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The Australian National University

Skou

The Skou language is spoken in the middle of the north coast of New Guinea, just west of the Tami river that runs on the Indonesian side of the Indonesia-Papua New Guinea border.

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The Skou segmental inventory contains 13 consonants, 7 oral vowels and 6 nasal vowels.

Skou consonants
bilabial alveolar post-alveolar palatal velar glottal
voiceless p t k
voiced b dzj ɟ
nasal m n
fricative  f h
liquid r, l
glide w
Skou vowels
front back
high i, ɪ̃ ʉ u, ʊ̃
ø
ɛ, ɛ̃ œ̃ ɔ, ɔ̃
low a, ã

A feature of Skou is the excessive ('sycophantic') agreement about the clause. All verbs agree at least twice with their subject, and in some cases three or even four locations of agreement are found with complex predicates.

An example of this can be seen below. Here the 3SG feminine subject is indexed on the verb by clitic, pe=; by prefix, p-, which interacts with the initial consonant of the verb root to produce [r]; and by what was historically a suffix, -u, which fuses with the vowel of the verb root.

[pɛ ni pɜrʊ̃]

Pe  nì  pe=p-lœ̃-u 
3SG.F  1SG  3SG.F=3SG.F-tell-3SG.F 
'She told me.'

When serial verb constructions are involved, with each verb showing agreement, the sentence can become very top-heavy.

[kɛ kɜka kɔ ti ba;̃]

Ke  ke=k-ha k-o ti báng 
3SG.NF  3SG.NF=3SG.NF-walk  3SG.NF-seawards  3SG.NF:go  beach 
'He walked to the beach.'

Work on Skou is ongoing, and for now the links below allow access to articles and draft chapters of work on the language.

  • Draft grammar of Skou: Part 1, 1.1 MB, Part 2, 0.9 MB, Part 3, 0.5 MB, Part 4, 0.5 MB, Part 5, 0.3 MB.
  • Donohue, Mark. 2010. Skou. Part of the Working Papers of the Automated Similarity Judgment Program. Available online at http://email.eva.mpg.de/~wichmann/ASJPHomePage.htm. (PDF, 0.2 MB)
  • Donohue, Mark. 2008. Complex predicates and bipartite stems in Skou. Studies in Language 32 (2): 279-335. (PDF, 0.4 MB)
  • Donohue, Mark. 2008. Prefixal ‘suffixes’ in Skou. Australian Journal of Linguistics 28 (2): 139-170. (PDF, 0.8 MB)
  • Donohue, Mark. 2006. Negative grammatical functions in Skou. Language 82 (2): 383-398. (PDF, 0.2 MB)
  • Donohue, Mark. 2006. Skou languages. In Keith Brown, ed., Encyclopaedia of Language and Linguistics (2nd Edition), volume 11: 402-403. Oxford: Elsevier. (PDF, 0.1 MB)
  • Donohue, Mark. 2003. The tonal system of Skou, New Guinea. In Shigeki Kaji, ed., Proceedings of the symposium Cross-linguistic Studies of Tonal Phenomena: phonetics of Tone, and descriptive studies: 329-355. Tokyo University of Foreign studies: Research Institute for Language and Cultures of Asia and Africa. (PDF, 0.5 MB)
  • Donohue, Mark. 2003. Agreement in the Skou language: a historical account. Oceanic Linguistics 42 (2): 479-498. (PDF, 0.4 MB)
  • Donohue, Mark. 2002. Which sounds change: descent and borrowing in the Skou family. Oceanic Linguistics 41 (1): 157-207. (PDF, 1.1 MB)
  • Updated:  30 September 2013/ Responsible Officer:  Mark Donohue/ Page Contact:  Mark Donohue