 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 tʸ, nʸ, etc. (see denti-alveolar consonant), and (2) apical and slightly post-alveolar, sometimes transcribed ṭ, ṇ etc., ʈ, ɳ, etc., or simply t, n, etc.

Stops Bilabial Dental Alveolar Velar Labial–Dental Labial–Alveolar Labial–velar
Plosive paa side t̪aa knife t̠oo tongue kaa spear t̪͡pənə lung t̠͡pənə horn k͡pene coconut bag
Prenasalized stop mbee carry n̪d̪e food n̠d̠e firewood ŋɡaa tree n̪͡md̪͡boo pulp n̠͡md̠͡boo many ŋ͡mɡ͡bo fog
Nasal maa road n̪ii juice n̠aa feast ŋa lease n̪͡mo bird n̠͡mo we ŋ͡mo breast

There are two other doubly articulated consonants, [l͡β] as in lvámê (a type of cane) and [j͡β̞]. The Yele w is labial–dental [β̞͡ð̞]. 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 mʷʲ n̪͡m n̠͡m n̠ʲ ŋ ŋʷ ŋʲ ŋ͡m
Plosive p pʷʲ t̪͡p t̪ʲ t̠͡p t̠ʲ k k͡p
Fricative β βʲ ɣ
Approximant β̞͡ð̞ l l͡β j j͡β̞

It is not clear how many of the labial–velar and labial–alveolar consonants such as ŋ͡m 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: /mbʷ, mbʷʲ, n̪d̪ʲ, t̠n̠ʲ, t̠͡pn̠͡mʲ, ŋkʷ, kŋʷ/.

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

Yele also has many vowels, an unusually large number of which occur nasalized:

Front Central Back
Oral Nasal Oral Nasal Oral Nasal
Close i ĩ ɨ u i
Near-close e ? ə ə̃ o õ?
Open-mid ɛ ɛ̃ ɔ ɔ̃
(Near-)open æ æ̃? ɐ ã ɑ ɑ̃

(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 æ̃.)

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 vowel or consonant-vowel, 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 ń ng o ó p t u v w y
IPA ɑ a æ e ɛ ə ɣ i ɨ k l m ŋ ɔ o p u β 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, ńm, lv. Prenasalized /mp/ is written mb, but /nt̪/ and /ŋk/ are written nt and nk to distinguish them from nd /nt̠/ and ng /ŋ/. Prenasalized stops are written with an m when labial, including doubly articulated stops, as with md /n̠͡mt̠͡p/ or mg /ŋ͡mk͡p/, and with n otherwise. Nasal release is likewise written n or m, as in dny /t̠n̠ʲ/, kn /kŋ/, dm /t̠͡pn̠͡m/, km /k͡pŋ͡m/. Labialization is written w, and palatalization y, apart from ch for /tʲ/ and nj for /ntʲ/ (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 two sets of pronouns: free and possessive. They are,

I n̠ə
we two n̪o
we n̠͡mo
thou n̪i
you two t̠͡pũ
you n̪͡mo

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