A grammar of Komnzo

Christian Döhler  


Komnzo is a Papuan language of Southern New Guinea spoken by around 250 people in the village of Rouku. Komnzo belongs to the Tonda subgroup of the Yam language family, which is also known as the Morehead Upper-Maro group. This grammar provides the first comprehensive description of a Yam language. It is based on 16 months of fieldwork. The primary source of data is a text corpus of around 12 hours recorded and transcribed between 2010 and 2015. Komnzo provides many fields of future research, but the most interesting aspect of its structure lies in the verb morphology, to which the two largest chapters of the grammar are dedicated. Komnzo verbs may index up to two arguments showing agreement in person, number and gender. Verbs encode 18 TAM categories, valency, directionality and deictic status. Morphological complexity lies not only in the amount of categories that verbs may express, but also in the way these are encoded. Komnzo verbs exhibit what may be called ‘distributed exponence’, i.e. single morphemes are underspecified for a particular grammatical category. Therefore, morphological material from different sites has to be integrated first, and only after this integration can one arrive at a particular grammatical category. The descriptive approach in this grammar is theory-informed rather than theory-driven. Comparison to other Yam languages and diachronic developments are taken into account whenever it seems helpful.


  • Review on LinguistList by John Mansfield published June 6, 2019
    The Yam family provides a fascinating and relatively new addition to our knowledge of human language, and Doehler’s comprehensive description of Komnzo is therefore an important publication. This work has many enjoyable and informative features. It is comprehensive and detailed in its coverage of phonology, morphology and syntax. The description is richly exemplified, with examples often containing interesting cultural vignettes, always carefully contextualised by the author. The grammar also has valuable ‘add-ons’, especially the social, geographic and sociolinguistic background in the first chapter, which is a substantial research achievement in its own right.


Author Biography

Christian Döhler

Christian Döhler completed his M.A. in Political Science at the Chemnitz University of Technology and obtained an Honours Degree in Linguistics at the University of Melbourne. Between 2010 and 2016 he has worked on the DOBES project „Nen and Komnzo - Two languages of Southern New Guinea" funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. He completed his Ph.D. degree in 2016 at the Australian National University, Canberra. Currently he works as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Cologne on the ELDP project "A comprehensive documentation of Bine - a language of Southern New Guinea".


August 23, 2018
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Döhler, Christian. 2018. A grammar of Komnzo. (Studies in Diversity Linguistics 22). Berlin: Language Science Press. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.1477799


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