|Native to||Papua New Guinea|
The Yele language, or Yélî Dnye, is the language of Rossel Island, the easternmost island in the Louisiade Archipelago off the eastern tip of Papua New Guinea. There were some 4,000 speakers in 1998, comprising the entire ethnic population. For now it is best considered unclassified. It has been classified as a tentative language isolate that may turn out to be related to the Anêm and Ata language isolates of New Britain (in a tentative Yele – West New Britain family), and alternatively as closest to Sudest in the Papuan Tip languages of the Oceanic family. Typologically it is more similar to the Oceanic languages of southern New Guinea than to the isolates of New Britain.
Yele has been studied extensively by cognitive linguists. It has an extensive set of spatial postpositions. Yele has eleven postpositions equivalent to English on; using different ones depending factors such as whether the object is on a table (horizontal), a wall (vertical), or atop a peak; whether or not it is attached to the surface; and whether it is solid or granular (distributed).
Stebbins (2018) classifies Yélî Dnye as an isolate. Similarities with Austronesian are due to contact and diffusion.
Yele has a uniquely rich set of doubly articulated consonants. In nearly all the languages of the world which have them, these are labial–velar consonants—that is, they are pronounced simultaneously with the lips and the back of the tongue, such as a simultaneous p and k. Only Yele is known to contrast other doubly articulated positions: besides labial–velar, it has two distinct labial–alveolar positions (laminal/dental and apical/postalveolar), as illustrated below.
The two coronal articulations are (1) laminal/dental and slightly pre-alveolar, sometimes transcribed tʸ, nʸ, etc. (see denti-alveolar consonant), and (2) apical and slightly post-alveolar, sometimes transcribed ṭ, ṇ etc., ʈ, ɳ, etc., or simply t, n, etc.
There are two other doubly articulated consonants, [l͡β] as in lvámê (a type of cane) and [j͡β̞]. The Yele w is labial–dental [β̞͡ð̞][verification needed]. These doubly articulated consonants contrast with labialization (SIL 1992/2004). Many articulations may also be palatalized. Stops may be either pre- or (except perhaps for /p/) post-nasalized. The consonant inventory includes the following,
|plain||lab.||pal.||lab. & pal.||plain||lab.||pal.||plain||lab.||pal.||plain||lab.||plain||lab.||pal.|
It is not clear how many of the labial–velar and labial–alveolar consonants such as ŋ͡m may also be labialized or palatalized. Nor is it clear how many of these articulations occur prenasalized or with nasal release, but besides those noted above, the following are noted in SIL 1992/2004: /mbʷ, mbʷʲ, n̪d̪ʲ, t̠n̠ʲ, t̠͡pn̠͡mʲ, ŋkʷ, kŋʷ/.
The oral stops /p t̠ k/ (that is, apart from dental /t̪/) are voiced between vowels and when prenasalized. The (post-)alveolar is further reduced to an (apparently dental) flap [ɾ̪] between vowels. Some of the palatalized alveolar stops are pronounced as fricatives or affricates, such as [tɕ] (or perhaps [ɕ]) and [ndʑ] (or perhaps [ʑ]), but SIL (1992/2004) contradicts itself as to which these are.
Yele also has many vowels, an unusually large number of which occur nasalized:
(The distinction between open-mid and close-mid nasal vowels is rather unusual, and SIL (1992/2004) provides no examples of the close-mid vowels. They also fail to provide an example of æ̃.)
Given that vowels may be long or short, Yele syllables may only be of the form vowel or consonant-vowel, and in the former case, apparently only /a/ or /u/.
The multigraphs for complex consonants are not always transparent. The labial-velar and labial-alveolar consonants are written with the labial second: kp, dp, tp, ngm, nm, ńm, lv. Prenasalized /mp/ is written mb, but /nt̪/ and /ŋk/ are written nt and nk to distinguish them from nd /nt̠/ and ng /ŋ/. Prenasalized stops are written with an m when labial, including doubly articulated stops, as with md /n̠͡mt̠͡p/ or mg /ŋ͡mk͡p/, and with n otherwise. Nasal release is likewise written n or m, as in dny /t̠n̠ʲ/, kn /kŋ/, dm /t̠͡pn̠͡m/, km /k͡pŋ͡m/. Labialization is written w, and palatalization y, apart from ch for /tʲ/ and nj for /ntʲ/ (it is not clear if ch and nj are dental or (post-)alveolar).
Of the vowels, only a and u occur initially. Long vowels are written doubled, and nasal vowels with a preceding colon (:a for /ã/), except for short vowels after a nasal consonant (or a nasal release?), where vowel nasality is not contrastive.
Yele has two sets of pronouns: free and possessive. They are,
we two n̪o
you two t̠͡pũ
Kiye w:ââ u pi Peetuuki, ka kwo, Doongê. Nê kuu. Daa a w:ââ. Nkal u w:ââ. Nkal ngê yinê kaa ngê. W:ââ dono. Pi yilî u te. U nuu u pi da tóó. Pi u lama daa tóó. M:iituwo Yidika, Mépé tp:oo mî kiye ngê. Daanté. Mépé dono ngê pyodo. Apê, W:ââ mbwámê nînê châpwo. Nkal ngê kwo, "Up:o" . W:ââ mî mbêpê wo, chii mênê. Mépé ngê w:ââ mbwámê mêdîpê châpwo. Awêde ka kwo, Doongê. Pi maa daa t:a. A danêmbum u dî.
"The savage dog is called "Peetuuki", and he lives at Doongê. It's nothing to do with me. It's not my dog. It's Nkal's dog. He raised it. It's a bad dog. It bites everyone. It doesn't like anyone. Recently it bit Mépé's son, Yidika. It really bit him hard. Mépé became very angry, and said, 'I'm going to kill that dog'. The dog ran away into the bush, so Mépé could not kill it. So now it's still there at Doongê, so there's not a safe road through there. That's the end of my story." (SIL 1992/2004)
- Yele at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
- Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Yele". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
- Stebbins, Tonya; Evans, Bethwyn; Terrill, Angela (2018). "The languages of Southern New Guinea". In Palmer, Bill (ed.). The Papuan languages of Island Melanesia. The World of Linguistics. 4. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 775–894. ISBN 978-3-11-028642-7.
- James E. Henderson, 1995. Phonology and grammar of Yele, Papua New Guinea. Pacific Linguistics B-112. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
- Peter Ladefoged & Ian Maddieson, 1996. The sounds of the world’s languages. Oxford: Blackwells. ISBN 0-631-19814-8
- Stephen C. Levinson, 2003. Space in Language and Cognition: Explorations in Cognitive Diversity. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-01196-5
- Phonology sketch from SIL, 1992/2004