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Kâte language

Pronunciation [kɔtɛ]
Native to Papua New Guinea
Region Huon Peninsula, Morobe Province
Native speakers
20,000  (2011)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 kmg
Glottolog kate1253[2]

Kâte is a Papuan language spoken by about 6,000 people in the Finschhafen District of Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea. It is part of the Finisterre–Huon branch of the Trans–New Guinea phylum of languages (Ross 2005). It was adopted for teaching and mission work among speakers of Papuan languages by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea in the early 1900s and at one time had as many as 80,000 second-language speakers.


McElhanon (1974: 16) identifies five likely dialects at the time of earliest mission contact in 1886, each named according to how they pronounce a common word or phrase.

  • Wana ('where?'), the southernmost dialect
  • Wamorâ ('why?')
  • Mâgobineng ('we are saying it') or Bamotâ ('why?'), nearly extinct in 1974
  • Parec, already extinct by 1974
  • Wemo ('what?') or Wena, adopted as the mission lingua franca


Vowels (orthographic)

Kâte distinguishes six vowels. The low back vowel â sounds like the vowel of English law or saw (Pilhofer 1933: 14). Length is not distinctive.

Front Back
High i u
Mid e o
Low a â

Consonants (orthographic)

The glottal stop, written -c, only occurs after a vowel and Pilhofer first describes it as a vowel feature that distinguishes, for instance, bo 'sugarcane' from boc 'very' and si 'planting' from sic 'broth'. However, McElhanon (1974) notes that final glottal stop is barely phonemic in the Wemo dialect, but corresponds to a wider variety of syllable-final consonants in Western Huon languages (-p, -t, -k, -m, -n, -ŋ), which are neutralized (to -c, -ŋ) in the Eastern Huon languages, including Kâte.

The fricatives f and w are both labiodentals, according to Pilhofer (1933), but bilabials, according to Flierl and Strauss (1977). Alveopalatal z and ʒ are affricates, [ts] and [dz] respectively, but they otherwise pattern like the stops, except that z only occurs between vowels, while ʒ occurs morpheme-initially (Flierl and Strauss 1977: xv). Both Pilhofer (1933: 15) and Flierl and Strauss (1977) describe the labiovelars q and q as coarticulated and simultaneously released [kp] and [gb], respectively. (The boldfaced q here stands for a curly q with hooked serifs that cannot properly be rendered here.)

Labial Labiovelar Dental Alveopalatal Velar Glottal
Voiceless stop p q t -z- k -c
Voiced stop b q d ʒ g
Prenasalized mb ŋq nd ŋg
Nasal m n ŋ
Voiceless fricative f s h
Voiced fricative w
Liquid l
Approximant j


Free pronouns

Unlike many Papuan languages, Kâte distinguishes inclusive and exclusive in the 1st person, presumably due to Austronesian influence. The following pronoun table is from Pilhofer (1933: 51-52). Ross (2005: 32) cites nɔh-ɔʔ for 2nd-person plural, corresponding to Pilhofer's nâhâc for 1st-person dual inclusive. Otherwise, Ross's pronouns follow Pilhofer's, except orthographically.

Person Singular Plural Dual
1st person inclusive nâŋac nâhâc
1st person exclusive no nâŋe nâhe
2nd person go ŋoŋe ŋohe
3rd person e jaŋe jahe

Verb morphology

Each independent verb is suffixed to show tense and the grammatical person of the subject. There are five tense forms: present, near past, far past, near future, and far future. Animate subjects are marked for three persons (1st, 2nd, 3rd) and three numbers (singular, plural, and dual), although the same suffixes are used for both 2nd and 3rd person dual and plural. Inanimate subjects are only marked as 3rd person singular. (Pilhofer 1933: 26)

Kate displays canonical switch-reference (SR) verb morphology. Coordinate-dependent (clause-medial) verbs are not marked for tense (or mood), but only for whether their actions are sequential, simultaneous, or durative, in relation to the next verb in the SR clause chain. If the subject is the same as that of the next verb, its person and number is not marked. Verbs are suffixed for person and number only when their subject changes. (Pilhofer 1933: 35)


  1. ^ Kâte at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Kate". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  • Flierl, Wilhelm, and Hermann Strauss, eds. (1977). Kâte dictionary. Series C-41. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • McElhanon, K. A. (1974). The glottal stop in Kâte. Kivung 7: 16-22.
  • Pilhofer, G. (1933). Grammatik der Kâte-Sprache in Neuguinea. Vierzehntes Beihelf zur Zeitschrift für Eingeborenen-Sprachen. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer.
  • Ross, Malcolm (2005). "Pronouns as a preliminary diagnostic for grouping Papuan languages". In Andrew Pawley, Robert Attenborough, Robin Hide, Jack Golson, eds. Papuan pasts: cultural, linguistic and biological histories of Papuan-speaking peoples. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 15–66. ISBN 0858835622. OCLC 67292782. 

External links