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Dhao language

Native toIndonesia
RegionLesser Sunda Islands
Native speakers
5,000 (1997)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3nfa
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The Dhao language, better known to outsiders by its Rotinese name Ndao (Ndaonese, Ndaundau), is the language of Ndao Island in Indonesia. Traditionally classified as a Sumba language in the Austronesian family, it may actually be a non-Austronesian (Papuan) language. (See Savu languages for details.) It was once considered a dialect of Hawu, but is not mutually intelligible.


Dhao phonology is similar to that of Hawu, but somewhat more complex in its consonants.

Lab. Apic. Lam. Vel. Glot.
m n ɲ ŋ
p t k ʔ
b d ɡ
ɓ ɗ ʄ ɠ
(f) s h
ɖʐ ʕ~∅
(w) l, r (j)

Consonants of the /n/ column are apical, those of the /ɲ/ column laminal. /f w j/ are found in Malay loan words. In the practical orthography, implosives are written ⟨b' d' j' g'⟩, the affricates ⟨bh dh⟩ (the dh is slightly retroflex), and the voiced glottal onset as a double vowel. The /ʕ/ is sometimes silent, but contrasts with a glottal stop onset in vowel-initial words within a phrase. Its phonemic status is not clear. It has an "extremely limited distribution", linking noun phrases (/ʔiki/ 'small', /ʔana ʕiki/ 'small child') and clauses (/ʕaa/ 'and', /ʕoo/ 'also').

Vowels are /i u e ə o a/, with /ə/ written ⟨è⟩. Phonetic long vowels and diphthongs are vowel sequences. The penultimate syllable/vowel is stressed. (Every vowel constitutes a syllable.)

/ŋe/ [ŋe] 'this.OBJ', /neʔe/ [ˈneʔe] 'this', /ŋaŋee/ [ŋaˈŋeː] 'thinking', /ŋali/ [ˈŋali] 'senile', /ŋəlu/ [ˈŋəlːu] 'wind'.

A stressed schwa lengthens the following consonant: /meda/ [ˈmeda] 'yesterday', /məda/ [ˈmədːa] 'night'.

Syllables are consonant-vowel or vowel-only.

f, q, v, w, x, y and z are only used in loanwords and foreign names.


Dhao has a nominative–accusative SVO word order, unlike Hawu. Within noun phrases, modifiers follow the noun. There are a set of independent pronouns, and also a set of pronominal clitics.

PRON Indep. clitic
I dʒaʔa ku
thou əu mu
s/he nəŋu na (ne)
we (incl) əɖʐi ti
we (excl) dʒiʔi ŋa
y'all miu mi
they rəŋu ra (si)

When the clitics are used for objects, there are proximal forms in the third person, ne 'this one' and si 'these', the latter also for collective plurals. When used for subjects and the verb begins with a vowel, they drop their vowel with a few irregularities:[3] keʔa meʔa neʔa teʔa ŋeʔa meʔa reʔa 'to know'. Many words that translate prepositions in English are verbs in Dhao, and inflect as such. Dhao also has a single 'intradirective' verb, laʔ 'to go', in which the clitics follow: laku lamu laʔa or laʔe lati (NA) lami lasi.

Demonstratives distinguish proximal (here, now, this), distal (there, then, that), and remote (yonder, yon).

DEM sing. plur.
Proximal neʔe, ne seʔe, se
Distal əna, ʕəna səra
Remote nəi səi

Sample clauses (Grimes 2006). (Compare the Hawu equivalents at Hawu language#Grammar.)

Lazarus kako maɖʐutu nebβe ɖʐasi.
(name) walk follow shore sea
'Lazarus walked/was walking along the edge of the sea.'
həia ra kako taruu asa Baʔa.
then they walk cont. PATH Ba’a
'Then they continued walking/traveling towards Ba’a.'
ropa ra poro r-are kətu na,
when they cut they-PFV head he/his
'When they had cut off his head,'
te ŋaa ra pa-maɖʐe ne.
but they CAUS-die
'But they killed him.'
laɖʐe ama na maɖʐe,
if/when father he/his die
'When his father dies,'
na əra titu kəna.
he strong very much
'He was incredibly strong.'


  1. ^ Dhao at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Dhao". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ In some cases, the clitics in -u and sometimes in -i assimilate with the verb rather than just dropping. Ku-, mu-, and mi- (but not ti-) do this with aʔa 'to know' and are 'to take': koʔa moʔa taʔa miʔa; kore more tare mere. This does not happen with other initial vowels such as schwa, such as əti 'to see' (kəti məti ...).


External links