Documentation of Ulwa, an endangered language of Papua New Guinea

Documentation of Ulwa, an endangered language of Papua New Guinea

Depositor: Russell Barlow
Location: Papua New Guinea
Deposit Id: 0452
Grant id: SG0419
Funding body: ELDP
Level: Deposit

Summary of deposit

Ulwa is a previously undocumented and severely endangered language spoken by fewer than 700 people in the East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea. It belongs to a family of three languages (Ulmapo), about which essentially nothing has been published. Building on the researcher’s pilot study of the language, this project provides the first documentation and description of an otherwise unknown language. This collection contains digital audio and video recordings of speakers, photographs depicting the Ulwa speech community, video recordings of sociocultural value, and annotated transcriptions and translations (into English) of the Ulwa language.

Group represented

This deposit includes contributions from the Ulwa language community of Manu village in the Keram Rural Local-Level Government (LLG) area of the Angoram district of the East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea. The dialect of Ulwa spoken in Manu is considerably different from that found in the three other Ulwa villages (Maruat, Dimiri, and Yaul). The total ethnic Ulwa population is estimated (in 2017) to be around 3,900 people, of whom fewer than 700 are fluent speakers of the language. Manu village has 369 residents, the majority of whom are (at least in part) ethnically Ulwa. There are about 70 fluent speakers of the Manu dialect of Ulwa.

Ulwa belongs to the Ulmapo language family, which consists of three languages: Ulwa [ISO 639-3 yla, Glottocode yaul1241], Mwakai [mgt, mong1344] and Pondi [lnm, lang1328].

Special characteristics

This collection contains audio and video recordings of people speaking Ulwa, including traditional and personal stories told as monologues and conversations (on a variety of topics) held as dialogues. Also contained in this collection are ELAN annotations of most of these recordings, providing transcriptions into a practical orthography and translations into English. Additional materials include photographs depicting aspects of life in the Ulwa community and a video recording of traditional singing and dancing (a 'singsing', in Tok Pisin).

All (linguistic) materials contain the Ulwa language, although some materials also contain a small amount of Tok Pisin, whether in the form of loan words or code-switching.

Deposit history

The materials in this collection come from three field trips to Manu village conducted by the depositor between 2015 and 2017 (a total of eleven months in the field).

1. June to August, 2015 (two months), funded by a Bilinski Educational Foundation Research Award.

2. June to December, 2016 (six months), funded by a Firebird Foundation Fellowships for the Documentation of Oral Literature and Traditional Ecological Knowledge.

3. April to June, 2017 (three months), funded by an Endangered Languages Documentation Programme Small Grant (ELDP SG0419).

Most materials archived in this collection (including about five hours of annotated audiovisual recordings) derive from this third, ELDP-funded research period.

Other information

The materials in this collection provide a major contribution to the depositor's PhD research at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, which will culminate in a dissertation entitled A Grammar of Ulwa. As this research continues, more materials will be deposited here, such as the dissertation itself, lexical resources for language-learners (i.e., primers or a simple dictionary), and further digital audio recordings and annotations.

Acknowledgement and citation

Users of any part of this collection should acknowledge Russell Barlow as the principal investigator, and should also acknowledge the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme as the project's sponsor. All other contributors involved in the project, including those who have provided their voices or images or have collected, transcribed, or translated data should also be acknowledged by name. Information on all contributors to this project can be found in the metadata.

To refer to any data from the corpus, please use the following citation template:

Barlow, Russell. 2018. Documentation of Ulwa, an endangered language of Papua New Guinea. London: SOAS, Endangered Languages Archive. URL: Accessed on [DATE].


Collection online
Resources online and curated


Russell Barlow
Affiliation: University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

Deposit Statistics

Data from 2020 October 01 to 2020 October 01
Deposit hits:1
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Showing 1 - 10 of 59 Items

A traditional account of the origins of man. Ambawanam Ngata lived alone in the word. One day, while carving a garamut drum, he accidentally cut his knee. He collected the blood from the wound in a coconut. The coconut (like an egg) hatched, and out emerged the first man and woman.

Recorded on: 2016-11-16

The mythical story of Amblom Yena, a witch who ate children. A mysterious stranger kills her and is awarded her glowing vulva. He uses its incandescence to hunt pigs, until his jealous friend steals it, inadvertently launching it into space, where it remains to this day (as the moon).

Recorded on: 2017-05-26

Ayndin and Tarambi have a long conversation near the Manu primary school campus. They discuss a recent death in the village and the ensuing conversations about witchcraft.

Recorded on: 2017-06-19

Ayndin tells the story of how his grandmother was brought as a bride from the Ap Ma-speaking village of Bopaten to Manu as compensation for a death,

Recorded on: 2016-11-16

Ayndin recounts events from his childhood and personal life.

Recorded on: 2016-11-16

Ayndin tells Ambasap his plans for planting and harvesting a large yield of tobacco. He intends to make two giant rolls of dried tobacco, shaped into iconic representations of the spiritual 'mother' and 'father' of the tobacco plant.

Recorded on: 2017-06-19

Cooked bandicoot, served with yams and bananas.

Recorded on: 2015-07-23

Tangin tells Gweni about a battle over the rights to sago palms in the Talamba region of the jungle. When Tangin was a child, men from the upstream and downstream sections of Manu village fought each other, and even one upstream woman (Simban) joined in the fracas. The issue of rights was never settled, and, to this day it is taboo for anyone to harvest sago in Talamba.

Recorded on: 2017-06-01

Tarambi explains how boar tusks are made into ornaments.

Recorded on: 2017-05-21

A freshly hunted pig is lifted onto a pyre to singe its hair before butchering.

Recorded on: 2015-07-31