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Journal Article

Pronouns and the (Preliminary) Classification of Papuan languages


Hammarström,  Harald
Radboud University;
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;
Language and Cognition Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Hammarström, H. (2012). Pronouns and the (Preliminary) Classification of Papuan languages. Language and linguistics in Melanesia, Special issue 2012 Part 2, 428-539. Retrieved from http://www.langlxmelanesia.com/hammarstrom428-539.pdf.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0013-F816-1
A series of articles by Ross (1995, 2001, 2005) use pronoun sim- ilarities to gauge relatedness between various Papuan microgroups, arguing that the similarities could not be the result of chance or bor- rowing. I argue that a more appropriate manner of calculating chance gives a signicantly dierent result: when cross-comparing a pool of languages the prospects for chance matches of rst and second person pronouns are very good. Using pronoun form data from over 3000 lan- guages and over 300 language families inside and outside New Guinea, I show that there is, nevertheless, a tendency for Papuan pronouns to use certain consonants more often in 1P and 2P SG forms than in the rest of the world. This could reect an underlying family. An alter- native explanation is the established Papuan areal feature of having a small consonant inventory, which results in a higher functional load on the remaining consonants, which is, in turn, reected in the enhanced popularity of certain consonants in pronouns of those languages. A test of surface forms (i.e., non-reconstructed forms) favours the latter explanation.