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Documentation and Description of Kove


Language Kove
Depositor Hiroko Sato
Affiliation University of Hawai’i
Location Papua New Guinea
Collection ID 0246
Grant ID SG0053
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

This collection documents Kove (IS0639-3:kvc) spoken in Kove (north-eastern New Guinea, Papua New Guinea). There are around 8,000 community members though there are fewer Kove speakers because community members are rapidly losing language competence due to modernisation, educational developments, and social interactions. Most fluent speakers are over 50 years old. The objective of this collection is to provide corpus, a grammar and a small dictionary of Kove that may serve as a basis for educational materials for the community.


Group represented

This collection represents members of the Kove-speaking community on Kapo Island in West Kove.

Kove is primarily spoken in 34 villages, including some on the small islands north of New Britain Island. Around 8,000 people live in the area, but many are not fluent speakers of Kove. As in much of New Britain and Melanesia, the Kove area shows considerable linguistic diversity. Kove is surrounded by five other indigenous languages. Local linguistic diversity, modernisation, educational developments, and social interactions have encouraged the use of Tok Pisin and English as lingua francas for communication.

A few years before the beginning of this documentation project, a primary school in the Kove area started using Kove in addition to Tok Pisin as a language of instruction for first-year and second-year students. There were no educational materials in Kove, but the teachers are very interested in creating a Kove curriculum and educational materials to teach the language, and it is hoped that the grammar and dictionary from this collection will serve as a basis for school materials in the future.


Language information

Kove (IS0639-3:kvc) is an Oceanic Austronesian language of Western Oceanic linkage spoken in Papua New Guinea’s West New Britain province.

Kove is a threatened language. Most fluent speakers are in their 50’s or older. People in their 40’s can produce only basic vocabulary and simple sentences. Parents avoid using Kove with their children so that knowledge of the language and traditional culture is no longer passed on. Most of the community is not aware of the imminent threat to their language and is indifferent and/or has a negative attitude toward the language.

There is a small amount of anthropological work on Kove, but linguistic description and documentation of Kove and related languages is very limited. There is a brief report of a survey of West New Britain conducted in 1926 by a provincial government in Papua New Guinea. In the 1960s, anthropologist Ann Chowning worked in the Kove area and produced a few articles about the language and culture. Sketch grammars of two related languages, Bariai and Lusi, have been produced by SIL and an anthropologist, respectively.

Work by Hiroko Sato has shown interesting features of Kove in the morphosyntax (possessive constructions expressing a diverse range of semantic relationships, rich serial verb constructions), semantics (body part term metaphors), historical (internal borrowings from a few distantly related neighbouring languages, retained final consonants, features of non-Austronesian languages in terms of lexicon and structure).


Special characteristics

This collection provides materials for a better understanding of the North New Guinea Cluster and its subgroups. Linguistic subgroupings within the North New Guinea Cluster are weakly defined due to a paucity of data available on these languages. Describing the phonemic system of Kove will help to refine the subgrouping hypothesis posited for the Ngero family (Ross 1988) and verify the position of Kove in this group.

For historical and migration research, Kove histories provide historical information about their migration and help us understand the history of some of the neighbouring areas. These stories are only known by the older generation (over 50 years old). Without this documentation, all the information encoded in the language and its story repertoire will disappear with this generation.


Collection contents

When completed, the collection will include

  • audio and video recordings of narratives (myths, historical stories, legends, children’s stories), public events (ceremonies, rituals) and conversations (daily matters, politics) as well as elicitations of linguistic data
  • photographs
  • written texts
  • observational field notes
  • 10 hours of time-aligned ELAN transcriptions in the Kove writing system or in IPA (depending on the target audience), interlinear glosses in Toolbox, translations into English (all recordings) and Tok Pisin (selected recordings)
  • a Toolbox dictionary database of 2,000 richly developed entries, including information on etymology, morphology and semantic domains
  • a grammar with information about sociolinguistics, phonology, phrases, sentences, and complex sentences, linked to sources of data in a corpus of texts with cross-reference numbers
  • a writing system
  • metadata, including folder number, title, speakers, language name, time and location of recording, linguistic type, description, and genre keyword

As a special subset, there are recordings from conversations in the men’s house. Recordings in the men’s house are important because talk in a men’s house covers various topics such as oral histories, traditional knowledge, politics, and daily matters, as well as taboo. All generations are involved in the men’s house, but only initiated men can enter a men’s house. Recently, fewer men have had an initiation ceremony, so participation in the men’s house is decreasing. Activities associated with the men’s house are also disappearing, so that recording in a men’s house will help preserve their activities for future generations.


Collection history

Before the beginning of the research for this collection, Hiroko Sato studied Kove during three field trips over a total of six months, doing analytical research on Kove possessive structures. In the summer of 2007, Hiroko Sato returned to Papua New Guinea for further fieldwork on Kove and conducted a sociolinguistic study, collected some stories and elicited data for a grammatical description, concentrating on nominalization and possessive constructions.

The materials in this collection were collected between 2010 and 2011 during two rounds of fieldwork of three months each for Hiroko Sato’s Small Grant from ELDP.


Other information

The materials in this collection were also archived at Kaipuleohone, University of Hawai’i. In addition, materials were also deposited in the University of Hawai’i Library for long-term security.


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Sato, Hiroko . 2017. Documentation and Description of Kove. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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