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Enggano language


Enggano language

Native to Indonesia
Region Enggano Island, off Sumatra
Native speakers
700 (2011)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 eno
Glottolog engg1245[2]
Enggano Island, in red

The Enggano language, or Engganese, is the poorly known language of Enggano Island off the southwestern coast of Sumatra. It appears to be an Austronesian language, though much of the basic vocabulary cannot be connected to other Austronesian languages. When first contacted by Europeans, the Enggano people had more in common culturally with the Nicobar Islands than with Austronesian Sumatra; however, there are no apparent linguistic connections with Nicobarese or other Austroasiatic languages.

Enggano has historically undergone nasal harmony in its identifiable Austronesian vocabulary, where all stop consonants and vowels in a word became nasal after a nasal vowel, and oral after an oral vowel, so that there is no longer a phonemic distinction between them. For example, *eũ’ada’a became eũ’ãnã’ã, while nasal consonants are no longer found in ’ub 'house' or ’a-rib 'five' (cf. Malay rumah, lima). Enggano is the only western Austronesian language in which *t shifted to /k/, an unusual change that occurred independently several times in Oceanic after *k shifted to glottal stop.[3]


The only major linguistic treatment of Enggano was conducted by Hans Kähler in 1937; he published a grammar (1940), texts, and a dictionary (1987). However, phonology is limited to a simple inventory and a short paragraph of basic features; the grammar and dictionary disagree with each other, the dictionary is not consistent, some words are not legible, and doubts have been raised about the accuracy of the transcriptions. Nothofer (1992) discusses loanwords and also lists phonemes.[4] Yoder (2011) is a thesis on Enggano vowels, with some comments on consonants; it will be followed here.[5]

Stress was once reported to be penultimate but is now on the final syllable. Alternating syllables preceding it have secondary stress.

Yoder and Nothofer report seven oral and seven nasal vowels:[6]
front central back
close i ĩ ɨ ɨ̃ u ũ
mid e ẽ ɘ ɘ̃ o õ
open a ã

Diphthongs are /ai, aɨ, au, ei, ɘi, oi/.

Vowels do not occur word-initially in Enggano apart from what Yoder analyzes as /i u/ before another vowel; these are then pronounced as semivowels [j w]. (Nothofer counts these as consonants /j, w/ restricted to initial position, which avoids the problem of not uncommon [ji] being analyzed as /ii/, when sequences of the same vowel are otherwise quite rare.) The vowels /i ɨ u e o/ are all pronounced as semivowels in vowel sequences after medial glottal consonants /ʔ h/, as in /kõʔĩã/ [kõʔjã] (a sp. tree) and /bohoe/ [boho̯e] 'wild'; otherwise, apart from diphthongs, vowel sequences are disyllabic, as in /ʔa-piah/ [ʔapi.ah] 'to graze'. /i/ optionally triggers a glide after a following glottal consonant, as in /ki-ʔu/ [kiʔu ~ kiʔju] 'to say'. Diphthongs lower to [aɪ, aʊ] etc. before a coda stop, as in /kipaʔãũp/ [kĩpãʔãʊ̃p] 'ten', and undergo metathesis when that stop is glottal, as in /kahaiʔ kak/ [kahaʔɪkak] 'twenty'. An intrusive vowel [ə̆] appears between glottal stop and another consonant (though not semivowels), as in /kaʔhɨɘ/ [kaʔ.ə̆.hɨ.ɘ] 'female leader'; this does not affect the pattern of stress.

In many words, a final vowel transcribed by Kähler is not found in Yoder.

The offglide of diphthongs lowers before glottal consonants, and a glottal stop may intrude when another word follows, as in /kahaiʔ mɘh/ [kahaʔɪmɘ̃h] 'another'.

Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Voiceless stop p t k ʔ
Voiced stop b ~ m d ~ n
Fricative       s   ~   ç   ~   x h
Trill r ~ n
Approximant (l) j ? w ?

Yoder notes that the voiced stops [b~m, d~n] are in complementary distribution, depending on whether the word has nasal vowels, but lists them separately. Voiced oral consonants, [b d l r], do not occur in words with nasal consonants or vowels. Nasal consonants nasalize all vowels in a word, and there is therefore no contrast between [m n] and [b d] apart from the contrast between nasal and oral vowels. For example, with the oral stem tax 'bag', the possessive forms are tahi’ 'my bag' and tahib 'your bag', but with the nasal stem 'age', the forms are ’umunu’ 'my age' and ’umunum 'your age'.

/l/ occurs in only a few native words. /s ~ x/ are infrequent and apparently a single phoneme; they only occur word finally, where they contrast with /h/: [x] occurs after the non-front vowels /ɨ ə u/, [ç] after the front vowels /i a ã/, and [s] after vowel sequences ending in /i/ (including /ii, ui/). The resulting [aç ãç] may actually be /aix ãĩx/, as most such words are attested with alternation like [kaç ~ kais] 'box'. When a suffix is added, so that this consonant is no longer word-final, it becomes /h/, as in tahi’ 'my bag' above.

Nothofer is similar, but does not list the uncommon consonants /l/ and /s ~ x/ and counts [j w] as consonants rather than allophones of vowels. Kähler's dictionary adds /ɲ/, as well as /f tʃ dʒ/ as marginal phonemes, and claims that /t r/ are only found in southern villages. However, Yoder states that at the time of his research in 2010 there were no differences among the six villages on Enggano Island, and that initial /t r/ and final /t d/ are rare in native words. Medial /d/ and /r/ are in free variation in a few words, with older people preferring /d/ and younger speakers /r/.


Independent and possessive pronouns in Yoder (2010) are,

Enggano pronouns
Pronoun Independent Suffix
1sg ’u -’
we.EXCL ’a
we.INCL ’ik -k
2sg ’ə’ -b ~ -m
2pl ’ari -du ~ -nu
3sg ki -d(e) ~ -n(e)
3pl hamə’
this (pẽ)’ẽ’
that ’ẽõ’
what ’i.ah

Most of these appear to be Austronesian: Compare Malay 1sg aku ~ ku, 1.EX kami, 1.IN kita, 2pl kalian, 3sg/pl dia, and suffixes 1sg -ku, 2sg -mu, 3sg -nya, with *k, *t (d), *l, *m, *n having shifted to ’, k, r, b, d in Enggano, and with final consonants and (where possible) vowels being lost.

The possessive suffixes appear on nouns, and they are often preceded by a vowel. Few forms are attested, but this vowel is i or ai after [ç] (as with 'bag' in the phonology section), an echo vowel after several other consonants, and with several words not predictable on current evidence: ’eam – ’ami’ '(my) fishing rod' (Blench notes that ’e- appears on many nouns in Kähler and may be a prefix, perhaps a determiner; cf. ’ẽ’ 'this'), dar – daru’ '(my) husband', pi – pia’ '(my) garden'. In a couple cases, an intact pronoun -’u or -ki is appended.

Adjectives commonly have prefixes ka-, ka’-, ki-; the first two are attested in derivation, and the last is assumed as it is very common and many such adjectives otherwise appear to be reduplicated, as in kinanap 'smooth' (Yoder 2010).

Verbs may have one or two prefixes and sometimes a suffix. Attested prefixes are ba-, ba’-, ia-, iah-, ka-, ka’-, kah-, ki-, kir-, ko-, pa-, pah-, ’a-. The functions of these are unknown. Ki- and pa- may occur together, as in pe, pape, kipe, kipape, all glossed as 'give'.[7] The three attested verbal suffixes are -i, -ar, -a’ (Yoder 2010).

The counting system is, or at least once was, vigesimal: Kähler recorded kahai'i ekaka 'one man' = 20, ariba ekaka 'five man' = 100, kahai'i edudodoka 'one our-body' = 400. (The last may be based on two people counting together: each time I count all twenty of my digits, you count one of yours, so that when you have counted all of your digits, the number is 20×20 = 400.) However, most people now use Malay numerals when speaking Enggano, especially for higher numbers. Yoder (2010) recorded the following:[8]

Numeral Enggano
1 kahai’
2 ’aru
3 ’akər
4 ’aup
5 ’arib
6 ’aki’akin
7 ’arib he ’aru
8 kĩpã’ĩõp, ’ãpã’ĩõp
9 kĩpã’ĩõp kabai kahai’, ’ãpã’ĩõp ’abai kahai’
10 kĩpã’ãũp
20 kahai’ kak

1–5 are Austronesian, assuming ka- is a prefix on 'one' and ’a- is a prefix on 2–5. Compare the remaining -hai’, -ru, -kər, -up, -rib with Lampung əsay, rua, təlu, əpat, lima; *s, *t, *l, *m have shifted to h, k, r, b in Enggano, and final consonants and (simple) vowels have been lost. ’aki’akin 6 may be reduplication of ’akər 3. ’arib he ’aru 7 is 'five and two'. The two forms for 8 mean 'hugging', from the verb pã’ĩõp 'to hug', and 9 appears to be 'eight, one coming'; it may be shortened to kaba kahai’ (no -i) in enumeration. Yoder believes 10 may also be a verb, based on an unelicited root ’ãũp, as ki- and pa- are verbal prefixes (as in ki-pa-pe 'to give'); indeed, the apparent prefixes on 1–5 are identical to verbal prefixes as well.

Numbers above 10 and 20 are formed with he ~ hi 'and': kĩpã’ãũp he ’aru 'ten and two' for 12, kahai’ kak he kĩpã’ãũp 'twenty and ten' for 30. kak is 'person', so twenty is 'one person'. Multiples of twenty are formed from kak, as in ’akər kak he kĩpã’ãũp 70, ’arib kak 100 (also kahai’ ratuh from Malay ratus).


Based on the low number of apparent Austronesian cognates, Capell (1982) concludes that Enggano is a language isolate rather than Austronesian as previously assumed.[9] Blench (2009) picks up the question, though he leaves Enggano unclassified. Subsequent material collected by Yoder (2011), however, suggests the language is Austronesian after all, albeit lexically divergent. Bak 'eye', for example, corresponds regularly with Malay mata, but 'die' (Yoder ba’a, Kähler ka’a, presumably a prefix ba- or ka- with a root ’a) has no apparent connection to Austronesian mati ~ matay; indeed, of the most stable verb and noun roots,[10] only a third have reasonable Austronesian cognates.


  1. ^ Yoder (2011)
  2. ^
  3. ^ Blust, 2004
  4. ^ Nothofer, 1986, p. 97, after Kähler (1940).
  5. ^ Yoder, 2011.
  6. ^ Kähler's dictionary is similar, but lacks /ɨ ɨ̃/.
  7. ^ Cf. ba-, ka-, ki-, kipa-, pa-, ’a- with Malay mə-, tər-, di-, dipər-, pər-, kə-
  8. ^ Also found here
  9. ^ Capell, Arthur, 1982. 'Local Languages in the PAN Area'. In Reiner Carle et al. ed., Gava‘: Studies in Austronesian languages and cultures dedicated to Hans Kähler, trans. Geoffrey Sutton, 1-15, p. 4.
  10. ^ Holman, Wichmann, Brown, Velupillai, Müller, Bakker. 2008. Explorations in automated language classification.


  • Adelaar, Alexander, The Austronesian Languages of Asia and Madagascar: A Historical Perspective, The Austronesian Languages of Asia and Madagascar, pp. 1–42, Routledge Language Family Series, London, Routledge, 2005
  • Blench, Roger, The Enggano: archaic foragers and their interactions with the Austronesian world, 2009 [1]
  • Blust, Robert, *t to k: An Austronesian sound change revisited, Oceanic Linguistics 43 (2): 365-410, 2004
  • Kähler, Hans, Grammatischer Abriss Des Enggano, Zeitschrift Für Eingeborenen-Sprachen 30: 81–117, 182–210, 296–320, 1940
  • Kähler, Hans, Enggano-deutsches Wörterbuch, Veroffentlichungen Des Seminars Fur Indonesische Und Sudseesprachen Der Universitat Hamburg, Hamburg: Dietrich Reimer, 1987.
  • Kaslim, Yuslina, et al, Pemetaan bahasa daerah di Sumatra Barat dan Bengkulu, Jakarta: Pusat Pembinaan dan Pengembangan Bahasa, 1987
  • Nothofer, Bernd, The Barrier Island Languages in the Austronesian Language Family, Focal II: Papers From the Fourth International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics, pp. 87–109, Pacific Linguistics, Series C, No. 94, Canberra, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University, 1986.[2]
  • Nothofer, Bernd, Lehnwörter Im Enggano, In Kölner Beiträge Aus Malaiologie Und Ethnologie Zu Ehren Von Professor Dr. Irene Hilgers-Hesse, ed. F. Schulze and Kurt Tauchmann, Kölner Südostasien Studien 1, Bonn: Holos, 1992
  • Yoder, Brendon, Phonological and phonetic aspects of Enggano vowels, MA thesis, University of North Dakota, 2011 [3]

External links

  • Language materials on Enggano
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