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Zyange Hibu
Pronunciation [ˈʒaŋe ˈɦibu]
Created by Imralu
Setting Earth
Date 2015-
Region Hibu
Ethnicity Hibuese
Native speakers 120,000  (2012)
Language family
Language isolate
  • Hibuese
Writing system (not created)

Hibuese (known to its speakers as Zyange Hibu) is the main language spoken by the Hibuese people of Hibu, an island protectorate of Papua New Guinea lying to the northeast of New Ireland. Although little is known of the history of the language, both its oral history and its unusual structure point towards an origin as a consciously constructed language.

It is a right-branching, strongly isolating language, notable for its largely oligoanalytic lexicon, its complete lack of verbs other than the non-inflecting copula i, and the lack of any contrastive voicing, with all phonemes except /h/ being voiced. The lexicon is made up entirely of around 190 syllabic roots with a single basic meaning and these are combined in various ways to make more precise meanings.


Hibuese is derived from the name of the Hibu island group, which is itself simply a compound formed from hi 'this' or 'that' plus bu 'land' or 'soil'.


Until about half way through the 19th century, any attempt at contact with the Hibuese people resulted in violence and death. Even in the face of invading European sailors armed with muskets, the Hibuese habit of living well back from the shore, approaching stealthily in the night and picking off intruders with poison darts ensured that any intruding force retreated after some time. Through the 19th and into the 20th century, a steady stream of Christian missionaries headed to the islands and never left, presumably being killed by the Hibuese. The Hibuese have consequently proved extraordinarily resistant to the Christianisation that has befallen the majority of other cultural groups in the vicinity, holding on to their traditional belief system. Nevertheless, it was Christian missionaries who eventually, in the 1920s, created the orthography in the Roman alphabet that would then find widespread use among the population. The native system of approximately 180 hieroglyphs remains, to this day, restricted to use by ceremonial initiates. In spite of their restricted use, the hieroglyphs are regarded as a sacred and unchangeable cultural inheritance from the first Hibuese and any language which does not conform to the hieroglyphs is rejected by the Hibese Language Council ('Ndyomwa Zyange Hibu') as non-Hibu and therefore not allowed in media or in school. Subsequently, instead of loanwords, the Hibuese language is replete with a plethora of neologisms formed out of the original units of language.



All consonants of Hibuese are voiced aside from /h/.

Bilabial Dentolabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive b /b/ d /d~ɾ/ (dy [d͡ʒ]) g /ɡ/
Nasal m /m/ n /n/ ng /ŋ/
Prenasalised plosive mb /mb/ nd /nd/ (ndy [nd͡ʒ]) ngg /ŋɡ/
Fricative v /v/ z /z/ (zy [ʒ]) h /h~ɦ/
Lateral l /l/
Semivowel y /j/ w /w/

The prenasalised stops /mb/, /nd/ and /ŋɡ/ are pronounced with an unstressed syllabic nasal when utterance initial. Otherwise, the nasal component may appear to attach as a coda to the following syllable. For example, mba 'house' is [m̩.ˈba] when utterance initial but the phrase hi mba 'this house' is [him.ˈba].

The semivowel /j/ has a palatalising effect on the preceding consonant, most notably blending with /d nd z/ to become [d͡ʒ nd͡ʒ ʒ] respectively. The sequences /hj/ and /hw/ tend to be pronounced [ʍ] and [ç] respectively.


front central back
close i u
open mid e o
low a

The true values of the vowels /a e i o u/ tend to be closer to [ä ɛ ɪ ɔ ʊ] although, for simplicity's sake, they are usually transcribed with <a e i o u> even in narrow phonetic transcription. Each vowel has a fairly wide allophonic range and the cardinal [a e i o u] values fall within these ranges.

The high vowels /i u/ have non-syllabic allophones, [i̯~j] and [u̯~w] respectively. These appear when these vowels are unstressed and following another vowel.


Phonemically, only open syllables are allowed in Hibuese, with the maximum structure being CCV whereby the second consonant must be a semivowel. Phonetically, the nasal segment of a prenasalised stop may close the preceding syllable. In addition, the non-syllabic allophones of the vowels /i u/ may also occur in the coda of a syllable, creating phonetic syllables such as [dwejm] in dwe i mbwe "They are dangerous." The sequences /ji/ and /wu/ do not occur except in the sequences /dji zji ndji/ where the palatalisation of the preceding consonant enables the /j/ to be distinguished.


Word classes


Nouns in Hibuese are entirely uninflected and have only one form each, with no changes for number (plural or singular) or, with few exceptions, case. They may comprise a single monosyllabic root or be a compound of two or more noun roots together. For example, the root zwa has the core meaning of 'water' but may, when qualified by other roots, refer to other liquids. Ni means, as its central meaning, 'air' or 'gas' but may also mean 'quality' or 'characteristic' (much as the word 'air'does in English as in 'an air of superiority') or simply anything that is invisible. Together these roots may be combined to form zwani 'rain' (a type of water defined by something to do with air, namely that it falls from it) or nizwa 'cloud, fog, mist' (a type of air defined by something to do with water, namely that it is filled with it).

Nouns make up the equivalent of most other parts of speech found in other languages. For example, instead of a class of verbs, Hibuese uses agent nouns with a copula particle. Thus, instead of saying "I write a book" with verb equivalent to 'write', the equivalent sentence is syntactically equivalent to the sentence "I am a writer of a book." Words such as "writer" or "one who knows" are glossed here as "write.AG" and "know.AG", with "AG" standing for "agent". The equivalent of adjectives are glossed with "E" standing for "entity", for example "small.E" is the gloss for a noun meaning "small entity" (i.e. small person or thing).

Na i ngegyo ya ndyolya.
na i ngegyo ya ndyolya
1s COP write.AG GEN book
"I" "am" "writer" "of" "book"
I write a book.
I am a writer of a book.

Noun roots

A large number of nouns are comprised only of a single, monosyllabic morpheme. These may have fairly broad meanings, such as ngo 'person', ndu 'low entity', 'entity which is below', lya 'flattish object' (typically 'leaf' but also 'feather', 'scale (of fish)', 'sheet of paper', 'page', 'blade (of knife)' etc.).


Noun compounds come in two types: NOUN+NOUN and, much more uncommonly, PARTICLE+NOUN.

NOUN+NOUN Compounds

NOUN+NOUN compounds are always head-first. This means that the first element of the compound defines what thing the compound refers to, while anything that comes after it narrows the scope of the meaning. This is the reverse order from compounding in English. For example, the noun mbi 'large, terrestrial animal' and the noun mba 'house', 'building', can be combined to give either mbimba 'cat', or mbambi 'stable', 'pen', 'kennel'. A cat is essentially a "house-animal" and a stable, pen or kennel is an "animal-house", but the elements in each compound are the reverse order from those in English.

Nouns that generally correspond to adjectives or verbs in translation may also be involved in compounds and these compounds may be a little bit harder to understand for learners.

For example, from the word mbo meaning 'entity which stays, remains, keeps (a certain way) or waits' (gloss: stay.AG), the following compounds are derived:

  • mboho = patient.E (from ho 'good entity', thus literally a "good-stayer", "one who waits in some way characterised by something 'good'", a 'good-waiter')
  • mbomu = remember.AG (from mu 'knowing one', thus, literally a "knower-stayer", "one who stays knowing", "one who remains in regard to knowing")
  • mbozyo = stubborn.E (from zyo 'head', thus literally a "head-stayer", "one who stays in regards to the head")

From the word da meaning 'large entity', the following compounds are derived:

  • dazwi = tall.E (from zwi 'high entity', thus literally a "high-big-one", "one that is large in terms of being high")
  • davyo = wide.E (from vyo 'side', thus literally a "side-big-one", "one that is large in reference to sides")
  • damwo = buxom.E (from mwo 'lump', 'bump', 'hill', 'breast', thus literally "one who is large in reference to bumps")
  • danggo = well.endowed.E (from nggo 'stick', 'rod', 'penis', thus literally "one who is large in reference to a rod")


PARTICLE+NOUN compounds are not common. The particle is restricted to being the first element as it must be stressed in order to indicate that it is part of a noun. The most common example are the words with do, a conjunction essentially meaning "and then". A dongo, literally an "and.then-person" is an offspring of someone, a son or daughter, a child of someone (even as an adult, cf. dingo 'child', meaning a non-adult person, from di 'small one' plus ngo 'person').


Gendered nouns


The pronouns in Hibuese are simply nouns and do not differ syntactically from other nouns in their use, although most of them do have a genitive contraction. Many of the pronouns are compounds.


The personal pronouns of Hibuese mark for three types of clusivity: exclusive, inclusive of third person, and inclusive of second person. The third person pronoun is generally glossed as DEF.E (definite entity) as it is used as a definite article in a lot of situations. The forms separated by slashes are alternative variants.

Absolutive Pronouns
Person Singular Exclusive Plural Inclusive of 3rd Inclusive of 2nd
1st na nana / wena dena / wena wana
2nd wa wawa / wewa wade -
3rd de dwe / de (we) - -

The distinction between the nana / wena "we" and wana "we" is that the latter includes any listeners whereas the former does not. In the second person, wawa / wewa is used to refer to a group with all members present and being addressed. Wade refers to a group whose members are not all present or being spoken to.

All the pronouns have distinct genitive forms equivalent to being preceded with ya. For example, ya na is equivalent to nga, with the former being more emphatic and the latter being more common. The forms are shown in the following table.

Genitive Pronouns
Person Singular Exclusive Plural Inclusive of 3rd Inclusive of 2nd
1st nga ngana / vyena zyina / vyena wona
2nd wo wowa / vyewa wode -
3rd zyi zyi (we) / zy'we - -

Note that zyi we is often pronounced as one syllable, losing the /i/. This is sometimes indicated in writing as zy'we.

Modified and replaced pronouns

Any of the pronouns may be followed by any of the kinds of modifiers that any other noun can. Appositional modifiers are quite frequent. Wa da is used as an honorific when speaking to those of higher rank. When speaking to the emperor, however, speakers avoid the above listed pronouns entirely and refer to him simply with the word mwadava 'emperor'. People addressing the emperor humble themselves by referring to themselves as na di unless given permission not to.

In the third person, when talking about a number of people or things, modifiers are frequently used to disambiguate between referents that would otherwise all be referred to as de. Some commonly used phrases are de la 'the woman', de hu 'the man', de ngo 'the person', de nu 'the thing'. These are also very commonly used without de, as definiteness tends not to be marked explicitly except through the use of the genitive form zyi.


The reciprocal pronoun is dede 'each other', 'one another'. It has the genitive form zyide.

Wena i le zyide.
wena i le zyide
1p.EXCL COP love.AG GEN.each_other
We love each other.

Hu gwe ndudu i li dede.
hu gwe ndudu i li dede
man and frog COP become.AG each_other
The man and the frog swapped bodies.
Lit.: The man and the frog became each other.

Reflexive pronouns may be formed by adding zu to any of the personal pronouns. In the first and second persons, it is suffixed, -zu, but is only used emphatically to emphasise reflexivity and otherwise dropped. In the third person, the zu is a separate word and it is the important part of the phrase, with the de able to be dropped.

Absolutive Pronouns
Person Singular Exclusive Plural Inclusive of 3rd Inclusive of 2nd
1st ABS na(zu) nana(zu) / wena(zu) dena(zu) / wena(zu) wana(zu)
1st GEN nga(zu) ngana(zu) / vyena(zu) zyina(zu) / vyena(zu) wona(zu)
2nd ABS wa(zu) wawa(zu) / wewa(zu) wade(zu) -
2nd GEN wo(zu) wowa(zu) / vyewa(zu) wode(zu) -
3rd ABS (de) zu / dezu (dwe) zu / (de we) zu / dwezu - -
3rd GEN zyizu / ya zu zyizu (we) - -

Quite frequently, -zu attaches as a compound element on to the end of other nouns in order to create a lexical reflexive. This is quite like the English prefixes auto- and self-, as in autoerotic, self-destruct. Compare the following three sentences.

Na i ze ngu nga.
na i ze ngu nga
1s COP NEG.E murder.AG GEN.1s
I'm not going to kill myself.

Na i ze ngu ngazu.
na i ze ngu ngazu
1s COP NEG.E murder.AG GEN.1s.REFL
I'm not going to kill myself (but possibly others).

Na i ze nguzu.
na i ze nguzu
1s COP NEG.E murder.self.AG
I'm not going to commit suicide.

It should be noted that the reflexive pronouns are not used to highlight the subject, as they can in English. This is instead done by repeating the subject in an adjunctive modifier.

Na i ze ngu o na.
na i ze ngu u na
1s COP NEG.E murder.AG ADJN 1s
I'm not going to kill (anyone) myself.


Indefinite pronouns are, in many cases such as in the subject, able to be simply omitted, owing to the propensity of subjectless sentences to be interpreted as containing an unspoken indefinite subject.

I nye zowa.
i nye zowa
COP current.E move.to.2S.AG
"is" "current one" "one who comes to you"
Someone/something is coming.

The three most important words that are frequently used as indefinite pronouns are:

  • nwa = one, something, someone [countable, singular]
  • we = some, plural, more than one [countable, plural]
  • mbwo = some, substance [uncountable]

Each of these has its own genitive contraction:

  • ya nwambya = of one, of something, of someone
  • ya wevye = of some, of plural, of more than one
  • ya mbwombyo = of some, of a substance

In addition to these, generic nouns such as ngo 'person' and nu 'thing' may be used indefinitely.

Due to the tendency of most nouns to be interpreted as definite when they are in the subject, indefinite subjects, when not simply omitted are generally used in a kind of cleft-sentence which places them in the predicate, being followed by what is more or less a relative clause.

I ngo ye nye zowa.
i ngo ye nye zowa
COP person ATTR current.E move.to.2S.AG
"is" "person" "that is" "current one" "one who comes to you"
Someone is coming.
There is a person who is coming.

Na i zi vwe mbya.
na i zi vwe mbya
1S COP PRF.E see.AG GEN.one
"I" "am" "former one" "seer" "of one"
I saw something/someone.

Na i zi vwe ya nu.
na i zi vwe ya nu
1S COP PRF.E see.AG GEN thing
"I" "am" "former one" "seer" "of" "thing"
I saw something.

Na i zi vwe ya ngo.
na i zi vwe ya ngo
1S COP PRF.E see.AG GEN person
"I" "am" "former one" "seer" "of" "someone"
I saw someone.

The interrogative pronoun ma is equivalent to "who" or "what" in that it stands in for a noun or noun phrase which is being asked about. When used with another noun, it more or less means "which" or "what". To specifically limit the referent to a person or to a thing, ma ngo 'which person', 'who' or ma nu 'which thing', 'what' may be used. Both of these are also found as compounds: mango 'who' and manu 'what'. Ma has no inherent aspect, meaning that it may just as easily ask for a short-term nominal description of a referent (e.g. "eater", "sleeper", "entity which is here") as a longer-term description (e.g. "person", "father", "dog", "table"). Thus it can, in conjunction with the copula, also essentially mean "do what".

Wa i ma?
wa i ma
2s COP what/who
Who are you?
What are you?
What are you doing?

Hi e ma?
hi e ma
DEM.E COP what/who
What is this?
Who is this?
What is this (person/thing) doing?

Combination with other nouns in a noun phrase resolves ambiguity.

Wa i hwa ma?
wa i hwa ma
2s COP do.AG what/who
What are you doing?

Wa i lu ma?
wa i lu ma
2s COP located.E what/who
Where are you?

Other interrogative meanings such as "why" and "how" are formed by the use of ma in conjunction with generic nouns such as zye 'reason', 'cause', nde 'reason', 'goal' and ndo 'manner'.

Ma i nde zyu wa i luwa?
ma i nde zyu wa i luwa
what COP goal GEN.C 2S COP located.by.2S.E
Why are you here?
What are you here for?

De i ngu zyi u ndo i ma?
de i ngu zyi u ndo i ma
DEF.E COP kill.AG GEN.DEF ADV manner/method COP what
How did he kill it?


The deictic noun hi is an all purpose demonstrative which indicate neither distance nor number, thus equivalent to both 'this' and 'that' as well as 'these' and 'those'.

Optionally, three levels of distance associated with the three grammatical persons may be distinguished.

  • hina = 'this', near to the speaker [proximal / first person]
  • hiwa = 'that', near to the listener [medial / second person]
  • hide = 'that', away from speaker and listener [distal / third person]

These three levels of distance are also indicated in nouns indicating entities in a particular location ...

  • luna = entity which is 'here', in a place near to the speaker [proximal / first person]
  • luwa = entity which is 'there', in a place near to the listener [medial / second person]
  • lude = entity which is 'there', in a place away from speaker and listener [distal / third person]

... as well as in nouns indicating motion towards and away from locations.

  • zona = entity which moves 'here', towards a place near to the speaker [proximal / first person]
  • zowa = entity which moves 'there', towards a place near to the listener [medial / second person]
  • zode = entity which moves 'there', towards a place away from speaker and listener [distal / third person]
  • byena = entity which moves 'from here', away from a place near to the speaker [proximal / first person]
  • byewa = entity which moves 'from there', away from a place near to the listener [medial / second person]
  • byede = entity which moves 'from there', away from a place away from speaker and listener [distal / third person]

Due to the nominal nature of all of these words, there is a need to briefly distinguish the deictic hi- series from the locative lu- series. The former series 'points' towards a specific referent, often accompanied by physical pointing. The latter series does not and may indicate any entity in the specified location.

Hina i zwida.
hina i zwida
DEM.E.1s COP important.E
This (by me) is important.
Luna i zwida.
luna i zwida
LOC.E.1s COP important.E
The one that is here (by me) is important.
Something here (by me) is important.

When referring to the something that is close to both speaker and listener (such as a house that both are inside), politeness generally dictates that the second person is used as the reference point. Using oneself as the reference point (replacing hiwa in the following example with hina) indicates that the speaker considers him or herself of a higher rank than the listener.

Hiwa mba i ba bazili.
hiwa mba i ba bazili
DEM.E.2s house COP extreme.E old.E
This house (by you) is very old.



Noun Phrases


Appositional modifiers

Attributive modifiers

Genitive modifiers

Adjunctive modifiers






Tense and aspect

Progressive and present

Perfect and past

Prospective and future








Appellative clauses

The simplest sentence type in Wena is an appellative clause, which consists of a single bare noun-phrase. The function of these clauses is to name the addressee. The meaning is the same as a clause beginning with Wa i ... 'You are ...' although in tone it is much more direct. The closest equivalent in English are the kind of vocative exclamations such as "Idiot!" or "Creep!" which are not used to gain attention but instead to make an assertion about the addressee (i.e. not "Hey, creep!" but "You are a creep!").

(You are) lowlife scum!

You are sweet!
Lit: Sweet person/thing!

Zyendu ya nggu!
zyendu ya nggu
drop.AG GEN money
You dropped some money!
Lit: Money dropper!

Direct imperatives take the form of appellatives beginning with he 'one who should'.

He zomba!
he zomba
should.AG go_home.AG
(You should) go home!
Lit: One who should go home!

In giving extremely direct forceful orders, the he is dropped and the order is told as if it were a fact, similar to orders that start with 'You will ...'.

Byebye hi bu!
byebye hi bu
permanently_leave.AG DEF.E island
You will leave this island and never return!
Lit: Permanent leaver of this island!

No u na i dyo zyi va nggu wo!
no u na i dyo zyi va nggu wo
give.AG ADJN 1s COP acquire.AG GEN.DEF.E everything money GEN.2S
You will give me all of your money!
Lit: Person who gives me all of the money!

Predicate clauses

Predicate clauses consist of nothing but a predicate, which itself consists of the copula (or predicate marker) i of a noun phrase introduced by the copula. The missing subject in these sentences can, without further context, be thought of as representing an unspoken "someone" or "something". They therefore often have an existential meaning.

I nivi.
i nivi
COP problem
(Someone or something) is a problem.
I.e. There is a problem.

I nivi.
i nivi
COP problem
(Someone or something) is a problem.
I.e. There is a problem.

I gwa nwevwa..
i gwa nwevwa
COP two.E banana
(Someone or something) is two bananas.
There are two bananas.

Predicate clauses are often used rather like a passive construction.

I mo zyi we dyenggi nga..
i mo zyi we dyenggi nga
COP consume.AG GEN.DEF.E PL.E sago_cake GEN.1s
Someone (or something) ate my sago cakes.
There is an eater of my sago cakes.

Note the difference between this and a true passive formed with a prefixed ne-.

We dyenggi nga i nemo.
we dyenggi nga i ne-mo
PL.E sago_cake GEN.1s COP PASS-consume.AG
My sago cakes are/were/have been eaten.

In context, the unstate subject may refer to a specific entity understood from context. For example, after being asked the question "Where is the banana?" the answer may be ...

I lu vumbadi.
i lu vumbadi
COP LOC.E bathroom
(It's) in the bathroom.

Note that removing the copula and saying lu vumbadi would not simply mean "in the bathroom" but, being an unmarked noun phrase ("entity which is in the bathroom"), this forms an appellative sentence essentially meaning "You are in the bathroom." The copula thus appears at the beginning of short utterances warning of the presence of something.

I mongo
i mongo
COP crocodile
(There's a) crocodile!

I vyada
i vyada
COP tree
(There's a) tree!

Subject predicate clauses

Topic fronting



Wena has the following coordinating conjunctions.

Conjunction Gloss English
gwe and.SIMULT / and and simultaneously, and at the same time
do and.SUBSEQ / then and then, then, and subsequently
dozye and.CONSEQ / thus so, and therefore, and consequently
mye but but
agwe or.INCL and/or, or (and possibly both/all)
amye XOR or (but not both/all)

These conjunctions can all be used at any level of syntax, linking sentences, predicates, noun phrases or modifiers within noun phrases.

When more than two items are linked, the conjunction appears between each pair, unlike in English where it appears only between the last two. For example the structure A, B, and C is, in Wena, A gwe B gwe C.

Correlative coordination

The particle a (glossed: COORD) can be used to mark the beginning of a correlative phrase. They chiefly appear to disambiguate exactly which syntactic structures are being coordinated or for emphasis. The following structures exist.

a X gwe Y both X and Y
a X do Y first X then Y
a X dozye Y if X then Y / the X the Y
a X mye Y "admittedly" X but Y
a X agwe Y either X or Y (or both)
a X amye Y either X or Y (but not both)
a (...) ze X mye (...) ndwa Y not X but (rather) Y
a (...) ze myegi X mye gwe Y not only X but also Y

De i hu a gu do vwe.
de i hu a gu do vwe
DEF.E COP man COORD strike.AG then see.AG
He's a "hit first, ask questions later" kind of guy.

A i he mbo u nyo i liba da dozye zyamo i liba homo.
a i he mbo u nyo i liba da dozye zyamo i liba homo
COORD COP should.AG stay.AG ADJN time COP increasingly_intense.E large.E thus food COP increasingly_intense.E tasty.E
The longer you have to wait, the better food tastes.

A i bawe nya lu vumba vyewa mye i he mbomu zyu hi mbalwe i dinggu.
a i bawe nya lu vumba vyewa mye i he mbomu zyu hi mbalwe i dinggu
COORD COP many.E small_animal LOC.E room GEN.2p but COP should.AG remember.AG GEN.C DEM.E guesthouse COP cheap.E
Yes, admittedly your room is full of creepy crawlies, but please remember: this guesthouse is cheap.

Wa i mwe a mbo lu hi u vwevwe nyadidi amye me nga u gunggi.
wa i mwe a mbo lu hi u vwevwe nyadidi amye me nga u gunggi
2s COP able.E COORD stay.AG LOC.E DEM.E ADJN watch.AG ant XOR accompany.AG GEN.1s ADJN beat_sago.AG
You can either stay here twiddling your thumbs (lit. "watching ants") or come and beat sago with me.

Additionally, in questions, the two versions of "either ... or" can be be used with h instead of having ha appear at the beginning of the sentence. This is much more usual for the exclusive "either ... or" than the inclusive.

ha X hagwe Y either X or Y (or both)?
ha X hamye Y either X or Y (but not both)?


Conditional sentences


Affirmation and negation