The birth of a new word/concept in Awiakay cosmology

How and why do new words and concepts enter a language? What are the socio-cultural processes behind it? I will try to illuminate the answers to these questions by providing the ethnographic and historical background to one such case in the Awiakay language.
After years of waiting for and praying for developmen, the Awiakay from East Sepik Province in Papua New Guinea recently discovered gold on their land. Unsurprisingly, this has led to dramatic changes in their everyday lives and modes of sociality. It has also given rise to a new concept, neitsa, referring to a class of nature spirit previously unknown in Awiakay cosmology. This paper traces the events and cultural conditions that led to the emergence of this new word/concept and explains how it fits within Awiakay cosmology. I will follow its usage through a case study involving the death of a young man at a gold-panning camp, and illustrate neitsa in its everyday context with a subtitled video clip of a village meeting that was called to discuss that mysterious death.


Dr Darja Hoenigman

Darja is a linguistic anthropologist and ethnographic filmmaker with a background in language teaching and translation.
She has been doing research in Papua New Guinea (with Awiakay and Meakambut in East Sepik Province) since 2004, studying the ways people use their language in different social situations.

Date & time

Fri 24 Mar 2023, 3.30pm


BPB W303, Baldessin Precinct Building, 110 Ellery Crescent, ACTON


Dr Darja Hoenigman


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