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Research project

Alor-Pantar languages: origins and theoretical impact

This research project focuses on the extended documentation and investigation of these non-Austronesian (‘Papuan’) languages.

2009 - 2012
Marian Klamer

Until very recently the 15-20 languages of the Alor-Pantar (AP) archipelago in southeastern Indonesia were among the least well-documented languages of Indonesia, but a surge in field work efforts over the past decade has resulted in a wealth of new language data. This research project focuses on the extended documentation and investigation of these non-Austronesian (‘Papuan’) languages. The project is a larger international collaboration that was conceived under the European Science Foundation, EUROCORES Programme, EUROBABEL. The full ESF project is a collaboration of researchers from three countries, including the US, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The project hosted by Leiden University represents a portion of the Dutch NWO contribution to the EUROBABEL effort. In this project, we aim to collect additional documentation on two domains that have turned out to be particularly interesting in the AP languages, and have not yet been studied in depth. 

First, we investigate the domain of reference in space: how do speakers structure the spatial domain? How are locative expressions constructed? How do they use landscape terms? The AP languages employ a particularly rich array of spatial parameters, resulting in relatively complex deictic systems. Now the indigenous spatial expressions and landscape terms of AP languages are being replaced by Indonesian, which has a much simpler spatial deictic system, these rich sets of culturally, geographically and cognitively determined deictic systems are under threat. 

Second, we will extend our documentation of numeral expressions in the AP languages. As far as numeral systems are concerned, the world is decimal: about 80% of the world’s languages are decimal or combine a decimal with a vigesimal (base-20) system. While bases other than 10 are extremely rare , many AP languages show traces of a quinary (base-5) system in the lower cardinals (e.g. Teiwa  yes haraq ‘seven’ =  yes ‘five’ +  haraq ‘two’), combined with a decimal system. Numeral systems are particularly susceptible to the kinds of sociolinguistic changes that arise through language contact; numeral systems of dominant languages often replace the numeral systems of other languages, starting with the higher numerals. In this sense, numeral systems are even more endangered than languages themselves.

This process is also at work in AP languages. Alongside the structure of number words, we also investigate how complex number expressions are construed, as well as their distribution inside and outside the DP. Further, we study how numerals are used as ordinals (which are not frequently found in AP languages), and in counting sequences. Numerical expressions in AP languages may also contain numeral classifiers. An often assumed (and much debated) viewpoint is that languages have numeral classifiers when their nouns are not compulsory marked for number (Greenberg 1972). Numeral classifiers are frequently found throughout the Austronesian languages of Indonesia, but are largely absent in the Papuan languages on the central and eastern parts of New Guinea. Their distribution and function in AP languages varies.

Research questions to be addressed include: How are numeral classifiers distributed across the AP languages? How do they function? Which dimensions or concepts do they encode? What is their historical source? Is it possible to reconstruct proto-froms of one or more numeral classifiers? If not, then they are innovative. Could they be the result of contact with Austronesian languages? Other issues pertain to the grammatical properties of numeral classifiers: How can they be distinguished from nouns? What are their distributional properties: do they form a constituent with the numeral, or with the noun? 

This project will bring new and recently-collected detailed data in these particular linguistic domains. It will also bear on the question of the linguistic origins and ultimate genetic relationships of the Alor-Pantar languages, the topic studied in the individual project led by Gary Holton at Fairbanks University Alaska. The implications for typology and theory will be investigated by the project led by Prof. Grev Corbett of the Surrey Morphology Group. 

The many islands in Eastern Indonesia are notable for their high level of linguistic diversity. Most of these languages are endangered, being slowly replaced by the prestige language Indonesian - the national language - , or by a local variant of it.

Endangered Papuan languages

This project focuses on the languages of Alor and Pantar, two small islands situated just north of Timor, where an estimated number of 15-20 languages are being spoken.  The situation with most of these languages is quite dire, due to the very high level of bilingualism in the local variety of Malay, and the generally low status afforded to local languages amongst local speech communities. In many places, children are learning Indonesian as their first language and are unable to communicate in the local languages.  

All of the indigenous languages of Alor and Pantar (except for one: Bahasa Alor) are "Papuan", or non-Austronesian. These western-most “Papuan” languages are very different from the Austronesian languages surrounding them. For one, the words do not show any resemblance to their translational equivalents in Austronesian languages. In addition, the languages are typologically quite different from the Austronesian languages in eastern Indonesia; for example, sentences have the order subject-object-verb, rather than subject-verb-object in the neighbouring Austronesian languages.

Number of languages

The exact number of non-Austronesian languages or dialects spoken on Alor and Pantar remains elusive. Estimates in earlier sources vary widely, and the languages names listed in older reference works such as Vatter (1932:275) and Bouman (1943) show little overlap. The more recent reference works Stokhof (1975) and Grimes et. al. (1997) do not agree either. One reason for the confusion is that on Alor and Pantar, languages do not have a single generally accepted logonym. A language is referred to either by using the name of the major clan that speaks it, or by the name of the (ancestor) village(s) where it is (or used to be) spoken, or simply as “our language”. For example, as Teiwa is the name of a geneological unit that comprises a cluster of (sub-?)clans with the same ancestors, the Indonesian name Bahasa Teiwa ‘the Teiwa language’ refers to the language spoken by this group. But Teiwa is also referred to as Bahasa Lebang ‘the Lebang language’, as the village of Lebang is traditionally considered the most important, central location of the Teiwa speakers and their ancestors. In general, when the Teiwa refer to their own language, for example to contrast it with Indonesian, they call it Pi-tarau  “our language”. As a result of the absence of single accepted logonyms for individual languages, many residents of Alor and Pantar would claim that each village, or each clan, has its own separate language.

The Languages of Alor

Bearing in mind the elusive nature of any language counts on Alor and Pantar, research on Alor (carried out between 2003-2008 by Louise Baird and František Kratochvíl) suggests that the 14 languages listed below are spoken on Alor. Their Ethnologue code (Gordon 2005) is given in brackets. 

  • Abui (abz) (Kratochvíl 2007),
  • Adang (adn) (Haan 2001),
  • Alor/Alorese (aol) (Klamer 2007, forthcoming b),
  • Blagar (beu) (Steinhauer 1993, 1995),
  • Hamap (hmu)
  • Kabola (klz) (Stokhof 1987)
  • Kafoa (kpu
  • Kamang (woi) (referred to as Woisika in Stokhof 1983)
  • Klon (kyo) (referred to as Kelon in Gordon 2005) (Baird 2008)
  • Kui (kvd
  • Kula (tpg) (also known as Tanglapui)
  • Reta (ret) (referred to as Retta in Gordon 2005)
  • Sawila (swt) (also known as Tanglapui)
  • Wersing (swt)

The Languages of Pantar

Recent research on Pantar island (carried out between 2003-2007 by Gary Holton and  myself) has lead to a tentative list of ten languages that are spoken on Pantar and the islands Ternate, Buaya, Pura, Tereweng, Kambing and Kangge (see map 3). The list is given below, with the Ethnologue code of the languages (Gordon 2005) in brackets.  Note that Alor is also spoken on Alor island (see  above).    Languages spoken on Pantar, Ternate, Buaya, Pura, Tereweng, Kambing, Kangge:

  • Teiwa (twe) (referred to as Tewa in Gordon 2005)
  • Western Pantar (with the dialects of Mauta, Lamma, and Tubbe) (lev)
  • Alor/Alorese (several dialects, including Baranusa and Muna) (Klamer forthcoming b)(aol)
  • Blagar (beu)
  • Kroku (not listed in Gordon 2005)
  • Deing (also referred to as Diang) (not listed in Gordon 2005)
  • Sar (not listed in Gordon 2005)
  • Nedebang/Klamu (nec)
  • Kaera (not listed in Gordon 2005)
  • Bajau (bdl)
  • Reta (ret)

Selected bibliographical references

This website introduction is based on the following publication, which contains more details and all the references:  Klamer, Marian. In press. A grammar of Teiwa, Chapter 1. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter. Please use this publication for citation purposes.

Selected bibliographical references on the languages and cultures of Alor and Pantar 

  • Baird, Louise. 2005. Doing the Split-S in Klon. Linguistics in the Netherlands 2005, 1-12.
  • Baird, Louise. 2008. A grammar of Klon: A non-Austronesian language of Alor, Indonesia. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • Baird, Louise, and Marian Klamer. 2006. Persoalan ortografi dalam bahasa daerah di Alor dan Pantar. [Orthographical issues in local languages on Alor and Pantar]. Linguistik Indonesia 24,1: 36-57. Baird, Louise, Marian Klamer and František Kratochvíl. 2004. Alor Malay as a distinct variety of Malay. Paper presented on the 8th International Symposium on Malay/Indonesian linguistics (ISMIL 8), Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia, 31 July - 2 August 2004.
  • Bouman, M.A. 1943. De Aloreesche dansplaats. Bijdragen Taal- Land- en Volkenkunde 102: 481-500.
  • Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.), 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. Online version: http://www.ethnologue.com.
  • Grimes, Charles E., Tom Therik, Barbara Dix Grimes, Max Jacob. 1997. A guide to the people and languages of Nusa Tenggara. Kupang: Artha Wacana Press. Haan, John. 2001. The grammar of Adang. PhD Thesis, University of Sydney, Australia.
  • Holton, Gary. 2004. Report on recent linguistic fieldwork on Pantar Island, Eastern Indonesia. http://www.faculty.uaf.edu/ffgmh1/pantar/pantar.pdf.
  • Holton, Gary. 2008. Western Pantar semantic alignment. In Mark Donohue and Soeren Wichmann (eds.), Semantic alignment. Oxford: Oxford University Press, xx-xx.
  • Holton, Gary. 2009. Person-marking, verb classes, and the notion of grammatical alignment in Western Pantar (Lamma). In Michael Ewing and Marian Klamer (eds.), Typological and Areal Analyses: Contributions from East Nusantara. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • Klamer, Marian. 2007. Bahasa Alor: An atypical Austronesian language. Paper presented at the Fifth East Nusantara Conference (ENUS5), Kupang, Indonesia, 1-3 August 2007 and the Third Conference on Austronesian Languages & Linguistics (ALL3), Dept. of Linguistics, SOAS, London, 21-22 September 2007.
  • Klamer, Marian. 2008. The semantics of semantic alignment in Eastern Indonesia. In Mark Donohue and Soeren Wichmann (eds.), Semantic alignment. Oxford: Oxford University Press, xx-xx.
  • Klamer, Marian. 2009. One item, many faces: ‘come’ in Teiwa and Kaera. In Michaeal Ewing and Marian Klamer (eds.),  Typological and Areal Analysis: Contributions from East Nusantara. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, xx-xx.
  • Klamer, Marian. Forthcoming a. Ditransitive constructions in Teiwa. In Bernard Comrie, Martin Haspelmath and Andrej Malchukov (eds.) Ditransitive Constructions. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. [To appear in 2009], xx-xx.
  • Klamer, Marian. Forthcoming b. A sketch grammar of Alorese.
  • Klamer, Marian and Michael Ewing. In press/2009. The languages of East Nusantara: An Introduction. In: Michael Ewing and Marian Klamer (eds.). Typological and areal analyses: Contributions from East Nusantara. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. 
  • Klamer, Marian and František Kratochvíl. 2006. The role of animacy in Teiwa and Abui (Papuan). Proceedings of BLS 32. Berkeley: Berkeley Linguistic Society.
  • Klamer, Marian and František Kratochvíl. To appear. Abui Complex Verbs. To appear in Proceedings of the "Rara & Rarissima" conference 2006. Edited by Jan Wohlgemuth, Michael Cysouw and Orin Gensler. To appear in the EALT Series. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Kratochvíl, František. 2007. A grammar of Abui, a Papuan language of Alor. PhD dissertation Leiden University. Utrecht: LOT dissertations.
  • Nieuwenkamp, W.O.J. 1919a. Iets over een mokko poeng Djawa Noerah, van Alor. Tijdschrift van het Koninklijk Nederlandsch-Aardrijkskundig Genootschap 36:220-227.
  • Nieuwenkamp, W.O.J. 1919b. Mokkos. Tijdschrift van het Koninklijk Nederlandsch-Aardrijkskundig Genootschap 36: 332-334. Nieuwenkamp, W.O.J. 1922. Drie weken op Alor. Nederlandsch Indië oud & nieuw 7: 67-88.
  • Rodemeier, Susanne. 1995. Local tradition on Alor and Pantar. An attempt at localizing Galiyao. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (BKI) 151, 438-442.
  • Rodemeier, Susanne. 2006. Tutu Kadire in Pandai-Munaseli - Erzählen und Erinnern auf der vergessenen Insel Pantar (Ostindonesien). Passauer Beiträge zur Sudostasienkunde, Band 12. Berlin: LIT Verlag.
  • Steinhauer, Hein. 1993. Bahasa Blagar Selayang Pandang. Penyelidikan Bahasa dan Perkembangan Wawasannya I, Jakarta, Masyarakat Linguistik Indonesia, 639-659.
  • Steinhauer, Hein. 1995. Two varieties of the Blagar language (Alor, Indonesia). In Tales from a Concave World: Liber Amicorum Bert Voorhoeve. Connie Baak, Mary Bakker and Dick van der Meij (eds.). Leiden: Projects Division Department of Languages and Cultures of South-East Asia and Oceania.
  • Stokhof, W.A.L. 1975. Preliminary notes on the Alor and Pantar languages (East Indonesia). Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. Stokhof, W.A.L. 1983. Names and naming in Ateita and environment (Woisika, Alor). Lingua 61:179-207.
  • Stokhof, W.A.L. 1987. A short Kabola text (Alor, East Indonesia). In A world of language: Papers presented to Professor S.A. Wurm on his 65th birthday. Edited by Donald C. Laycock and Werner Winter. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • Vatter, Ernst. 1932. Ata Kiwan: unbekannte Bergvölker im tropschen Holland: ein Reisebericht. Leipzig: Bibliographisches Institut A.G.

The Alor-Pantar languages is a EuroBABEL (ESF EUROCORES Program) project, funded by the following three national funding organisations

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