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Teiwa language

Native toIndonesia
RegionPantar Island
Native speakers
4,000 (2010)[1]
  • Teiwa
  • Sar
Language codes
ISO 639-3twe

Teiwa (also referred to as Tewa)[3] is a non-Austronesian, Papuan language spoken on the Pantar island in eastern Indonesia. The island is the second largest in the Alor archipelago, lying just west of the largest island Alor.

There were 4000 documented native speakers of Teiwa in 2010. The speakers live primarily in the desa's (administrative village in Indonesian) Lebang, Boweli, Kalib, Nule, Kadir, and Madar, a village of 460 inhabitants (as of 2007). Lebang is the main village, where Teiwa was still spoken by most people, young and old. Nevertheless, the national language of Indonesian as well as the Chinese-influenced Alor-Malay tend to be spoken by the younger generations and used for teaching in schools. As a result of this dwindling number of native speakers, Teiwa is listed as an endangered language.

The Grammar of Teiwa by Margaret Klamer is the only linguistic documentation besides a short word list from Stokhof (1975). Klamer gathered most of her data in the village of Madar.

Teiwa, or Bahasa Teiwa as it is referred to in Indonesian, means 'the Teiwa language'. Teiwa itself is a nominal compound and can be translated as tei wa' meaning "tree leaf". The term "Teiwa" derives from the name of the main clan that speaks it. Generally, when Teiwa speakers refer to their own language, especially to differentiate it from the national language Indonesian, they call it pitarau '1p.inclusive-language', i.e. "our language".

Teiwa is a morphosyntactically simple language with little inflection, and is as such described as an isolating language, also known as an analytic language. It is pronounced by a complex pronoun system.


Teiwa is spoken on the island of Pantar, which is part of the Alor Archipelago, located between Australia and Indonesia. The island is located approximately 1000 km from the main island of New Guinea. It stretches 50 km from north to south, and between 11 and 29 km from east to west. The island is split into two distinct geographic regions: the dry and less populated lowlands in the west, and the highlands in the east, which are mountainous, volcanic and densely populated.


Teiwa is often classified as part of the Trans-New Guinea (TNG) language family, but this is disputed. One reason is little lexical proof, as well as the large geographical distance from the main island of New Guinea. An alternative classification is as part of the Timor-Alor-Pantar (TAP) language family, which is approximately 3000 years old. Within this language family, Teiwa is further categorized within the sub-family of the Alor-Pantar (AP) languages, which are 20 in number. This classification bases on the high number of cognates as well as very similar pronoun systems.



Teiwa has an inventory of 20 consonants, a high amount relative to other Papuan languages. In the table below, the orthographic representation of the sound is given in parentheses to the right. The contrast between the pharyngeal and glottal fricative shows itself as exceptional within the languages of Eastern Indonesia, as is the existence of both liquids /l/ and /ɭ/.

Bilabial Labiodental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
Plosive (Stop/Oral Occlusive) p b t d k ɡ q (q) ʔ (')
Nasal m n ŋ (ng)
Fricative ɸ (f) v s ħ (x) h (h)
Approximant (Glide) w j (y)
Lateral Approximant (Liquid) l ɭ

The allophones of /ɸ/ are [ɸ] and [p]. The allophones of /v/ are [v] and [f].


Teiwa has an inventory of 5 cardinal vowels. The two high vowels occur as short (/i/, /u/) and long (/u:/, /i:/). As in the consonant table, the orthographic representations are given in the parentheses to the right.

Front Back
High/Close /i/ /i:/ (ii) /u/ /u:/ (uu)
Mid /ɛ/ (e) /ɔ/ (o)
Low/Open /a/ (aa) /ɑ/ (a)

The allophones of /a/ are the short [a] and the long [a:].


Grammatical Relations

Grammatical relations are the relations between argument and predicate. In Teiwa, these are formally expressed through pronouns from the object and subject paradigms, as well as a strict constituent order.

The subject relation is the agent argument of a transitive verb, from hereon denoted with A, or the single argument of an intransitive predicate, from hereon denoted with S. Both are encoded similarly.

The object relation is the non-agent argument of a transitive verb, from hereon denoted with P.

Basic Constituent Order

Teiwa is syntactically head-final, with Object-Verb constituent order: preverbal subject and object, sentence final verbs, negations, and conjunctions.

With intransitive verbs, there is SV-order. With transitive verbs, there is APV-order.

[ uwaad nuk] yaa ø [bif ga'an] tu'u
eagle big one descend child 3s knock
'...a big eagle came down [and] picked that child...'
Abbreviations: 3s = third person singular

The A of the second (transitive) verb tu'uk coreferences with (shares the same reference as) the S of the first (intransitive) verb yaa in the example above.

...qau ba a [a-sepatu qas] usan ga-luxun-luxun ta a xer-an pati.
good SEQ 3s 3s-shoe(IND) split lift 3s-RDP-high TOP 3s yell-REAL PROG
' he lifts up one side of a shoe very high while he is yelling...'
Abbreviations: 3s = third person singular, SEQ = sequential marker, RDP = reduplication, TOP = topic (marked with ta), REAL = realis, PROG = progressive

In this example, the Subject (A) is the pronominal, and the object (P) is the lexical NP (noun phrase).

Personal pronouns[3]

There are three pronoun paradigms in Teiwa: subject, object, and possessiv. The 'theme vowel' for singular pronouns is <a>, and for plural pronouns it is <i>. The second syllable of the long pronoun is a copy of the theme vowel with the addition of an -n.

There is a contrast of inclusive-exclusive first person plural, one of the most prominent features to diffuse from the austronesian languages into the Papuan languages.

Subject pronouns

Subject pronouns appear before the object and verb.

Long subject pronoun Short subject pronoun
1s na'an na
2s ha'an ha
3s a'an a
1p.exclusive ni'in ni
1p.inclusive pi'in pi
2p yi'in yi
3p iman i, a
3p.elsewhere i'in i, a
distributive ta'an ta

The long subject pronoun is used to set contrastive focus (me, not you), which can further be marked with la as the focus NP. They look nearly identical to the free object pronouns, save for the 3s and 3p.elsewhere pronouns.


Na'an hamar.
1s.long pray
'I pray [not you].'
Na'an la hamar.
1s.long FOC pray
'I am the one who prays.'
Abbreviations: 1s = first person singular

The short subject pronoun is a "reduced pronoun" which can stand alone in place of nominal constituents, and is separable from the verb. Its paradigm is nearly identical to that of the object prefixes, except for the 3s, 3p, and 3p.elsewhere pronouns.


Na hamar.
1s.short pray
'I pray.'
Na g-oqai ga-regan.
1s.short 3s.child 3s.ask
'I asked his child.'
Abbreviations: 1s = first person singular

Both the short and long object pronouns can express S and A.

Object pronouns

(free) Object pronoun Object prefix
1s na'an n(a)-
2s ha'an h(a)-
3s ga'an g(a)-, gə-
1p.exclusive ni'in n(i)-
1p.inclusive pi'in p(i)-
2p yi'in y(i),
3p iman g(i)-, ga-
3p.elsewhere gi'in g(i)-
distributive ta'an t(a)-

The underlined pronouns are a reminder of the differences to the long subject pronoun and short subject pronoun paradigms, respectively.

The object prefix has a consonantal and syllabic (in parentheses) form: the consonantal form appears before a verb beginning with a vowel, and the syllabic form appears before a verb beginning with a consonant.

The object pronoun is for both animate and inanimate referents, whereas the object prefix is exclusively for animate referents.

With the 3p (third person plural) object prefix, the differentiation of number is lost. In this case, number is specified through use of the additional pronoun ga'an (singular), iman (plural), or the plural word non in the object NP.

The 3s (third person singular) object pronoun maintains a further purpose as a demonstrative pronoun to introduce new participants into the discourse.

Possessive pronouns
Long pronoun Short pronoun Prefix
1s na'an na n(a)-
2s ha'an ha h(a)-
3s a'an a g(a)-, a-
1p.exclusive ni'in ni n(i)-
1p.inclusive pi'in pi p(i)-
2p yi'in yi y(i),
3p iman - g(i)-, a-, ga-
3p.elsewhere gi'in - -
distributive ta'an ta t(a)-

The final two pronouns, elsewhere and distributive, are unique. The 3p.elsewhere pronoun is used in a situation where the speaker cannot see the referent, because the referent is somewhere else.

For example:

I'in g-oqai ga-wei.
they.elsewhere 3s.child 3s.bathe
'They (elsewhere) bathe/have bathed his child.'
Abbreviations: 3s = third person singular

Contrast this with the standard, unmarked form (3p):

Iman g-oqai ga-wei.
they 3s.child 3s.bathe
'They bathe/have bathed his child.'
Abbreviations: 3s = third person singular

The distributive possessive pronoun (ta'an, ta, or ta-) refers to a (non-collective) plural number of human referents, often in reciprocal contexts.

Ta'an tara' mis!
'Let's sit in a row!' (Lit. 'Each (one) sits in a row!')

One more special possessive pronoun is li'in, which marks plurality of the possessor NP, and only as an adnominal modifier.[3]


Uy ga-yaf
'Someone's house, a person's house'
Uy li'in ga-yaf
person their
'People's house(s)'


In Teiwa, the noun typically appears as head of the NP. The noun, with a few exceptions, cannot be reduplicated, unlike verbs, adverbs, and adjectives. (See Reduplication below.)

There is no marking for number, gender, or case on nouns. Instead, person and number is marked via a possessor prefix on the noun.

Noun phrases

In possessed NP's, the possessor (the noun which possesses) precedes the possessee (the noun which is possessed), as in the examples below.

Rai ga-yaf
king 3s-house
'The king's house.'
Abbreviations: 3s = third person singular
Pi pi-krian i er a gula' sin.
1pi PROX make 3s finish first
'We first finish our work here.'
Abbreviations: 1pi = first person plural inclusive, PROX = proximal

In non-possessed NP's, the noun comes first, followed by the modifying element, such as an adjective.

Xaf uwaad
fish big
'A big fish.'
Uy a
person PROX
'This person.'

Noun classes

The Teiwa nouns can be divided into two main classes: Proper nouns and common nouns.

Proper nouns

Proper nouns are not modifiable. Examples are listed below.[3]

Male names: Edi, Goli, Lius, Mase, Nabas, Ribu

Female names: Bruang, Leti, Malai, Mani, Sam

Family names: Biri, Blegar, Bui, Lau, Qoli, Ribu, Unu

Clan names: Barawasi, Burilak, Loxoq, Perang Tubi, Qailipi

Common nouns

The common nouns can be further divided into subclasses:

Nouns with alienable possession

In this subclass the possessor prefix is optional. Focus can be placed with use of a long pronoun. Examples include: yaf 'house', kon 'shirt', qavif 'goat'.

Nouns with inalienable possession

Here the possessor prefix is obligatory, to the point that native speakers will not recognize the word without the prefix. Nouns with inalienable possession include body parts, and kinship terms (except for emaq 'wife' where the prefix is optional as with alienable possession).

Locational nouns

This last subclass of nouns denote location. Examples include: wanan 'side', fan 'front', siban 'behind', ragan 'outside', tag 'up(stairs); above speaker (relatively close)'.

Uy ragan me'
people outside
'Some people are outside' / 'Someone is outside'


There is no dedicated morphology for nominalization in Teiwa. Instead the third person (3p) possessor prefix -ga has a secondary function of attaching to the root form of adjectives, locational nouns, adverbs, and question words.[3]


Teiwa verbs carry no marking for case or gender. There is only one verbal suffix;

-(a)n for the marking of realis status. Only verbs take an object prefix. Inflected prefixes index person and number traits of animate objects on the verb. Subjects and inanimate objects are not indexed on the verb.

Teiwa has intransitive and transitive verbs. The transitive verbs are monotransitive, meaning they have a single grammatical object.

Verb classes

Transitive verbs

The transitive verbs in Teiwa can be divided into numerous sub classes, based on how they encode animate and inanimate objects differently. In this case, animate or inanimate refers explicitly to a third person referent, since first and second person referents are inherently animate.

Class (i): Verbs with an object prefix, with an animate object ("sb-somebody")

This class expresses the object with an object-marking prefix on the verb. The prefix marks for person and number. The lexical NP is optional and may be used to clarify or disambiguate the referent.

Examples of verbs are: an ‘give sb’, ‘an ‘sell to sb’, ayas ‘throw at sb’, bun ‘answer sb’, fin ‘catch sb’, liin ‘invite sb’, regan ‘ask sb’, sas ‘feed sb’, walas ‘tell sb’, wei ‘bathe sb’

Examples of such verbs in sentence constructions:

A qavif ga-uyan gi si...
3s goat go SIM
'He went searching for [a] goat...'
Abbreviations: 3s = third person singular, SIM = simultaneous marker

The prefix ga- on the verb -uyan marks for third person singular object, that is for qavif, 'goat'. Goat is an animate object.

A yivar ga-walas a wa...
3s dog 3s.tell 3s say
'He told [his] dog...'
Abbreviations: 3s = third person singular

Here similarly, the prefix ga- on the verb -walas marks for third person singular object, that is for yivar, 'dog'. Dog is an animate object.

Class (ii): Verbs without an object prefix, with inanimate object ("sth-something")

Here the verb encodes the object as a separate nominal constituent. In this class the encoding with a prefix is disallowed.

Examples of such verbs are: bali ‘see sth’, ol ‘buy sth’, paai ‘cut sth in many small pieces’, put ‘cut off (grass)’ An example in a sentence construction:

...i'in i-xaf uwaad la boqai dau-an na.
they.elsewhere big FOC cut.up cook-REAL eat
'...they cut up their big fish, cooked and ate [it]'
Abbreviations: 3p = third person plural, FOC = focus, REAL = realis

The verbs in this sentence have no object prefix, and the object 'fish' is inanimate (because it is no longer living).

Class (iii): Transitive verbs that take either animate or inanimate objects

iiia. Transitive verbs with prefixed animate object OR free (unfixed) inanimate object

With free inanimate object (object prefix not bound to verb).

Na ga'an mar.
1s 3s take
'I take/get it.'
Abbreviations: 3s = third person singular

With prefixed animate object

Na ga-mar.
1s 3s-take
'I follow him/her.'
Abbreviations: 1s = first person singular, 3s = third person singular

Notice the important difference in meaning with the use a prefixed pronoun versus a free pronoun!

iiib. Verbs with an animate OR inanimate object, both as a prefix

Third person object prefixes marking animate or inanimate:

3sg inanimate object 3sg animate object
ga- ga'-

The contrasts are illustrated in the below translations:

wulul 'speak, talk, tell'
ga'-wulul 'talk with sb, tell sb'
ga-wulul 'talk about sth, tells sth'

A glottal stop is used for animate objects. The canonical form is used for inanimate objects.

Sound verbs

An interesting class of verbs constituting verbs for sounds made by animals or objects.[3]

aga-aga sound to call a dog
ago-ago sound to call a dog (remote)
sika sound to chase away a dog
sumax sound to chase away a goat
burax sound to chase away chickens
kuru-kuru sound to call chickens
xo' to bark (dog)
ox to grunt (pig)
qau to scream (pig)
hong dog's sound ('woof')
kokoko chicken's sound ('tock-tock')
quququ 'cock-a-doodle-doo'
me'eh goat's sound
paq sound of a rock that is crushing corn
qabunggat splashing sound of rock in water
tadunggat dry sound of rock falling on land
saxa' flapping sound of something light falling (e.g. sandals on street)

Experiencer predicates[3]

These are predicates formed with the bodypart noun -om 'inside'

n-om quun 'I am smart/clever.'
1s-inside be.sure
n-om qau 'I am happy.'
n-om siis 'I am thirsty'
1s-inside dry
n-om par 'I am annoyed (at s.b.)'
1s-inside defeated
n-om qalixil 'I am angry'
1s-inside itchy
n-om mai 'I am planning/I plan'
1s-inside store/keep
n-om bangan 'I want/like'
1s-inside see
n-om ga-regan 'I think/say to myself'
1s-inside 3s-ask
n-om ga-i' 'I feel pity for him'
1s-inside 3s-sick


Reduplication is a morphological process to express greater intensity or the repeated/ongoing nature of an event. In Teiwa, the entire root is copied; there exists no productive process for syllable reduplication.

Of verbs

tewar-tewar 'walk on and on'
tib-tib 'exactly enough'
haqax-haqax 'take a few rests'
Of verbs with the realis suffix

Reduplication of the entire stem including the realis suffix takes place. Only verbs can be inflected for realis mood.

tii'in-tii'in 'being asleep', 'sleep on and on'
miran-mir-an 'climb on and on', 'continue to climb'
moxodan-moxod-an 'let fall, drop down'

Of adverbials

wek-wek 'behind'
bas-bas* 'usually'
bes-bes 'good morning'

Of adjectives

musaq-musaq 'very much shattered'
[qa'an-qa'an]'an* 'be black-REAL' > 'something black'
[RDP-black-] v-REAL

*The adjectival base is first turned into a verb through reduplication, in order to allow the realis suffix to be reduplicated (only verbs can be reduplicated with a realis suffix).

Of numerals

Iman nuk-nuk / raq-raq / yerig-yerig aria-n.
they RDP-one RDP-two RDP-three arrive-REAL
'They arrive one by one, two by two, three by three.'

Of nouns

Reduplication of nouns is rarer, and does not serve to express plurality of distributivity.

mug-mug 'be hilly' (something attributiv)
war-war 'day after day' (something adverbial)


The Teiwa live in exogamous, patrilineal clans: the children belong to the clan of the father. The term "Teiwa" refers to a group of (sub) clans with the same ancestors. The Teiwa branch into two moieties (halves), which are separate genealogical supergroups, each of which includes multiple clans.

I. II.
Baraqala Lambar
La Builan Kakalau
Salanggalu Lau Wad
Maligi Loxog
Hukung Kaloman Goqar

Children are named with 1) clan name, 2) given name 3) father's family name, for example Teiwa Jance Wa'ng.

Kinship system

The kinship system of the Teiwa is based on cross-cousins. This means that the children of same-sex siblings are considered to be siblings (brother, sister), and therefore not fit for marriage with one another. Children of non-same sex siblings of the parents are seen as cross-cousins and are the perfect candidates for marriage with each other. These children are also in a different clan than the children of the same-sex siblings of the parents.

Kinship terms

The main kinship terms are listed here:

emaq wife
misi husband
bif child, 'younger sibling'
biar (kriman) children
na-gas qai my sister
n-ian qai my brother
n-ian (female) cousin of ego, in other clan
na-dias (male) cousin of ego, in other clan
na-rat (emaq) daughter of ego's brother, in other clan (potential daughter-in-law)
na'ii son of ego's brother, in other clan (potential son-in-law)
na-rata' my grandfather/mother
na-rat qai my grandchild

From the point of view of female ego:

The "classificatory siblings" refer to the actual siblings, as well as the children of the mother's sister and the father's brother. As it is considered rude to call family members by their given name, these siblings are addressed as matu' when older and bif when younger, and ka'au when the same sex as the speaker.

The "classificatory parents" are the father's brother (n-oma 'my father'), as well as the mother's sister (na-xala 'my mother'). Each person therefore has two sets of parents.


  1. ^ Teiwa at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Teiwa-Sar". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Klamer, Klamer (2010). A grammar of Teiwa. Berlin: de Gruyter. p. 166.

Further reading

  • Klamer, Marian (2010), A grammar of Teiwa
  • Klamer, Marian. 2014. The Alor-Pantar languages: Linguistic context, history and typology. In Marian Klamer (ed.), The Alor-Pantar languages: His- tory and typology. Berlin: Language Science Press. 5–53

External links