Bena Bena

The Bena Bena language (ISO 639-3 code: bef) is a Papuan language spoken in the Eastern Highlands province of Papua New Guinea. It belongs to the Gorokan family, and within this family is most closely related to Gahuku (Wurm 1975; Foley 1986; Ross 2005; Lewis 2009). The Gorokan family is in turn assigned to the large Trans-New Guinea Phylum (Ross 2005) as originally postulated by Wurm (1975).

Despite a fair number of speakers (Lewis 2009 estimates 45,000) Bena Bena is endangered due to the increasing use of Tok Pisin, the main lingua franca of Papua New Guinea. Younger Bena speakers use Tok Pisin in daily conversations, and a considerable number of children are raised in Tok Pisin rather than in Bena Bena. Only the older generation (above 40) speak the language actively on a regular basis.

1.1     Typological characteristics of the Bena Bena language

Bena Bena is a largely agglutinative AOV/SV language with some fusional elements. Its verbal morphology is much more complex than its nominal morphology.

Nouns inflect for number (a three-fold distinction between singular, dual and plural), and for case. Inalienably possessed nouns (e.g. outer body parts like ‘eye’, ‘head’, ‘leaf’, meha’a ‘spirit’ (cf. carry the relational suffix –‘a ‘Rl’. Another group of nouns all carry the suffix –i ‘Affin’. Further subclassifications of nouns are defined by their way of marking.possession – whether achieved by free pronouns, possessive suffixes, possessive prefixes, or possessive prefixes and suffixes.

There are free personal pronoun forms as well as bound pronouns.

There are many predicates in which the main semantic content is not provided by the inflecting verb but by a verbal adjunct (periphrastic units in Young’s terms), which may be called light verb constructions. Verbs that frequently occur in these constructions are hu ‘be’ or ‘do’, ho ‘hit’, fi ‘pierce’, etc. The following examples illustrate this (Young 1964: 79/80).

  Laita hu’ohuve.   Loka ho‘ohuve
laita hu -‘ohuve loka ho -‘ohuve
wash be.Pst -Pst.1Sg.Ind ask hit.Pst -Pst.1Sg.Ind
‘I washed.’ ‘I asked (him).’

A major typological peculiarity of Papuan languages of the Gorokan family, as well as of hundreds of other Papuan languages is clause chaining. In the absence of all clausal conjunctions so-called medial verbs are used to join clauses. Medial verbs, apart from marking a clause as non-final, indicate whether the subjects of the conjoined clauses are co-referential or not (cf. Haiman 1980: 3).

All basic sentence types (cf. Saddock & Zwicky 1985; König 2007) – declarative, interrogative and imperative – are morphologically marked.