Abui language

Abui language
Abui tanga
Spoken in Alor Island
Native speakers 16,000+  (date missing)
Language family
Trans–New Guinea
  • West Trans–New Guinea
    • Alor–Pantar
      • Alor
        • Abui
Writing system Latin
Language codes
ISO 639-3 abz

Abui is a language of the Alor Archipelago. It belongs to the Trans–New Guinea family spoken approximately by 16,000 speakers in the central part of the Alor Island in Eastern Indonesia, East Nusa Tenggara province. The native name is Abui tanga which literally translates as 'mountain language'.


Abui ethnic group

The term ‘Abui’ is an Abui word that means ‘mountains’ or alternatively ‘enclosed place’. This word is also used in Alorese Malay to refer to Abui speakers who refer to their language as Abui tanga ‘mountain language’ and to themselves as Abui loku ‘the mountain people’.

According to Abui oral tradition, Abui people settled in Alor in ancient times and did not find other settlers there. Later some of them moved to the Kabola peninsula.[1]
The same tradition accounts that they dwelled in caves in the mountains in the Mainang area. In this area also some rock art is found. Abui refer to neighbouring tribes as ‘younger siblings’ or as ‘new arrivals’. However, the oral tradition in Alor serves too often as a political instrument. The oral tradition has not been verified by archaeological research yet.


Abui speakers are mainly farmers, just like other inhabitants of Alor. However, in mountainous areas hunting and gathering is also an important supplement to the staple diet of corn, cassava, and rice. In the coastal areas, which are less favourable for agriculture, many farmers have switched to fishing, the traditional activity of the Austronesian population. Traditional livestock are pigs and chicken. However, livestock seldom supplement the diet due to frequent swine fever and poultry diseases. Thus, the diet is not well balanced, often resulting in poor health conditions and anaemia, especially among children and women. In the mountainous areas the situation is better as traditional hunting provides a more balanced diet. The mountains also favour a number of important cash crops such as tamarind, coconuts, coffee, cloves, cocoa, cashew nuts, candlenuts (Aleurites moluccana), vanilla, almonds and tobacco. These provide the farmers with additional income, which results in generally better living standards than for people in the coastal areas.


Educational facilities in the Abui area are limited to elementary and secondary schools in district capitals. The nearest university is in Kalabahi, which offers limited training in economy, law, English and computer science. The more significant educational institutions are found in Kupang, the provincial capital of NTT.

Linguistic situation

Abui has a number of dialects: Northern, Southern and Western.[2] 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 ethnic group has attracted the attention of foreign researchers since 1930's. 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'.[3] Cora DuBois was accompanied by the Dutch sociologist Martha Margaretha Nicolspeyer who concucted a study of the social structure of Abui people.[4]

After the World War II, W.A.L. Stokhof and H. Steinhauer conducted a linguistic survey of Alor and Pantar.[5] Later, W.A.L. Stokhof published and analyzed one of the texts collected by Nicolspeyer.[6] 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.[7] More recently a tri-lingual Abui-Indonesian-English dictionary was published in Indonesia.[8] The dictionary was accompanied by a tri-lingual collection of stories from Takalelang and Tifolafeng.[9]

Language structure

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. 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.

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 a 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).


  1. ^ Djeki, J.J. 1986. Penelitian suku terasing di Kabupaten Alor Abui. Proyek inventarisasi dan dokumentasi kebudayaan daerah Nusa Tenggara Timur. Kupang.
    Nicolspeyer, Martha Margaretha. 1940. De sociale structuur van een Aloreesche bevolkingsgroep. Rijswijk: Kramers.
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ Du Bois, Cora Alice. 1960. The people of Alor; a social-psychological study of an East Indian island. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  4. ^ Nicolspeyer, Martha Margaretha. 1940. De sociale structuur van een Aloreesche bevolkingsgroep. Rijswijk: Kramers
  5. ^ Stokhof, W. A. L. 1975. Preliminary notes on the Alor and Pantar languages (East Indonesia). Canberra: Pacific linguistics.
  6. ^ Stokhof, W. A. L. 1984. Annotations to a text in the Abui language (Alor). Bijdragen tot de taal-, land- en volkenkunde 140:106-162.
  7. ^ Kratochvíl, František. 2007. A grammar of Abui. Utrecht: LOT. click here to download 'A grammar of Abui'.
  8. ^ Kratochvíl, František, and Benidiktus Delpada. 2008. Kamus Pengantar Bahasa Abui. Kupang, Indonesia: UBB-GMIT. click here to download ' Abui-Indonesian-English dictionary' from the Hong Kong Baptist University Library.
  9. ^ Kratochvíl, František, and Benidiktus Delpada. 2008. Netanga neananra dei lohu naha: Abui tanga heateng ananra (Cerita-cerita dalam Bahasa Abui dari Takalelang, Abui stories from Takalelang). Kupang, Indonesia: UBB-GMIT. click here to download 'Abui stories from Takalelang' from the Hong Kong Baptist University Library.

External links

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