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Tifal language

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Title: Tifal language  
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Tifal language

Native to Papua New Guinea
Region Sandaun Province, Telefomin District
Native speakers
3,600  (2003)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 tif
Glottolog tifa1245[2]

Tifal is an Ok language spoken in Papua New Guinea.


The Tifal language is bounded by Papuan and Irian Jaya speakers to the south and west, the Telefomin valley in the east, and the Sepik river to the north.[3]


Phonemic ɑ ɑː b d f i k l m n ŋ o s t u w j
Lowercase a aa b, p d e f i ii k l m n ng o oo s t u uu w y
Uppercase A Aa B D E F I Ii K L M N O Oo S T U Uu W Y



Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar
Plosive b t d k
Nasal m n ŋ
Fricative f s
Approximant w j
Lateral l
/b/ is realized as [pʰ] word finally, as [p] in syllable-coda position before a consonant, and [b] elsewhere.
/t/ is realized as [t] in syllable coda before a consonant and [tʰ] elsewhere.
/d/ is realized as [ɾ] intervocalically, e.g. /didab/: [dɪˈɾʌpʰ] 'water container'.
/k/ is [ɣ] intervocalically, [k] in syllable coda before consonants, and [kʰ] elsewhere.
/s/ is realized as [ʂ] before /u/.
/l/ is alveolar adjacent to back vowels and alveodental elsewhere.[4] One dialect realizes /l/ as [r] intervocalically.


Front Central Back
Close i iː u uː
Mid o oː
Open ɑ ɑː

/o/ and /oː/ rarely contrast.[5]

Vowel allophones[6]
Phoneme Condition Allophone Realization
/i/ word-initially and finally [i] [ɪ]
/a/ [a] [ʌ]
/u/ [u] [ʊ]
/eː/ in open syllables, before /m/, and between /j/ and /p/ [eː] [ɛː]
/o/ before /n/ or /ŋ/; between /t/ and /k/ [ɔ] [o]


Syllable structure is (C)V(ː)(C). The expression kwiin takan 'oh my!' may be an exception.

/d/ only occurs word-initially.[7] /f/ only occurs syllable-initially.[8] /ŋ/ is always syllable-final.[9]

Initial /l/ only occurs in some dialects. Initial /kw/ occurs in two dialects, and may usually be interpreted as C+V.

/w/ and /j/ occur syllable-initially.[10] Only one dialect allows syllable-coda /j/.[11]


In inflected words stress lies on the last syllable of the verb stem. Otherwise, if there are long vowels stress falls on the first in the word. If all vowels are short, stress falls on the last syllable if it is closed and the first syllable otherwise.



Nouns are not inflected but may mark possession. Body parts and kinship terms are obligatorily possessed, and some kinship terms require affixing. On other nouns possession is optional, except for proper names which are never possessed.[12]


Pronoun stems[13]
Person Basic Emphatic
1 s ni-/na- nala-/nalal-/-nila
pl nuu-/no- nuulu-/nulul-
2 s m kab- kaltab-/kalab-
f kub- kultub-/kulub-
pl kib- kiltib-
3 s m a- ala-/alal-/al-
f u- ulu-/ulul-/ul-
pl ib-/i- iltib-/ilib-/ilal-/il-
Non-emphatic pronouns[14]
Suffix meaning: Poss. Subj. Definitive Inst. First with, and, also
Suffix: -mi~ni -i~-di -yo ta -siik/-siin soo/soono
Emphatic pronouns[15]
Suffix meaning: Poss. Inst. 'only' 'like, simile'
Suffix: -mi~ni ta -kal tab


Tifal has a rich aspectual system.[16] Verbs may be separated into four groups based on how they transform from continuative to punctiliar aspect. Some only have vowel and/or simple stem changes, some have suppletive stems, some change compound-final stems, and some which have allomorphs which add -(a)laa-min (or rarely -daa-laa-min) to the stem.[17]

Verbs also can be divided based on transitivity. Some require direct objects, some with optional objects, some with optional locational objects, and a few intransitive verbs.[18]

Order of verb suffixes[19]
verb ben. ben. -laa tense person mood statement-final marker

Tense and aspect

Most final verbs mark tense, mood, and person, but most verbs can mark aspect and not tense and still be a final verb.[20]
Tense-aspect suffixes[21]
Continuative Punctiliar
pres -b/m1 -d
yesterday past 1-m-som/-a-som -b
dist. past -a-s
very remote past -bis -s
abilitative 1-m-am 1-d-am
near future 1-m-okom 1-d-okom
dist. future 1-m-okob 1-d-okob
  1. "initial consonant of the customary or class changing marker is retained"

Tifal sentences are contain inflected verb-root-chains, often with a final fully conjugated verb. One must inflect for the amount of time between one verb in the chain and the next.[22]


Marking spacial relation between verbs and their objects is obligatory. "up" must be clarified as either "upslope" or "upstream", "down" as "downslope" or "downstream", and "across" as "across land" or "across a river".[23]


Tifal has dyadic kinship terms (terms referring to the relationship two or more people have to each other), which are present in less than 10 languages and not prevalent in Papua New Guinea. However, they are a salient feature of the Ok languages. Related terms are found in Oksapmin, Mian, and Telefol.[24]

See also


  1. ^ Tifal at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Tifal". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Boush 1975, 0. Introduction.
  4. ^ Boush 1974, pp. 8-9.
  5. ^ Boush 1974, p. 22.
  6. ^ Boush 1974, pp. 17-19.
  7. ^ Boush 1974, p. 3.
  8. ^ Boush 1974, p. 7.
  9. ^ Boush 1974, p. 8.
  10. ^ Boush 1974, p. 9.
  11. ^ Tifal Organised Phonology Data, p. 3.
  12. ^ Boush 1975, pp. 3-5.
  13. ^ Boush 1975, p. 6.
  14. ^ Boush 1975, p. 7.
  15. ^ Boush 1975, p. 8.
  16. ^ Aspectual stem distinctions in the Mian verb PDF, p. 1.
  17. ^ Boush 1975, pp. 10-12.
  18. ^ Boush 1975, pp. 13-16.
  19. ^ Boush 1975, p. 16.
  20. ^ Boush 1979, p. 1.
  21. ^ Boush 1975, pp. 22-23.
  22. ^ On Learning a New Guinea Language
  23. ^ On Learning a New Guinea Language
  24. ^ The Oksapmin Kinship System, retrieved May 21, 2009.


  • Boush, Al and Susan Boush. 1974. Tifal phonology. [Manuscript] 40 p.
  • Boush, Al. 1975. Tifal grammar essentials. [Manuscript] 75 p.
  • Boush, Al. 1979. Aspect on Tifal final and medial verbs. [Manuscript] 23 p.
  • Tifal Organised Phonology Data. [Manuscript]

Further reading

  • Steinkraus, Walter. 1969. 'Tifal phonology showing vowel and tone neutralization.' Kivung 2:1
  • Healey, Phyllis, and Walter Steinkraus. 1972. 'A Preliminary Vocabulary of Tifal with Grammar Notes.' Language Data Microfiche AP 5, S.I.L., Huntington Beach, v + 117 pp. ISBN 0-88312-305-3
  • Steinkraus, Walter. 1962-63. Manuscripts. SIL, Ukarumpa.
  • Boush, Al. 1974-79. Manuscripts. SIL, Ukarumpa.

External links

  • PNG Language Resources: Tifal
  • WALS - Tifal
  • Tifal on
  • Missionary video in Tifal
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