The Habitual Pastin Amele, Papua New Guinea

Author: Masahiko Nose ( Shiga University, Japan)
Speaker: Masahiko Nose
Topic: Language and Spatial and Temporal Frames
CALA 2019 General Session


This study attempts to clarify the tense systems in Madang Province, Papua New Guinea; particularly, the past tense and habitual past forms in the sample three languages in the area: Amele, Waskia, and Kobon. This study thus investigates past tense and habitual features, and discusses how the people in the area interpret past events. The study then discusses how these people map their temporal frames in their grammars (“anthropology of time”, Gell 1996).

To aid analysis, I collected data through observing descriptive grammars and fieldwork, finding that Amele exhibits three types of past tense and habitual tense forms, as in (1). Kobon has two distinct simple and remote past tenses, as in (2). Kobon has habitual aspect with the help of the verb “to be.” Waskia, in contrast, has a distinction between realis and irrealis meanings, and the realis forms can indicate past and habitual meanings (two habitual forms: one is include in realis, another is with the help of the verb “stay”), as shown in (3).

(1) Amele: Today’s past: Ija hu-ga. “I came (today).” Yesterday’s past: Ija hu-gan. “I came (yesterday).” Remote past: Ija ho-om. “I came (before yesterday).” Habitual past (by adding the habitual form “l”): Ija ho-lig. “I used to come.” (2) Kobon (Davies 1989): Simple past: Yad au-ɨn. “I have come.” Remote past: Nöŋ-be. “You saw” Habitual aspect (by using the verb “mid” to be): Yad nel nipe pu-mid-in. “I used to break his firewood.” (3) Waskia (Ross and Paol
1978): Realis: Ane ikelako yu naem. “I drank some water yesterday.” (simple past) Realis: Ane girako yu no-kisam “In the past I used to drink water” (habitual past) Habitual (by using the verb “bager“ (stay)): Ane girako yu nala bager-em. “In the past I used to drink water.“

Finally, this study claims that Amele and Kobon have remoteness distinctions; near and remote past distinctions, but there is no such a distinction in Waskia. The observed habitual usages are different to each other. Nevertheless, the three languages have a grammatical viewpoint of habitual past mapping.


Davies, J. (1989) Kobon. Routledge.

Gell. A. (1996) The anthropology of time: cultural constructions of temporal maps and images.

Ross, M. and Paol, J. N. (1978) A Waskia grammar sketch and vocabulary. Australian National

Keywords:Madang, Tense systems, Temporal frames