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Abui language

Abui tanga
RegionAlor Island
Native speakers
17,000 (2007)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3abz

Abui is a non-Austronesian language of the Alor Archipelago. It is spoken in the central part of Alor Island in Eastern Indonesia, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) province by the Abui people. The native name in the Takalelang dialect is Abui tanga which literally translates as 'mountain language'.


Abui is a member of the Alor–Pantar languages, within the Timor–Alor–Pantar language family .[3] Based on shared phonological consonant innovations, Abui is part of the Alor subgroup along with Blagar, Adang, Klon, Kui, Kamang, Sawila, and Wersing.[3]


The Alor-Pantar languages are, at the most, ~3,000 years old.[4]

It appears as though Proto-AP speakers borrowed certain Austronesian words prior to the breakup of Proto-AP; these loan words underwent regular sound change and can therefore be reconstructed for Proto-AP.[5]

Geographic distribution

Abui is spoken by approximately 16,000 speakers in the central part of the Alor Island in Eastern Indonesia, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) province.[6]

Internal variation

Abui has a number of dialects: Northern, Southern and Western.[7] Northern dialects spoken around villages of Mainang, Masape, Takalelang and Atimelang have been subject of linguistic study. Southern dialects are spoken around Kelaisi and Apui; western dialects are spoken around Mataru, Fanating and Moru. These dialects remain unstudied.


Abui has a relatively simple phonemic inventory with 16 native and 3 loan consonants. There are 5 short vowels each of them having a long counterpart. In a number of cases lexical tone is found. All information in this section is from Kratochvíl 2007.[8]


  Bilabial Labiodental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop voiceless p   t   k ʔ
voiced b d (g)
Affricate voiceless       ()    
voiced (ɟʝ)
Fricative f s     h
Nasal      n    ŋ  
Approximant     j w  
Trill     r      

The consonants /cç/, /ɟʝ/, and /g/ are non-native, having been borrowed from Malay in recent decades. As indicated by the chart above, Abui has /r/ and /l/ as separate phonemes.



Short Long
Front Back Front Back
Close ɪ u
Mid ɛ ɔ
Open ɑ


 Ending with /ɪ/   Ending with /ɑ/   Ending with /ɛ/   Ending with /ɔ/ 
Starting with /u/  
Starting with /ɪ/   ɪɑ ɪɛ ɪɔ
Starting with /ɑ/ ɑɪ      
Starting with /ɛ/ ɛɪ ɛɑ    
Starting with /ɔ/ ɔɪ      


Abui is a head-marking language; pronominal prefixes mark the possessors on nouns and undergoer arguments on verbs. Nominal morphology is restricted to possessor inflection; number, case and gender inflections do not appear. Verbal morphology is elaborate including person and aspect inflection. Verb compounding and serialization are common.

Lexical categories

All information in this section is from Kratochvíl 2007.[8]

Open classes in Abui are nouns and verbs. Closed classes are adjectives, deictics, quantifiers, aspectual markers, linkers, adverbs, and question words.

Of these word classes, only verbs and nouns can combine with pronominal prefixes. Only verbs take one of the set of pronominal prefixes (type II REC), and only verbs combine with aspectual suffixes. Some stems can serve as both nouns and verbs, like tur 'spoon/scoop' below.

tur as a noun:

ah, na sei tur mi=se yo![9]
oh 1SG come.down.CNT spoon take=INCP.I MD.AD
‘ah, I'm about to come down to pick up the spoon!’

tur as a verb:

fat ma tur ba di takei=se![9]
corn ripe spoon.up.CPL LNK 3A bite=INCP.I
‘dish up cooked corn so that he eats!’

Unlike other verbs, stative verbs don’t require the intersective linker ba when they modify a noun.

Abui has a small class of adjectives. Adjectives can modify NPs but they can't head a VP. Stative verbs, on the other hand, can both modify NPs and serve as predicates. In order for an adjectival stem to be used predicatively, the addition of the generic verb -i is required. Compare the adjective akan ‘black’, with the stative verb fing 'be eldest', below.

akan as NP modifier:

kaai akan kaliet-a[10]
dog black
'the black dog is old'

akan-i as predicate:

kaai akan-i[10]
dog black-put
'the dog is black' (not good for 'black dog')

fing as NP modifier:

moku fing do[11]
kid be.eldest PRX
‘this oldest child'

fing as predicate:

‘he is eldest’


Abui is agglutinating and polysynthetic.[12] Nouns are usually morphologically simple, while verbs can have affixes indicating person and aspect. Verb roots also combine with each other. Some words are monomorphemic, consisting of one free root, such as nee 'eat.' Others are more morphologically complex:

prefix-bound.root-bound.root-suffix ha-bek-d-i 'got it broken'
prefix-free.root-bound.root-suffix ha-bui-d-a 'get it shortened'[13]

Morphosyntactic alignment

Abui has a semantic alignment driven by the semantic features of the participants. A language with such a 'fluid alignment' is often referred to as an active–stative language. In semantic alignment, instigating, controlling and volitional participants are realized as the A argument in both transitive and intransitive construction. In Abui, they are expressed with NPs and free pronouns. The affected participants are realized as the U argument. U arguments are expressed by NPs and pronominal prefixes on the verb. There are three types of pronominal prefixes distinguishing the following types of U arguments: patients (PAT), recipients or goals (REC), and benefactives or locations (LOC).

Noun phrase structure

Abui syntax is characterized by strict constituent order. In an NP, the modifiers follow the head noun with the exception of deictic demonstratives and possessors. The NP template is given in below:

NP template: DEMs/NMCs (POSS-) N N/ADJ/V/QUANT ba + NMC DEMa

The deictic demonstrative indicates the spatial location of the referent and together with the possessor marking precede the head (N). Adjectives (A), stative verbs (V) and quantifiers (QUANT) follow the head. The final constituent of an NP is usually an anaphoric demonstrative (DEMa) that indicates the ‘discourse location’ of the referent. Noun-modifying clauses (NMC) normally occur following the head linked with ba. However, a NMC elaborating on the location of the referent (NMCs) occurs in the same position as the deictic demonstrative, preceding the head noun.

Clause structure

In a clause, the arguments always precede the predicate. The constituent order is strict; the clause template is given below.


Note that the deictic demonstrative (DEMs) indicating the spatial location of the event always precedes the predicate. The demonstrative (DEMt) indicating the temporal location of an event is the final clause constituent. The constituent order in the clause is pragmatically motivated, and the prominent arguments that occur in the preceding discourse are omitted. The topical arguments can be left-dislocated. In a sentence, the main clause (MC) may contain marking of tense, aspect and mood. In subordinate clauses (SC), the marking of tense, aspect and mood is reduced and shared with the MC. The position of a SC with respect to the MC is determined by its semantic type. SCs specifying the temporal location or other settings of the event expressed in the MC must precede the MC. SCs expressing non-factive complements or purpose follow the MC. In discourse, there is a preference for clause chains, with the final fully inflected MC. In narratives, strategies such as tail-head linkage are relied on. More details can be found in Kratochvíl (2007).


Abui, like most Papuan languages, lacks an active-passive voice distinction.[14]


Most verbs can occur in transitive or intransitive constructions. Abui has no ditransitive verbs.

Writing system

Abui orthography is based on Indonesian. Long vowels are spelled as double vowels. High tone is marked with an acute accent on the vowel, and low tone is marked with a grave one.[15]


Excerpt from moku mayol, a bride price negotiation text

moku mayol, he-ni-l yal he-fu
kid woman now 3II.AL-betel.nut
‘the daughter, it became so, now her betel nut’
he-meting siei he-ya he-maama
3II.AL-betel.vine come.down.ICP 3II.AL-mother 3II.AL-father
‘and her betel vine was brought down, her mother and father’
moku mayol po-tafuda he-kang he-fanga
kid woman 1PL.I.REC-be.all 3II.LOC-be.good 3II.LOC-say.CNT
‘the daughter, all of us agreed’
ma hare, neng he-fing he-kalieta naha=te
be.PRX so man 3II.LOC-oldest 3II.AL-old.person or
‘being so, the parents and elder of the man, or’
he-ya he-maama+ ko pi yaa mit nate-a tanga
3II.AL-mother 3II.AL-father soon 1PL.I go sit stand.up-DUR speak
‘his mother and father, we shall negotiate’
ananra he-lung ha-liel lung pe-i mit-i mangkaisara
tell.CNT 3II.AL-door 3II.PAT-lift door near-PFV sit-PFV macassarese.drum
‘to open the door, for (those who) sit near the door, one makassarese (drum)’
nuku mayol he-bel yawa lohu ayoku mangkaisara nuku
one woman 3II.LOC-buy javanese.drum be.long two macassarese.drum one
‘the bride price two long Javanese drums, one Macassarese drum’
ma hare neng he-ya naha=te he-maama
be.PRX so man 3II.AL-mother or 3II.AL-father
‘being so, the mother of the man, or his father’
he-fing he-kalieta pi sama tanga sama ananra
3II.LOC-oldest 3II.AL-old.person 1PL.I be.with speak.CNT be.with tell.CNT
‘(those) elder (to him), his grandparents, we negotiate together’
he-war he-tadeng mi ba awering ha-tàng[16]
3II.AL-sun 3II.AL-day LNK ladder 3II.PAT-release
‘the day when the young woman will be delivered to her husband’, lit.: when the ladder will be released

Linguistic situation

The Abui ethnic group has attracted the attention of foreign researchers since the 1930s. American cultural anthropologist Cora DuBois lived between 1937-1939 in the village of Atimelang. Her research is documented in her monograph 'The People of Alor'.[17] Cora DuBois was accompanied by the Dutch sociologist Martha Margaretha Nicolspeyer who conducted a study of the social structure of Abui people.[18]

After the World War II, W.A.L. Stokhof and H. Steinhauer conducted a linguistic survey of Alor and Pantar.[19] Later, W.A.L. Stokhof published and analyzed one of the texts collected by Nicolspeyer.[20] Linguistic documentation efforts have been undertaken recently by Leiden University. As one of the results of the Alor and Pantar Project, a description of Abui grammar appeared in 2007.[8] More recently a tri-lingual Abui-Indonesian-English dictionary was published in Indonesia.[21] The dictionary was accompanied by a tri-lingual collection of stories from Takalelang and Tifolafeng.[22]


  1. ^ "UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in danger". Retrieved 2018-06-06.
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Abui". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ a b Holton & Robinson (2014)
  4. ^ Klamer (2014)
  5. ^ Holton, Gary; Klamer, Marian; Kratochvíl, František; Schapper, Antionette (2012). "The historical relations of the Papuan languages of Alor and Pantar". Oceanic Linguistics. 51 (1): 86–122. doi:10.1353/ol.2012.0001. hdl:1887/18594.
  6. ^ Abui language at Ethnologue (14th ed., 2000).
  7. ^ Grimes, Charles E & Alfa Omega Foundation (1997). A Guide to the people and languages of Nusa Tenggara Artha Wacana Press, Kupang, Indonesia,ISBN 979-9096-00-6; page 59 specifies the dialects as Atimelang, Kobola and Alakaman - also citing Stokhof (1975:12) that his data was rather scanty and reveal strong dialectal variation
  8. ^ a b c Kratochvil (2007)
  9. ^ a b Kratochvil 2007:71
  10. ^ a b Kratochvil 2007:110
  11. ^ a b Kratochvil 2007:98
  12. ^ Kratochvil (2007), p. 12
  13. ^ Kratochvil 2007:69
  14. ^ Foley (1986)
  15. ^ Kratochvil 2007:65–66
  16. ^ Kratochvil 2007:441–445
  17. ^ Du Bois, Cora Alice (1960). The people of Alor: a social-psychological study of an East Indian island. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  18. ^ Nicolspeyer, Martha Margaretha (1940). De sociale structuur van een Aloreesche bevolkingsgroep. Rijswijk: Kramers.
  19. ^ Stokhof, W.A.L. (1975). Preliminary notes on the Alor and Pantar languages (East Indonesia). Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. doi:10.15144/pl-b43. hdl:1885/145148. ISBN 978-0-85883-124-7.
  20. ^ Stokhof, W.A.L. (1984). "Annotations to a text in the Abui language (Alor)". Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde. 140 (1): 106–162. doi:10.1163/22134379-90003430.
  21. ^ Kratochvíl, František; Benidiktus Delpada (2008). Kamus Pengantar Bahasa Abui (Abui-Indonesian-English dictionary) (PDF). Kupang, Indonesia: UBB-GMIT. ISBN 978-1-86892-593-3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-08-20 – via Hong Kong Baptist University Library.
  22. ^ Kratochvíl, František; Benidiktus Delpada (2008). Netanga neananra dei lohu naha: Abui tanga heateng ananra (Cerita-cerita dalam Bahasa Abui dari Takalelang, Abui stories from Takalelang) (PDF). Kupang, Indonesia: UBB-GMIT. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-07-26 – via Hong Kong Baptist University Library.


  • Kratochvil, František (2007). A grammar of Abui: A Papuan language of Alor (Doctoral thesis). Utrecht: LOT (Leiden University). hdl:1887/11998. ISBN 9789078328285.
  • Klamer, Marion (2014). "The Alor-Pantar languages: Linguistic context, history and typology". In Klamer, Marian (ed.). Alor Pantar languages: History and Typology. Berlin: Language Sciences Press. pp. 5–53.
  • Holton, Gary; Robinson, Laura C. (2014). "The internal history of the Alor-Pantar language family". In Klamer, Marian (ed.). Alor Pantar languages: History and Typology. Studies in Diversity Linguistics. Berlin: Language Sciences Press. pp. 155–98. doi:10.17169/langsci.b22.44.
  • Foley, William A. (1986). The Papuan Languages of New Guinea. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-28621-3. OCLC 13004531.

External links