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North Moluccan Malay

North Moluccan Malay
Bahasa Pasar
Native toIndonesia
RegionNorth Maluku
Native speakers
700,000 (2001)[1]
Malay Creole
  • East Indonesian
    • North Moluccan Malay
Language codes
ISO 639-3max

North Moluccan Malay (also known as Ternate Malay) is a Malay-based creole language spoken on Ternate, Tidore, Halmahera, and Sula Islands, North Maluku for intergroup communications. The local name of the language is Bahasa Pasar, and the name Ternate Malay is also used, after the main ethnic group speaking the language. Since North Moluccan Malay is used primarily for spoken communication, there is no standardized orthography.

A large percentage of this language's lexicon has been borrowed from Ternatean, such as, ngana "you (sg.)", ngoni "you (pl.)", bifi "ant" and ciri "to fall", and its syntax has been heavily influenced by the surrounding West Papuan languages.[3] Other vernacular forms of Malay spoken in eastern Indonesia, such as Manado Malay and Papuan Malay, are said to be derived from an earlier form of North Moluccan Malay.[4]



The vowel system of North Moluccan Malay consists of five vowel phonemes and five diphthongs.[5]:15

Front Back
High i u
Mid e o
Low a

The five diphthongs are /ai/, /ae/, /ao/, /oi/ and /ei/.[5]:15


North Moluccan Malay has eighteen consonants and two semivowels.[5]:19

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Plosive p b t d c ɟ k ɡ ʔ
Fricative f s h
Lateral l
Trill r
Semivowel w j



In Ternate Malay, words do not align its forms with its grammatical roles; therefore, the functions of words are often determined by linguistic context and non-linguistic situation. In this case, possessions are often used as a tool to determine the borders of constituents for the sake of successful interpretation of word meanings and functions.[5]:41

Generally, words in Ternate Malay are often constructed in head-initial structure, except from the two possessive constructions – Y pe X constructions and YX constructions, where words are constructed in head-final structure.[5]:59

Y pe X constructions

In the Y pe X construction, the Y element refers to the modifier (possessor) while the X element refers to the head (possessum). The possessor and possessum are connected by pe, in which the possessum expresses de facto a nominal meaning. In English, the Y pe X constructions gives the meaning of ‘Y’s X’ and ‘the X or Y’.[5]:59

According to Litamahuputty,[5]:92 Y pe X construction can express different meanings ranging from possession in animate subjects and inanimate subjects to non-possessive meanings. The examples below are extracted from Litamahuputty [5]:92–98 to illustrate situations when Y pe X construction is used to express possessions.

Non-human relationships
X is part of Y

In example (1), tong pe kaki is a possessive construction where the possessor tong ‘the first person plural – our’ is connected to the possessum kaki ‘leg’ using pe. Together, the construction gives the meaning of ‘our leg’, in which the leg is a part of ‘our’ body, demonstrating the relationship of ‘X is part of Y’

Example (1):

ka sana, de poloso tong pe kaki.

to there 3SG squeeze 1PL POSS leg

when we go there, she massages our legs [5]:3

X is a product of Y

In example (2), ular pe bias is a possessive construction where the possessor ular ‘snake’ is connected to the possessum bias ‘venom’ using pe. Together, the construction means ‘the snake’s venom’, in which the venom is produced by the snake, demonstrating the relationship of ‘X is a product of Y’.

Example (2):

baru de buka ular pe bisa...

then 3SG open snake POSS poison

then he takes out the snake’s venom [5]:94

X is a feature of Y

In example (3), motor pe warna is a possessive construction where the possessor motor ‘motorcycle’ is connected to the possessum warna ‘colour’ using pe. Together, the construction gives the meaning of ‘the colour of the motorcycle’, in which the colour is one of the features (such as shape, model, engine…etc.) of the motorcycle, demonstrating the relationship of ‘X is a feature of Y’.

Example (3):

motor pe warna deng dia sama.

motorcycle POSS colour and 3SG same

the colour of the motorcycle and him are the same.[5]:95

Human relationships
Social relationship

In example (4), bank pe bini is a possessive construction where the possessor bank ‘bank employee’ is connected to the possessum bini ‘wife’ using pe. Together, the construction brings the meaning of ‘the bank employees’ wives’, which expresses the social relationship between the humane animates.

Example (4):

kalo dong lia ibu-ibu bank ka...

when 3PL see RED-mother bank or

when they see bank employees or


bank pe bini, orang-orang di bank,

bank POSS wife RED-person in bank

the wives of bank employees, employees at the bank,[5]:95

Kinship relationship

In example (5), Fadin de kaka is a possessive construction where the possessor Fadin (a proper noun) is connected to the possessum kaka ‘older sibling’. Together, the construction gives the meaning of ‘Fadin’s older brother’, which expresses the kinship relationship between the two humane animates.

Example (5):

Fadin pe kaka ni.

Fadin POSS older.sibling this

he’s Fadin’s older brother [5]:93

Time relationships
Future relationship

Example (6) is about a story of how the speaker accidentally spilled hot oil on himself.

In the possessive construction de pe beso, the possessor de ‘third person singular refers to the day of incident, where the possessum beso ‘tomorrow’ refers to the day after the incident. Future time relationship is shown between the day of incident and the day after the incident.

Example (6):

eh, de pe beso kita kage nae.

EXCL 3SG POSS tomorrow 1SG startled go.up

gee, the next morning I woke up in a shock.[5]:97

Past relationship

Example (7) is about the journey of the speaker and his friends in an island where he heard a strange voice.

In the possessive construction de pe kalamareng malang, the possessor de ‘third person singular refers to the moment when the speaker was talking, where the possessum kalamareng malang ‘yesterday night’ refers to the night before that moment, demonstrating past time relationship between the time when the speaker heard strange voice and the time he talked.

Example (7):

baru de pe kalamareng malang tu

moreover 3SG POSS yesterday night that

moreover, last night


kita ada dengar orang pe suara.

1SG exist hear person POSS voice

I heard someone's voice[5]:97

Human Quality

In Example (8), de pe bae is a possessive expression where the possessor de ‘third person singular – his’ is connected to the possesum bae ‘kindness’ with pe. The expression has the meaning of ‘his kindness’, demonstrating a quality of the humane subject.

This relationship is similar to X is a feature of Y which was demonstrated earlier, where example (8) refers to an animate and example (3) refers to an inanimate.

Example (8):

kita inga de pe bae skali.

1SG remember 3SG POSS good very

I always remember his kindness.[5]:98

From the above examples, it can be seen that wide ranges of possessions, including possessions in human, animals, objects or even abstract items like time, can be demonstrated from the Y pe X constructions.

As mentioned earlier, word functions in Ternate Malay are often determined from contexts rather than word forms. Therefore, not all Y pe X constructions show possessive meanings. The examples below demonstrate situations where Y pe X construction is used to express meanings other than possession, for example, to express evaluative meanings or additional information:[5]:99–102

When the possessum (X) denotes a quality with exclamative markers, it has an evaluative meaning rather than a possessive meaning.

In example (9), the Y element in the Y pe X construction ‘ngana pe capat’ is ngana, which refers to second person singular’; and the X element is capa’, which refers to ‘fast’.

Since the sentence is expressed in exclamative intonations, which can be shown from the exclamation mark used at the end of the sentence and the use of ih (the exclamative expression), the construction has the evaluative meaning of ‘how fast you are!’ rather than a possessive meaning of referring the ‘quality of fastness’ to the subject.

Example (9):

ih, Anwar, ngana pe capat!

EXCL Anwar 2SG POSS fast

gee, Anwar, you’re fast![5]:99

When the possessum (X) denotes an action or activity, it supplies additional information to the action or activity rather than showing possessions.

In example (10), the Y element in the Y pe X construction ‘paitua pe cuci balangang’ is paitua, which refers to ‘old man’; and the X element is cuci balangan, which refers to ‘to wash a wok’.

The example provided extra information on what surprised the speaker rather than showing possession between the old man and his way of washing a wok.

Example (10):

paitua pe cuci balangang kita herang. POSS wash wok 1SG surprised

the way he washed the wok surprised me.[5]:100

YX constructions

In the YX construction, the Y element refers to the modifier (possessor), which is often a personal pronoun or a kinship term; and the X element refers to the head (possessum), which is often a thing word. The construction also has a meaning of ‘Y’s X’ and ‘the X or Y’ in English.[5]:102 The examples below are extracted from Litamahuputty,[5]:103–104 which demonstrated the use of element Y as a personal pronoun and kinship term in YX constructions:

Possessor Y as a personal pronoun

Example (11) has demonstrated the use of YX construction with element Y as a personal pronoun, where the possessor dong refers to ‘third person plural’ and the possessum parau refers to ‘boat’. Together, it has the meaning of ‘their boat’ .

Example (11):

ikang bawa dong parau.

fish bring 3PL boat

a fish is pulling their boat [5]:104

Possessor Y as a kinship term

Example (12) has demonstrated the use of YX construction with element Y as a kinship term, where the possessor tete refers to grandfather and the possessum papa refers to father. Together, the expression has the meaning of ‘the grandfather’s father’, demonstrating the kinship relationship.

Example (12):

tete papa orang Ternate.

grandfather father person Ternate

my grandfather’s father is a person from Ternate.[5]:103

Personal pronouns

Personal pronouns in North Moluccan Malay only distinguish between person (first, second and third person) and number (singular and plural). Some pronouns can also be used to show respect to other speakers.[5]:142

Person Singular Plural
Full Shortened Full Shortened
1 kita
saya (respectful)
- (ki)torang tong
2 ngana - ngoni -
3 dia de dorang dong


The use of the first person singular pronouns kita and saya is dependent on the speech situation. Kita is used when talking to others of the same or lower age, rank or status. On the other hand, saya is used in more formal situations or when conversing with someone with a higher rank or status, to show respect to the other person.[5]:143

The second person singular and plural pronouns, ngana and ngoni also share a similar distinction. Ngana is used to refer to an addressee if they of the same or lower age, rank or status. Otherwise speakers may use personal names or kinship terms to refer to the addressee.[5]:144 Alternatively, the plural second person pronoun ngoni can occasionally be used to refer to a single addressee respectfully, although it is typically reserved for addressing a group of people.[5]:147

These distinctions are demonstrated in example (1) where the speaker telling his friends of a situation where he explains to a woman that he does not want to accept money for helping to carry her shopping onto the bus. Since he is talking to his friends he refers to himself as kita, but because he is not familiar with the woman he uses the more respectful saya to refer to himself and ngoni to address her.

(1) kita bilang, "Ibu... saya bantu saja pa ngoni."
1SG say mother 1SG assist only to 2
"I said: 'Madam, I'm only helping you.'"[5]:143

Full and shortened forms

For pronouns with a full and shortened form, the two forms may be used interchangeably in most contexts. However, following the conjunction deng or prepositions (such as di, ka, dari or pa) only the full form may be used.[5]:142 This is seen in example (2) where the short form de is used except following the preposition pa, where the full forms dia and torang appear instead:

(2) tikus ini, kalo manakal pa dia, de manakal pa torang.
mouse this when be.naughty to 3SG 3SG be.naughty to 1PL
"this mouse, if we harm it, it will harm us"[5]:145

In addition, the shortened forms do not appear post-verbally (i.e. after predicates).[5]:144–147 Hence in the following example tong cannot appear after the verb bunu "kill", only the full form torang is allowed:

(3) iblis tara mungkin bunu torang
devil NEG possible kill 1PL
"it's impossible for a devil to kill us"[5]:146

The full form of the first person plural pronoun torang is actually a shortening of kitorang which is sometimes used by older speakers however younger speakers rarely use this form.[5]:145

The only exceptions to the two restrictions mentioned above is when the pronoun is part of a Y pe X possessive construction in which case the shortened form may be used as the possessor Y.[5]:142 Example (4) shows a possessive Y pe X construction containing the first person plural short form pronoun dong occurring after a preposition pa:

(4) tong brenti pas pa dong pe muka.
1PL stop exact to 3PL POSS face
"we stopped precisely in front of them."[5]:148

Similarly, example (5) shows the third person singular short form pronoun de occurring after the verb iko "follow" also as part of a Y pe X possessive construction. This contrasts with the use of the full form dia after the second instance of iko, where the pronoun is no longer part of a possessive construction:

(5) de pe lalar iko de pe luka, bukang iko dia.
3SG POSS fly follow 3SG POSS wound NEG follow 3SG
"the flies are following his wounds, they are not following him."[5]:145


North Moluccan Malay uses predicate operators to express negation (negators). Predicate operators are used to express certain meaning aspects, they also act as a grammatical function by showing that the construction in which they take part in is best to be interpreted as predicate. tara 'not (present)' and bukang 'not' are two negators that are frequently used to negate predicates in this language.[5]:222

tara implies absolute absence 'not present'; however, while used in negating thing constructions contexts, tara could mean 'not possess'. On the other hand, bukang implies a contradiction 'not A, (but B)'. In negating thing constructions, bukang negates the identity of the thing and implies an alternative.[5]:222

Negator tara

Examples of the usage of negator tara 'not (present)' can be seen in the following sentences.[5]:222–223

Example (1) shows negator tara preceding predicate tidor 'sleep', this results tara tidor 'not sleep'.

(1) kita bilang, "ngana tara tidor?".
1SG say 2SG NEG sleep
I asked, "aren't you going to sleep?".[5]:222

In example (2), the predicate sadiki 'a little' refers to a small amount. Preceded by negator tara, tara sadiki 'not a little' refers to the subject of the example de pe sajara 'the history', which has a Y pe X possession construction. tara sadiki 'not a little' in this case describes the amount of the subject as the entity.

(2) de pe sajara tara sadiki.
3SG POSS history NEG a.little
the stories he has are not just a few.[5]:223

Example (3) shows tara negating predicate dua 'two' which refers to an amount. In this case, tara dua 'there are no two (of them)' works as an expression which means that something has no equal. The subject kita pe mara ni 'my anger' expresses the entity that it has no (second) equivalent.

(3) ih, kita pe mara ni tara dua.
EXCL 1SG POSS angry this NEG two
gee, I was so angry. (Lit. 'my anger does not have an equivalent')[5]:223

Example (4) displays tara with the meaning 'not possess'. The predicate consists of negator tara 'not' preceding cewe 'girl' resulting tara cewe 'no girl(friend)'. This predicate describes the state of subject kita 'first person singular' which make the meaning 'not possess' of tara relevant. This results tara cewe to have the meaning 'do not have a girl(friend)'.

(4) cek, kita tara cewe.
gee, I don't have a girlfriend.[5]:223

Similar to example (4), example (5) shows the sense of 'not possess' of tara. The story of example (5) is that the speaker thought that he was offered tea when it was actually instant coffee. The explanation is that he was not familiar with instant coffee since he usually drank coffee that had coffee dregs in it. In this example, the predicate is constructed of negator tara and ampas 'dregs', this results tara ampas '(there are) no dregs' which in this situation ampas is coffee dregs.

(5) me, tara ampas.
PART NEG dregs
It didn't have any dregs.[5]:223

Negator tara also has variations, one of them is when it precedes ada 'be present' then it can merge into tarada 'not present'. Generally, tara ada 'not be present' and tarada can be used interchangeably; however, some speaker might have clear distinction between the two.[5]:223

Example (6) shows that the predicate consists of negator tara and ada resulting tara ada 'not present'. The predicate precede the subject aer 'water', therefore it has a predicate-subject construction of tara ada aer 'there is no water'.

(6) [...] kolam mandi-mandi cuma tara ada aer.
pool RED-bathe only NEG exist water
[...] a bathing pool, but there was no water.[5]:223

Example (7) has tarada as its predicate. The example consisted of two clauses, the first one samua tikus kacili 'all mice are small' which describes the size of the mice. The second clause consists of predicate tarada and yang basar 'big ones' (with the information from the previous clause, this refers to the mice). This also constructs a predicate-subject construction as found in example (6), which results tarada yang basar 'there are no big ones'.

(7) samua tikus kacili tarada yang basar.
all mouse small NEG REL big
all mice are small, there are no big ones.[5]:223

tarada could also act as the negative response to questions, this function could be applied to example (8). In this example, the speaker gives two alternatives of the possible results of a soccer player kicking a ball. The first alternative is that there would be a gol 'goal', while the second one there wouldn't tarada 'not (present)'. tarada 'no' could be used give this question a negative answer.[5]:223

(8) gol ka tarada?
goal or NEG
would there be a goal or not? [5]:224

tar is another variation of tara, which is a shorten form of it. tar can immediately precede a predicate and no other lexical material can intervene. It seems that tar is in a progress of becoming a bound element tar- to express negation.[5]:224

Example (9) shows the use of tar as the shortened form of tara in the predicate which is then followed by tau 'know'. This results tar tau ' not know'.

(9) Allah, tong tar tau.
Allah 1PL NEG know
oh my God, we didn't know that.[5]:224

Negator bukang

Negator bukang means 'not A, (but B)', it implies that the opposite or the alternative of the expressed is prominent. It is not obligatory to overtly express the opposite or alternative.[5]:224

Example (10) has a story of a man to be mistaken as a porter, therefore he explained that he was not. The example has negator bukang preceding ana-ana baangka 'porter', this results bukang ana-ana baangka 'not a porter'. In this example, ana-ana baangka is the negated scope.

(10) saya tara... bukang ana-ana ba-angka."
1SG NEG NEG PL-child DUR-lift.up
I'm no..., I'm not a porter."[5]:225

Different from example (10) that doesn't imply explicitly the alternative or opposite, example (11) states clearly the alternative of the negated thing. Example (11) has a story of someone asking the speaker if there is actually a snake in his garden. The speaker then answer the question using bukang which negates di atas, di atas refers to a location on the hill. The alternative or the opposite is stated as di bawa barangka 'at the lower part, at the ditch'.[5]:225

(11) ada, tapi bukang di atas, di bawah barangka.
be.present but NEG in top in bottom ditch
yes, there are, not up the hill, but down at the ditch.[5]:225

Example (12) displays a case where bukang negates a clause. The story of example (12) is about a boat that seem to be moving by itself, which then the real cause is explained. bukang precedes dong panggayung 'they paddle' in order to perform negation. The alternative, which in this case is the real reason of the situation, is stated as ikang kase lari dong parao 'a fish takes away their boat'. The negation scope in this example is on the people who paddle the boat, because it was actually the fish that moved the boat instead of the people.[5]:225

(12) padahal bukang dong panggayung...
whereas NEG 3PL paddle
while they're not paddling...[5]:225
(12) ikang kase lari dong parao, ikang basar.
fish give run 3PL boat fish big
a fish is taking away their boat, a big fish.[5]:225

List of abbreviations

Gloss Meaning
1 first person
2 second person
3 third person
DUR durative aspect, continuous aspect
EXCL exclusive
NEG negation, negative
PART participle, particle, partitive case
PL plural
POSS possessive
RED reduplication
REL relative(izer)
SG singular

See also


  1. ^ North Moluccan Malay at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "North Moluccan Malay". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Paul Michael Taylor. Introduction (PDF). p. 7.
  4. ^ Allen, Robert B.; Hayami-Allen, Rika (2002), "Orientation in the Spice Islands" (PDF), Papers from the Tenth Annual Meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society, Arizona State University, Program for Southeast Asian Studies, p. 21
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf Litamahuputty, Bathseba Helena Johanna (2012). Ternate Malay: Grammar and Texts (phd thesis). Utrecht: LOT (Leiden University). hdl:1887/19945. ISBN 978-94-6093-088-1.