Tifal language

Last updated
Native to Papua New Guinea
RegionSandaun Province, Telefomin District
Ethnicityincl. Urapmin
Native speakers
4,000 (2003) [1]
  • Tifal–Urap
  • Atbal
Language codes
ISO 639-3 tif – inclusive code
Individual code:
urm   Urap
Glottolog tifa1245   Tifal
urap1239   Urapmin
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Tifal is an Ok language spoken in Papua New Guinea. Dialects are (1) Tifal (Tifalmin) and Urap (Urapmin) and (2) Atbal (Atbalmin).



The Tifal language is bounded by Papuan and Irian Jaya speakers to the south and west, the Telefomin valley in the east, and the Sepik river to the north. [2]


Lowercaseaaab, pdefiiiklmnngooostuuuwy



Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar
Plosive b t d k
Nasal m n ŋ
Fricative f s
Semivowel w j
Liquid l
/b/ is realized as [ ] word finally, as [ p ] in syllable-coda position before a consonant, and [ b ] elsewhere.
/t/ is realized as [ t ] in syllable coda before a consonant and [ ] elsewhere.
/d/ is realized as [ ɾ ] intervocalically, e.g. /didab/: [dɪˈɾʌpʰ] 'water container'.
/k/ is [ ɣ ] intervocalically, [ k ] in syllable coda before consonants, and [ ] elsewhere.
/s/ is realized as [ ʂ ] before /u/.
/l/ is alveolar adjacent to back vowels and alveodental elsewhere. [3] One dialect realizes /l/ as [ r ] intervocalically.


Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid o
Open ɑ ɑː

/o/ and /oː/ rarely contrast. [4]

Vowel allophones [5]
/i/word-initially and finally[ i ][ ɪ ]
/a/[ a ][ ʌ ]
/u/[ u ][ ʊ ]
/eː/in open syllables, before /m/, and between /j/ and /p/[ ][ ɛː ]
/o/before /n/ or /ŋ/; between /t/ and /k/[ ɔ ][ o ]


Syllable structure is (C)V(ː)(C). The expression kwiin takan 'oh my!' may be an exception.

/d/ only occurs word-initially. [6] /f/ only occurs syllable-initially. [7] /ŋ/ is always syllable-final. [8]

Initial /l/ only occurs in some dialects. Initial /kw/ occurs in two dialects, and may usually be interpreted as C+V.

/w/ and /j/ occur syllable-initially. [9] Only one dialect allows syllable-coda /j/. [10]


In inflected words stress lies on the last syllable of the verb stem. Otherwise, if there are long vowels stress falls on the first in the word. If all vowels are short, stress falls on the last syllable if it is closed and the first syllable otherwise.



Nouns are not inflected but may mark possession. Body parts and kinship terms are obligatorily possessed, and some kinship terms require affixing. On other nouns possession is optional, except for proper names which are never possessed. [11]


Pronoun stems [12]
Non-emphatic pronouns [13]
Suffix meaning: Poss. Subj. Definitive Inst. Firstwith, and, also
Emphatic pronouns [14]
Suffix meaning: Poss. Inst. 'only''like, simile'


Tifal has a rich aspectual system. [15] Verbs may be separated into four groups based on how they transform from continuative to punctiliar aspect. Some only have vowel and/or simple stem changes, some have suppletive stems, some change compound-final stems, and some which have allomorphs which add -(a)laa-min (or rarely -daa-laa-min) to the stem. [16]

Verbs also can be divided based on transitivity. Some require direct objects, some with optional objects, some with optional locational objects, and a few intransitive verbs. [17]

Order of verb suffixes [18]
verb ben. ben.-laatensepersonmoodstatement-final marker

Tense and aspect

Most final verbs mark tense, mood, and person, but most verbs can mark aspect and not tense and still be a final verb. [19]

Tense-aspect suffixes [20]
yesterday past1-m-som/-a-som-b
dist. past-a-s
very remote past-bis-s
near future 1-m-okom1-d-okom
dist. future1-m-okob1-d-okob
  1. "initial consonant of the customary or class changing marker is retained"

Tifal sentences are contain inflected verb-root-chains, often with a final fully conjugated verb. One must inflect for the amount of time between one verb in the chain and the next. [21]


Marking spatial relation between verbs and their objects is obligatory. "up" must be clarified as either "upslope" or "upstream", "down" as "downslope" or "downstream", and "across" as "across land" or "across a river". [21]


Tifal has dyadic kinship terms (terms referring to the relationship two or more people have to each other), which are present in less than 10 languages and not prevalent in Papua New Guinea. However, they are a salient feature of the Ok languages. Related terms are found in Oksapmin, Mian, and Telefol. [22]

See also

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  1. Tifal at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Urap at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. Boush 1975, 0. Introduction.
  3. Boush 1974, pp. 8-9.
  4. Boush 1974, p. 22.
  5. Boush 1974, pp. 17-19.
  6. Boush 1974, p. 3.
  7. Boush 1974, p. 7.
  8. Boush 1974, p. 8.
  9. Boush 1974, p. 9.
  10. Tifal Organised Phonology Data, p. 3.
  11. Boush 1975, pp. 3-5.
  12. Boush 1975, p. 6.
  13. Boush 1975, p. 7.
  14. Boush 1975, p. 8.
  15. "Aspectual stem distinctions in the Mian verb" (PDF).
  16. Boush 1975, pp. 10-12.
  17. Boush 1975, pp. 13-16.
  18. Boush 1975, p. 16.
  19. Boush 1979, p. 1.
  20. Boush 1975, pp. 22-23.
  21. 1 2 "On Learning a New Guinea Language". Language-Learning-Advisor.com.
  22. The Oksapmin Kinship System Archived 2009-09-20 at the Wayback Machine , retrieved May 21, 2009.


Further reading