Skip navigation
The Australian National University


Iha is the main language of the Onin peninsula, found at the far western end of New Guinea. Iha is closely related to Mbaham, and perhaps related to the language of the Karas islands. There are good indications that these languages are the westernmost members of the Trans New Guinea family (unlike Mor, the other Papuan language of the area).

Iha consonants
bilabial dental retroflex palatal velar labialvelar uvular pharyngeal
voiceless p k͡p q
voiced (dʒ)
prenasalised mb n̪d̪ ŋ͡mg͡b ɴɢ
nasal m
fricative β ɣ ħ
liquid ɻ
glide j w

An affricate [dʒ] occurs, but is possibly better analysed as a /d̪/ + /j/ sequence. Other stop + glide sequences, [pj-], [k͡pj-] and [kj-] (< /qj-/) are attested, along with their prenasalised equivalents, but [t̪j] is not.

The voiceless stops lenite intervocalically; /p/ → [β], /t̪/ → [ð] (occasionally), /q/ → [ɣ]~[ʁ], and even (rarely) /k͡p/ → [w]. This collapses a number of phoneme contrasts; while /p/ and /β/ contrast word-intially, morpheme internally it is not possible to know whether [β] represents an underlying stop or a fricative. The prenasalised stops have also been heard to lenite: /nŋ͡mg͡bit̪/ 'afternoon' has been heard as [nɪ̆ˈw̃it̪].

Iha vowels
front back
high  i  u
mid-high  e  o
mid-low  ɛ  ɔ
low a

The seven vowels only contrast in open syllables; in closed syllables a five way contrast between [ɪ ɛ a ɔ ʊ] is attested. Schwas and other short versions of these vowels are found in epenthetic syllables.

Syllables in Iha are maximally CCVC in shape; the second C in an onset cluster is restricted to liquids and glides, and the prenasalised stops and fricatives do not occur in coda positions. With some CC clusters an epenthetic vowel is inserted.

Examples include:

[kɻa] /qɻa/ 'water'
[ˈk͡pjɛmbɔt̪] /k͡pjɛmbɔt̪/ 'yesterday'
[ħɪ̆ˈɾjɛt̪] /ħɻjɛt̪/ 'garden'
[ħə̆ˈnɛk] /ħnɛq/ 'black'
[mbə̆ˈnap] /mbnap/ 'cuscus (species)
[k͡pɛ̆ˈħɛ] /k͡pħɛ/ 'coast'


Verbs are highly polysynthetic in Iha; one example of a highly-inflected verb is given below (presented phonetically, phonemically, and orthographically):

[miɣɛ qɔɻɛt̪ nɛ̆wɛβjə̆mja:njat̪ə̆n̪an̪wɛɻad̪ɛmbɪçt̪ə̆βjeβɔn̪ pja]

/mikɛ qɔɻɛt̪ nwɛpjmjan̪jat̪n̪an̪wɛɻad̪ɛmbiħt̪pjβɔn̪ pja/

Mige  koret  newe-py-myan-nyatna-n-wera-de-mb-ih-t-pye-v-o-n  pya 
3-FOC  food  eat-REPET-direct-like.that-CONJ-very.many-CONT-YPAST-3-EVID-REPET-12PAST-12-1SG ASSERT

'He kept on eating all sorts of things, for an extended time, again and again, and I witnessed it multiply and repeatedly, so don't doubt me.'

The glosses have the following meanings:

  • FOC = focus
  • REPET = repetitive action
  • CONJ = conjugation (can carry information about number of object)
  • CONT = continuous
  • YPAST = yesterday's past
  • 3 = third person
  • EVID = evidentiality
  • 12 = only for first or second persons
  • ASSERT = assertion
  • Updated:  21 September 2013/ Responsible Officer:  Mark Donohue/ Page Contact:  Mark Donohue