The Baining languages: a window on the history of Island Melanesia

The Baining languages are the only established non-Austronesian language family east of the New Guinea mainland, and represent a key to our understanding of the linguistic history of Island Melanesia.

Using extensive field research by a team of linguists, this project comprehensively documented these endangered languages, investigated their history and assessed their relationships with nearby languages including Taulil and Butam.

The findings contributed to multidisciplinary international research on the social and cultural history of the region, lay the foundations for future studies of language contact and maintained Australia’s leadership in the field of Island Melanesia.

This project was run by Tonya Stebbins at La Trobe University. 


Papua New Guinea is Australia’s nearest neighbour. The province of East New Britain is one of Papua New Guinea’s most economically important regions due to its significant natural resources. However, it is also home to long-standing ethnic tensions over the distribution of land and resources. This project increased Australia’s understanding of the languages, cultures, history and politics of the province, and strengthened Australia’s ability to make informed economic and political decisions in the area.