Identification. The Lakalai are distinguished from speakers of related dialects and languages, all labeled Nakanai, by the absence of the phoneme n in their language. Most have learned to pronounce this phoneme through exposure to Pidgin English, and they often identify themselves to outsiders simply as West Nakanai.
Location. Located approximately 150°30′ to 150°6′ E and 5°25′ to 5°40′ S, Lakalai villages are on the central and Eastern part of the Hoskins Peninsula on the island of New Britain. The climate is warm and humid by day, cool at night, with an annual rainfall of about 355.6 centimeters and a well-marked rainy season when the northwest monsoon blows from December through March. An active volcano, Pago, erupted frequently early in the century, leading to abandonment of many villages as ash falls destroyed crops. The volcanic soil is fertile, but freshwater sources are few and Generally close to the beach, as, perforce, are most of the villages.
Demography. The population increased from under 2,700 in 1954 to almost 6,500 in 1980. The expansion reflects recovery from depopulation occasioned by Japanese occupation during World War II, coupled with the abolition of warfare and access to Western medicine. Many Lakalai now want to limit family size to about five children.
Linguistic Affiliation. Lakalai is an Oceanic (Austronesian) language, the westernmost of a chain of dialects also spoken in Ubae, in the West Nakanai Census Division, and in coastal villages of Central Nakanai Census Division, to the east. Their closest relatives are East Nakanai (Meramera, Ubili), still farther east, and, to the west, Xarua and the Languages of the Willaumez Peninsula (Bola or Bakovi, and Bulu). An early theory that this whole group of languages, classed together as Kimbe or Willaumez, represented a backmigration from islands located much farther east is probably incorrect.