The following are some suggestions for finding the location of a village in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and placing the village within a linguistic group. If you have corrections or improvements, please let me know.
Given that one knows a village name and little else, the best place to start is with a gazetteer. A gazetteer lists the latitude and longitude for geographical place names such as villages, rivers and mountains. For PNG, the best gazetteer is Peterson et al. (1982) (reference / Web page). Two other gazetteers are Anonymous (1943) which is small and outdated, and Anonymous (1974) which is scarce and purported unreliable. A new Web gazetteer is the Global Gazetteer which also displays the village location on magnifiable maps. This Web site is a demonstration model, but fairly complete.
Once one knows the longitude and latitude of the village, one can then use Wurm & Hattori (1983) to determine the linguistic group to which the village belongs. The linguistic group in PNG generally corresponds to the culture group or tribe. If the linguistic group to which the village belongs is small, there may be some uncertainty as to whether the village belongs to one of a few neighboring linguistic groups, and it would be necessary to find some sort of corroboration. Two ways to find corroboration are to look for ethnographies or linguistic studies on the possible linguistic groups, or to use checklists that map village to language. Such lists exist for the following areas in PNG: West Sepik (or Sandaun) and East Sepik Provinces (Laycock, 1973), Madang Province (Z’Graggen, 1985), the Papuan (or non-Austronesian) languages of the Huon Peninsula of Morobe Province (McElhanon, 1975: 531-543), the whole of Morobe Province (McElhanon, 1984), and Northern (Oro), Milne Bay, and Central Provinces (Dutton, 1973).
Since PNG is primarily an oral society, there is often orthographic confusion. Some of the common interchanges among letters are: “p” with “f”, “b” with “p”, “d” with “t”, and “g” with “k” (see Mihalic, 1971). The letter “k” is much more common in place names than is the letter “g” (Peterson et al., 1982). Another interchange worth trying is “i” preceding a vowel with “y” preceding the vowel. It is worth remembering the etymological adage, “Consonants count for very little, and vowels count for hardly anything at all.” If one is having trouble finding a village, it is worth trying as many sound-alike names as possible, but be wary of immediately accepting a sound-alike name without some corroboration. Some place-names occur multiply in PNG, for example, there is the well-known town of Wau in Morobe Province, as well as lesser-known villages called Wau in East Sepik and Madang Provinces. Another possible point of confusion is that sometimes a name is given for a village, but is actually a language name, or is also the name for a larger political division. For example, Telefomin is the name of both a village, and a district containing the village. As far as villages being confused or conflated with language names, it may be worthwhile checking the indices in Wurm (1975) and Wurm (1976).
Finally, if one knows that a village is near some other known place, one can look up the known place on a topographic map (e.g., Anonymous, 1977 and 1988) and search for nearby village names that sound plausibly like what one is looking for.
Unfortunately, many of the materials listed here are not in print and may be hard to locate. Try the links to Amazon.com for each entry or Alibris.com (see bottom of page).
Anonymous (1943).Gazetteer to Maps of New Guinea. Map Series AMS T401. Scale 1:500,000. Washington, DC: War Department. Out of Print.
Ward, R. Gerard (1970). “Introduction to population.” In: An Atlas of Papua and New Guinea. R. Gerard Ward & David A. M. Lea, eds. [Port Moresby]: Department of Geography, University of Papua New Guinea / Glasgow: Collins-Longman, pp. 1-3. Out of Print: Search Amazon.com for this book.