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Documenting Papapana, a highly endangered Northwest Solomonic language of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea


Language Papapana
Depositor Ellen Smith
Affiliation University of Newcastle, Australia
Location Papua New Guinea
Collection ID 0313
Grant ID MDP0206
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

The collection documents a highly endangered languages of the Northwest Solomonic region: Papapana (120 speakers, Bougainville). Despite small speaker number and pressure to shift to other languages, documentation was still feasible in 2010, though urgent, and members of the community are enthusiastic to actively collaborate on documenting their languages and traditions.


Group represented

Papapana speakers in Teperoi and the villages Peuni, Koikoi, Maras, Barora and Iraka. The Papapana speech community originates in the village of Teperoi but is currently also located in five other villages north and south of Teperoi: Peuni, Koikoi, Maras, Barora and Iraka. Peuni, Barora and Iraka villages are each situated in one clearing. Maras consists of seven sites situated north and south of the Maras bridge, and both east and west of the highway. Koikoi consists of six sites; one is north of a river on the west side of the highway, three more are situated south of the river along the west side of the highway, while two are south of the river but to the east of the highway, next to the beach. Teperoi itself is spread out along a narrow track of roughly 1.5 kilometres running adjacent to the shoreline. The first few settlements along this track are considered by community members to be Makomako village. Access to Teperoi proper is only possible through Makomako and there is no clear divide between the two. The track ends in a large clearing which is the centre of Teperoi. Beyond this there is a smaller track leading to the Teperoi Primary School site.


Language information

Papapana belongs to the Northwest Solomonic (NWS) subgroup of the Oceanic branch of the Austronesian language family. On the basis of the limited data available at the time, Ross (1988) placed Papapana in the Nehan/North Bougainville subgroup of NWS, containing the languages of northern Bougainville and Buka; however, there are similarities in lexicon and syntax which raise the possibility that Papapana is related more closely to Uruava, or perhaps even Mono and Torau (Bill Palmer, pers.comm.). This is further supported by evidence of contact-induced grammatical change in Papapana. Like the closely related NWS language Hahon, Papapana has a typologically unusual noun class system and subject-indexing verbal morphology which originated in a possessive construction (see Palmer 2011). Other typologically unusual features of Papapana include its patterns of verbal inflectional reduplication.Papapana has historically been in contact with the non-Austronesian languages of Bougainville, in particular Rotokas. As a result, Papapana displays interesting contact-induced grammatical change phenomena such as verb-final clause order, a postposition and preposed possessors, in addition to the left-headed typological features that are typical of Oceanic languages, such as prepositions and postposed possessors.Papapana is highly endangered as a result of language shift to Tok Pisin: only 17% of the total population of Papapana villages speak Papapana fluently (106 fluent speakers in total in 2013); intergenerational transmission has ceased except for one couple passing Papapana on to their two sons; and despite the nationwide vernacular education policy, in reality children are currently only exposed to Papapana in their first year of school for about an hour a day, where it is taught as a second language along with English.


Special characteristics

The collection includes a number of video recordings where a speaker names, shows and explains the uses for a particular cultural artefact or local flora and fauna (mainly shells and plants). Such video recordings are accompanied by photographs of these items. Along with traditional narratives, there are also a number of personal narratives, some of which include accounts of the 1990s Bougainville Crisis. Among the procedural text recordings, there is a nine-part video recording that shows how to make a traditional dish called ‘namenaga’ and this recording is narrated on-camera.


Collection contents


The contents of this collection are associated with the doctoral research of Ellen Smith and were collected during two fieldwork trips to Bougainville: June 2011 to March 2012, and March to May 2013. The first field site was the Papapana village of Barora, where Ellen lived from June to September 2011. She then lived in the Papapana village of Teperoi from September 2011 to March 2012, and again from March to May 2013.


The collection includes approximately 60 hours of Audio recordings: 10.5 hours of texts (such as traditional or personal narratives, custom descriptions, procedural texts, identification of flora and fauna and description of their uses, songs) and 48.5 hours of lexical and grammatical elicitation sessions. All audio documentation was gathered using a solid state digital audio recorder and recordings were made as WAV files at 48KHz 24bit. Lanyard microphones were generally used to increase range of capture and reduce risk of interference but sometimes I used the stereo microphones built in to the audio recorder, or a microphone mounted on the video recorder.


Almost 5 hours of the text recordings and about 1 minute of the elicitation recordings have been simultaneously captured as Video recordings. Video documentation was recorded in MiniDV format and audio input to video recordings was taken from audio recorder output channels to ensure maximal quality.


All text recordings from both field trips and some elicitation recordings from the first field trip have associated time-aligned transcription and translation in ELAN, and these files have been converted to Text files for use in Toolbox. Audio recordings were reduced to 48kHz 16bit for import into ELAN and export from ELAN to Toolbox. After video recordings were digitised, they were imported into the existing ELAN file. The ELAN (and Text) files in this deposit require further work to make the orthography and word boundaries in the transcriptions more consistent, and to make some of the translations more accurate. Examples in my PhD thesis that have been taken from these ELAN files have been corrected in these areas.


The Images include c.200 digital photographs and a few videos that capture local flora and fauna (mainly shells and plants), cultural artefacts, socio-cultural activities, speakers and the local environment. The images are often associated with items or activities mentioned in a particular text recording, while others capture an item that individuals brought to show me and teach me the name and use of. There were a number of items which it was not possible to identify and translate the name of; the photographs therefore provide a record of the word’s referent. For other items, the photographs have proven useful in identification and translation of items and names that it was not possible to identify and translate in the field. Photographs were mainly captured on my own digital SLR camera or occasionally on another digital camera, and always as JPEG files.


A bundle minimally contains an Audio file, but may also contain an associated Video file, an ELAN Annotation file and a Text file. A bundle may also contain associated Images.
The Recording Metadata spreadsheet shows the following fields for each type of file:
Audio: Device, microphone, sampling rate and size, original sampling rate and size
Video: Device, format, original format
Audio and video: Recording duration, date, location, creator, participants, comments (such as audience), languages used, genre, content and access rights
Annotation (ELAN): Main annotator, co-annotator
Annotation Text: N/A


A particular image may be associated with more than one bundle and therefore the metadata for the image is recorded in the Image Metadata spreadsheet. The metadata recorded for images includes: device, format, date, location, creator, content, comments and access rights.


Similarly, information about the participant is recorded in the Participant Metadata spreadsheet. The metadata recorded for participants includes: name, gender, approximate/exact age, birth place, home, occupation, education, marital status, children, linguistic repertoire, literacy skills in Papapana, other immediate family, linguistic comments.


Audio, Video, ELAN transcription and Text files that represent the same recording are labelled identically except for the file type. This identical label is the bundle identifier. An example bundle identifier is ES1-PPNE006-001A:
ES = The initials of the fieldworker and file creator, Ellen Smith
1 or 2 = First fieldwork trip, or second fieldwork trip
PPN = Papapana ISO code
E or T = Elicitation session, or Text session
001 = Session number
-001 = Session part number (some sessions were recorded in parts with breaks in between)
A or B = Track number (some sessions or session parts were recorded across more than one audio track when a recording was unexpectedly interrupted). Alternatively, the A track contains the introductory metadata information that was usually recorded at the start of a track.
a or b = Two files were mistakenly labelled with the same session number and these small case letters distinguish between the two separate files.


Image files have been given the name of the item in Papapana or English, or two words describing the content such as BananasBoiling or CoconutScraping. If there is more than one image depicting an item, a number is assigned, such as Kari1 and Kari2.


Other project outputs include materials for community use to assist in linguistic and cultural maintenance and promote vernacular literacy, including a short dictionary, four pedagogical readers (based on the SIL Shell books) and ten illustrated vocabulary books for the alphabet, numbers, colours and particular cultural domains (fish, marine animals, birds, plants, things/animals in the village, geographic/meterological phenomena, body parts).


A Grammar of Papapana with an investigation into Language Contact and Endangerment. This thesis provides a descriptive grammar and investigation into language contact phenomena in Papapana, a virtually undescribed and undocumented, highly endangered Northwest Solomonic (Oceanic, Austronesian) language spoken by 106 fluent speakers in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. The grammar describes the language on various levels, including phonology, morphology and syntax in noun phrases and the verb complex, and syntax at the clause- and sentence-level. Typologically unusual features of Papapana include its patterns of verbal inflectional reduplication and inverse-number marking in the noun phrase, while other interesting features include its postverbal subject-indexing, which interacts with reduplication or mode markers to express a range of functions. This thesis also investigates language contact phenomena in the Papapana speech community, specifically contact-induced grammatical change, and language shift and endangerment. As a precursor to these topics, it describes in detail the demographic, geographical, historical, cultural and sociolinguistic context within which the language is spoken. Papapana displays a partial shift from left-headed to right-headed typology, especially evident in its clause orders, obliques and possessive constructions, and argued to be the result of contact with neighbouring non-Austronesian languages. The final chapter investigates why and to what extent Papapana is an endangered language; it examines motivations for language shift to the official creole language Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea and in the Papapana community, and applies and critically evaluates ethnolinguistic vitality assessment frameworks. This thesis makes a significant contribution to future comparative linguistic and typological research by writing the first comprehensive grammatical description of Papapana while the opportunity to do so remains. The study of language contact is the first detailed account of the linguistic and sociolinguistic effects of the complexities of language contact in the Northwest Solomonic subgroup, and contributes more generally to research on language contact and language endangerment.


Other information

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Acknowledgement and citation

Users of any part of the collection should acknowledge Ellen Smith as the data collector and researcher. Users should also acknowledge the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme as the funder of the project. Individual speakers whose words and/or images are used should be acknowledged by name. Any other contributor who has collected, transcribed or translated the data or was involved in any other way should be acknowledged by name. All information on contributors is available in the metadata.

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

Smith, Ellen. 2015. Documenting Papapana, a highly endangered Northwest Solomonic language of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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