Papua and New Guinea

dihydrogen monoxide

Senior Member
Slovene, Serbo-Croat
What would be the reason that such a small country like Papua and New Guinea is a host to over 700 languages. I don't know if they are all related somehow, but why such a distribution in that country. What is more interesting with the languages in Papua and New Guinea and I don't know if there are any theories how it developed is there is a certain version of a language depends on if a woman or a man is speaking it.
 
  • Stoggler

    Senior Member
    UK English
    The country is called Papua New Guinea, there isn't the word and in the name. PNG covers the eastern half of the island of New Guinea - are you referring to just the country PNG or the whole island?

    The whole island is mountainous and mostly covered in thick tropical rainforest. It's also a very large island (one of the biggest in the world). Communication between even close valleys is very difficult, which makes for ideal conditions for different varieties and then different languages to develop over time. Such linguistic diversity is very common in the world's mountainous areas.
     

    dihydrogen monoxide

    Senior Member
    Slovene, Serbo-Croat
    Oh, that must be my native language creeping through. I am wondering if one could even connect all those languages and create a proto-language (maybe it's done already). I don't know
    if that area has been populated during the time of PIE being spoken. I'm not sure if many of those languages are mutually intelligible or belong to the same groups, I don't know how the languages there are classified. But I believe lingua franca developed there. What would be the oldest language spoken in the country/island?
     

    AndrasBP

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    Oh, that must be my native language creeping through.
    There's no "and" in the name of the country in Slovene or Croatian either.

    But I believe lingua franca developed there.
    They have a creole language called Tok Pisin.

    Such linguistic diversity is very common in the world's mountainous areas.
    Another such area is the Caucasus region, where dozens of languages are spoken, many of them unrelated to each other.
     

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Papua Nova Gvineja — Watchtowerjeva SPLETNA KNJIŽNICA (for Papua New Guinea), by the way I've always referred to it this way.

    So some of the languages in mountainous regions are isolated and cannot be derived from any proto-language.
    It is reasonable to believe that the little group of a few thousands people that walked out of Africa 70 000 years ago had already a rudimentary language. The group that settled in our island spread around the whole area and their protolanguage developed into many new languages. They almost certainly developed from the protolanguage, but during such a long time the changes became so radical, that it is impossible to reconstruct any common protolanguage, especially that we have noe ancient written records.
     

    fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    It is reasonable to believe that the little group of a few thousands people that walked out of Africa 70 000 years ago had already a rudimentary language. The group that settled in our island spread around the whole area and their protolanguage developed into many new languages. They almost certainly developed from the protolanguage, but during such a long time the changes became so radical, that it is impossible to reconstruct any common protolanguage, especially that we have noe ancient written records.
    You should not take for granted that they all derive from the same proto-language. That needs to be demonstrated. It is also possible that they represent various waves of migration.
     

    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    It's a mountainous tropical island: mountains and tropics both encourage small, independent communities: mountains because of the difficulty of travel and tropics because of abundant resources don't require big cooperative projects to feed the population. So PNG has been depending on small-scale self-providing agriculture and/or hunting/gathering for thousands of years (more than 10k, if I remember correctly), which would result in a bunch of languages no matter how many there were originally when the island was settled.
     

    ahvalj

    Senior Member
    It's a mountainous tropical island: mountains and tropics both encourage small, independent communities: mountains because of the difficulty of travel and tropics because of abundant resources don't require big cooperative projects to feed the population. So PNG has been depending on small-scale self-providing agriculture and/or hunting/gathering for thousands of years (more than 10k, if I remember correctly), which would result in a bunch of languages no matter how many there were originally when the island was settled.
    Yet there are numerous families in Australia, with different climate and geography, and one Bantu family (as a result of a rather recent conquest+genocide) in tropical Africa with the same climate and conditions.
     

    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    I'll correct my statement so that whatever conditions favour small, independent communities with no need/urge to conquer large swathes of territory favor many distinct languages. But that just avoids answering what those conditions are, of course... reducing everything to climate and geography is likely oversimplifying things, given your counterexamples (I noticed you didn't give a counterexample for mountains, though... Sino-Tibetan?).

    In Australia, however, it's precisely the larger, less hospitable part which hosts one single family, leaving the rest marginalized.
     

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    You should not take for granted that they all derive from the same proto-language. That needs to be demonstrated. It is also possible that they represent various waves of migration.
    Why do you think that I take anything for granted? l wrote that it was reasonable to believe that the emigrants from Africa already had a rudimentary language. Anyway after 70 000 years all traces of this protolanguage must have been erased.
     

    Dymn

    Senior Member
    From what I see, the mountainous area only covers a part of the country, say 25%. It's not like it's all mountains. Honshu is certainly much more mountainous, as well as narrower and with a longer tip-to-tip distance, yet only one language is spoken. The Western half of New Guinea is about the same size and characteristics as the Eastern half so you'd think the number of languages is up there but it's ~only~ 250 (as opposed to 850 in PNG). Divided by population and area, there's a language in PNG for every 10,000 inhabitants and 500 squared km. As it is known, there's an arbitrary difference between a language and a dialect. I wonder if whoever counts these things has applied too liberal standards to that country...
     

    Stoggler

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Mountains are only one of the reasons why communication is poor in PNG. The island is covered in thick tropical rainforest, and that also makes moving about difficult. Contact between different groups is limited as a result, in the same way that it is in other parts of the world with tropical rainforest.
    Even today, getting around either Irian Jaya or PNG is difficult, with large areas of the island being very remote and cut off from the outside world.
     
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