Timor–Alor–Pantar languages

Last updated
Timor and neighboring islands
Linguistic classification Trans–New Guinea or independent language family
Glottolog timo1261

The Timor–Alor–Pantar (TAP) languages are a family of languages spoken in Timor, Kisar, and the Alor archipelago in Southern Indonesia. It is the westernmost Papuan language family. [2] and one of two such outlier families in east Nusantara (the other being the North Halmahera family). [3]


The first classification attempts linked Timor–Alor–Pantar to North Halmahera, as well as other members of the proposed West Papuan phylum. [3] The two families are arguably the only linguistic groups that can be linked to the Papuan families of Melanesia, none of which have demonstrable relatives outside of Oceania. [4] More recent proposals have considered Timor–Alor–Pantar to be part of the Trans–New Guinea phylum. [3] However, Holton and Klamer (2018) classify Timor–Alor–Pantar as an independent language family, as they did not find convincing links with Trans–New Guinea. [5] Usher (2020) finds them to be one of three branches of the West Bomberai family within Trans–New Guinea, with regular sound correspondences. [1]


The languages are demonstrably related, with the Alor–Pantar languages forming a distinct subgroup. [6] [7] The following conservative classification is from Ross (2005), Schapper et al. (2012), and Holton et al. (2012).

The list given above is conservative, without any undemonstrated groups.

Bunak and the Alor–Pantar languages are sometimes grouped together as "West Timor", while Bunak and East Timor have been grouped as "Timor–Kisar". Although the Alor–Pantar languages are clearly related, as are the Timor–Kisar languages and the two groups to each other, until comparative work is done on all languages simultaneously it will not be clear whether Bunak is closer to East Timor or to Alor–Pantar, or whether Alor–Pantar is a valid node. Kaiping and Klamer (2019), though, found Bunak to be the most divergent Timor-Alor-Pantar language, splitting off before East Timor and Alor-Pantar did. [8]

Languages in Central and East Alor are generally more agglutinative than languages in Pantar and Timor, which are more isolating. [5]

Classification history

Despite their geographic proximity, the Papuan languages of Timor are not closely related, and demonstration of a relationship between any of them is difficult, apart from the clearly related Alor–Pantar languages on the islands neighboring Timor.

Arthur Capell first proposed that the Timor languages were a family in 1941, and Watuseke & Anceaux did the same for Timor–Alor–Pantar in 1973. Both units have been broken up in more recent classifications, though their ultimate relationship is generally accepted. [9]

In 1957 HKL Cowan linked the Timor languages to the West Papuan family. However, when Stephen Wurm expanded Trans–New Guinea in 1975, he decided Timor–Alor–Pantar belonged there, and he linked it to the South Bird's Head languages in a South Bird's Head – Timor–Alor–Pantar branch of that phylum. Wurm noted similarities with West Papuan, a different family, but suggested this was due to substratum influence.

Ross (2005) classifies Timor–Alor–Pantar with the West Bomberai languages, the two groups forming a branch within West Trans–New Guinea. Based on a careful examination of new lexical data, Holton & Robinson (2014) find little evidence to support a connection between TAP and TNG. [10] However, Holton & Robinson (2017) concedes that a relationship with Trans-New Guinea and West Bomberai in particular is the most likely hypothesis, though they prefer to leave it unclassified for now. [11]

Usher (2020) finds that the Timor–Alor–Pantar fit within the West Bomberai languages, as a third branch of that family, and has begun to reconstruct the West Bomberai protolanguage as the ancestor of Timor–Alor–Pantar, [1] as well as proto–Timor–Alor–Pantar itself. [12]

According to Dryer (2022), based on a preliminary quantitative analysis of data from the ASJP database, Timor–Alor–Pantar is likely to be a subgroup of Trans–New Guinea. [13]

Language contact

The Timor–Alor–Pantar languages have been in considerable contact with these Austronesian languages: [14]


Reconstruction ofTimor–Alor–Pantar languages
Lower-order reconstructions


Holton & Klamer (2018) reconstruct the Proto–Timor–Alor–Pantar consonant inventory as follows: [5]

l, r, ʀ

Proto–Alor–Pantar developed a voiceless uvular stop *q but lost *f and some of the liquids. [5]

Usher (2020) reconstructs a somewhat different inventory: [12]

l, r

*l and *r do not occur initially in native words.

Usher reconstructs the vowels as *i *u [*e] [*o] *a *ɒ (where it's not clear that *e, *o were phonemically distinct) and the diphthong *ai. [12]

Heston reconstructs the vowels *a, *e, *i, *o, *u, and *ə. [15]

Heston also proposes that Proto–Timor–Alor–Pantar had penultimate stress when the penultimate and final syllables were both light, and final stress when the final syllable was heavy. [16]


Proto-Timor–Alor–Pantar pronouns as reconstructed by Ross (2005) are:


Usher (2020) reconstructs the free and bound forms of the pronouns as:

1excl*an, *na-*in, *ni-
1incl*ap, *?
2*a, *a-*i, *i-
3*ga, *ga-*gi, *gi-

These have regular paradigms, with suffixes *-i and *-u on the bound forms, so for example 1sg is free *an, direct object and inalienable possessor *na-, locative, ergative and alienable possessor *nai, and dative *nau. [12]

Ross (2005) suggest these pronouns reflect proto-Trans–New Guinea 1st person *na, *ni and 2nd person *ga, *gi, and possibly the pTNG dual/inclusive *-pi-. [17] The objection has been raised that this requires positing a "flip-flop" in which proto-TNG second-person pronouns correspond to proto-TAP third-person pronouns.[ citation needed ] Usher however establishes that proto–West Bomberai initial *k was lost from proto–Timor–Alor–Pantar (for example, proto-WB *kina 'eye', *kira 'water' and *kena[t] 'see' correspond to proto-TAP *ina, *ira and *ena), and that the proto–West Bomberai pronouns 2sg *ka and 2pl *ki, inherited from proto–Trans–New Guinea, correspond regularly to proto–Timor–Alor–Pantar *a and *i, while the proto–Timor–Alor–Pantar third-person pronouns *ga and *gi do not correspond to the rest of West Bomberai (or Trans–New Guinea) and are only coincidentally similar to the reconstructed proto-TNG second-person pronouns. [1]


Schapper, et al. (2017)

Schapper, et al. (2017: 141-143) reconstruct the following proto-Timor-Alor-Pantar, proto-Alor-Pantar, and proto-Timor forms, demonstrating the relatedness of the Timor and Alor-Pantar languages. [18]

proto-Timor-Alor-Pantar reconstructions (Schapper, et al. 2017)
bark, call*lVu*le(k)u(l)
bone*se(r, R)*ser*(se)sa(r, R)
coconut*wata*wata*wa(t, D)a
excrement*(h)at(V)*has*a(t, D)u
far*le(t, d)e*lete*eTar
garden*magad*magad(a)*(u, a)mar
give*-(e, i)na*-ena*-inV
grandparent*(t, d)ama*tam(a, u)*moTo
name*-en(i, u)*-nej
new*(t, s)iba(r)*siba(r)*(t, s)ipa(r)
new place*lan*lan*lan
Pterocarpus indicus *matar*matar*ma(t, D)ar
rain*anu(r, R)*anur*ine(r, R)
scorpion*pV(r, R)*pVr*fe(r, R)e
shark*sibar*sib(a, i)r*supor
spit*puRV(n)*purVn*fulu(k, n)
sun*wad(i, u)*wadi*waTu
taboo*palu(l, n)*palol*falu(n)
walk (1)*lak(Vr)*laka*lagar
walk (2)*lamV*lam(ar)*male

Usher (2020)

Some lexical reconstructions by Usher (2020) are: [1]

glossProto-Timor-AlorBunaqProto-East TimorProto-Alor-PantarProto-Alor-Pantar (Schapper et al.)
hair of head*dagu


Pawley and Hammarström (2018) list the following probable reflexes of Proto-Timor-Alor-Pantar (pTAP) and proto-Alor-Pantar (pAP; reconstructions drawn from Holton and Klamer 2018) from proto-Trans-New Guinea (pTNG; reconstructions from Pawley and Hammarström 2018). [5] [19]

pTNG = proto-Trans New Guinea, pTAP = proto-Timor-Alor-Pantar, pAP = proto-Alor-Pantar

However, Holton and Robinson (2014) classify Timor-Alor-Pantar as an independent language family, rather than as part of Trans-New Guinea.

Related Research Articles

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Trans–New Guinea (TNG) is an extensive family of Papuan languages spoken on the island of New Guinea and neighboring islands ‒ corresponding to the country Papua New Guinea as well as parts of Indonesia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">West Papuan languages</span> Language family of Indonesia

The West Papuan languages are a proposed language family of about two dozen non-Austronesian languages of the Bird's Head Peninsula of far western New Guinea, the island of Halmahera and its vicinity, spoken by about 220,000 people in all. It is not established if they constitute a proper linguistic family or an areal network of genetically unrelated families.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mantion–Meax languages</span> Language family of New Guinea

The Mantion–Meax or (South)East Bird's Head languages are a language family of three languages in the "Bird's Head Peninsula" of western New Guinea, spoken by all together 20,000 people.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bunak language</span> Papuan language spoken on Timor, Indonesia

The Bunak language is the language of the Bunak people of the mountainous region of central Timor, split between the political boundary between West Timor, Indonesia, particularly in Lamaknen District and East Timor. It is one of the few on Timor which is not an Austronesian language, but rather a Papuan language of the Timor-Alor-Pantar language family. The language is surrounded by Malayo-Polynesian languages, like Uab Meto and Tetum.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Western Pantar language</span> Papuan language spoken in parts of Indonesia

Western Pantar, sometimes referred to by the name of one of its dialects, Lamma, is a Papuan language spoken in the western part of Pantar island in the Alor archipelago of Indonesia. Western Pantar is spoken widely in the region by about 10,000 speakers. Although speakers often use Malay in political, religious, and educational contexts, Western Pantar remains the first language of children of the region, and is acquired to some extent by immigrants.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Asmat–Kamrau languages</span>

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">South Bird's Head languages</span> Families of Papuan languages

The South Bird's Head or South Doberai languages are three families of Papuan languages. They form part of the Trans–New Guinea languages in the classifications of Malcolm Ross (2005) and Timothy Usher (2020), though Pawley and Hammarström (2018) do not consider them to be part of Trans–New Guinea. However, according to Dryer (2022), based on a preliminary quantitative analysis of data from the ASJP database, South Bird's Head languages are likely to be a subgroup of Trans–New Guinea.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">West Bomberai languages</span> Family of Papuan languages

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alor–Pantar languages</span> Papuan languages of Nusa Tenggara Timur, Indonesia

The Alor–Pantar languages are a family of clearly related Papuan languages spoken on islands of the Alor archipelago near Timor in southern Indonesia. They may be most closely related to the Papuan languages of eastern Timor, but this is not yet clear. A more distant relationship with the Trans–New Guinea languages of the Bomberai peninsula of Western New Guinea has been proposed based on pronominal evidence, but though often cited has never been firmly established.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Inland Gulf languages</span> Linguistic family

The Inland Gulf languages are a family of Trans–New Guinea languages in the classifications of Stephen Wurm (1975) and Malcolm Ross (2005). The unity of the languages was established by K. Franklin in 1969. Although the family as a whole is clearly valid, Ipiko is quite distinct from the other languages.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kamula–Elevala languages</span> Family of Trans–New Guinea languages

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ok languages</span> Trans–New Guinea language family

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">West Trans–New Guinea languages</span>

The West Trans–New Guinea languages are a suggested linguistic linkage of Papuan languages, not well established as a group, proposed by Malcolm Ross in his 2005 classification of the Trans–New Guinea languages. Ross suspects they are an old dialect continuum, because they share numerous features that have not been traced to a single ancestor using comparative historical linguistics. The internal divisions of the languages are also unclear. William A. Foley considers the TNG identity of the Irian Highlands languages at least to be established.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">North Halmahera languages</span> Language family

The North Halmahera languages are a family of languages spoken in the northern and eastern parts of the island of Halmahera and some neighboring islands in Indonesia. The southwestern part of the island is occupied by the unrelated South Halmahera languages, which are a subgroup of Austronesian. They may be most closely related to the languages of the Bird's Head region of West Papua, but this is not well-established.

The Oirata–Makasai, or Eastern Timor, languages are a small family of Papuan languages spoken in eastern Timor and the neighboring island of Kisar.

Proto-Trans–New Guinea is the reconstructed proto-language ancestral to the Trans–New Guinea languages. Reconstructions have been proposed by Malcolm Ross and Andrew Pawley.


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Further reading