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Qaqet belongs to the Baining language family, which consists of six languages that are not mutually intelligible: Qaqet, Mali, Qairaq, Simbali, Ura and possibly Makolkol.

Map of five of the six Baining languages.

All languages are minority languages spoken by small numbers of speakers, and Makolkol is probably extinct. They are classified as non-Oceanic (or ‘Papuan’) and they are included within the geographically defined group of East Papuan languages – approximately 25 non-Oceanic languages spoken in the island region of Papua New Guinea (New Britain, New Ireland, Milne Bay and Bougainville) and the Solomon Islands.

By contrast, the majority of the island population today are speakers of Oceanic languages whose ancestors started settling there around 3,200 years ago. This also includes the immediate neighbors of the Qaqet, the Tolai, who speak the Oceanic language Kuanua. There has been a long history of contact, and there is considerable evidence for borrowings between the languages.