Buru language

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Not to be confused with Buru language (Nigeria).
Bahasa Buru
Native to Indonesia, Maluku
Region Buru Island
Native speakers
unknown (33,000 cited 1989)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 mhs
Glottolog buru1303[2]

Buru or Buruese (Indonesian: Bahasa Buru) is a Malayo-Polynesian languages of the Central Maluku branch. In 1991 it was spoken by approximately 45,000 Buru people who live on the Indonesian island of Buru (Indonesian: Pulau Buru).[3] It is also preserved in the Buru communities on Ambon and some other Maluku Islands, as well as in the Indonesian capital Jakarta and in the Netherlands.[4]

The most detailed study of Buru language was conducted in the 1980s by Charles E. Grimes and Barbara Dix Grimes – Australian missionaries and ethnographers, active members of SIL International (they should not be confused with Joseph E. Grimes and Barbara F. Grimes, Charles' parents, also known Australian ethnographers).[5][6][7]


Three dialects of Buru can be distinguished, each of which is used by its corresponding ethnic group on Buru island: Rana (named after the lake in the center of Buru; more than 14,000 speakers), Masarete (more than 9,500 speakers) and Wae Sama (more than 6,500 speakers). Some 3,000–5,000 of Rana people along with their main dialect use the so-called "secret dialect" Ligahan. The dialect of Fogi which once existed in the western area of the island is now extinct.[8] Lexical differences between the dialects are relatively small: about 90% between Masarete and Wae Sama, 88% between Masarete and Rana and 80% between Wae Sama and Rana. Aside from native dialects, most Buru people, especially in the coastal regions and towns, have at least some understanding of the official language of the country, Indonesian. The coastal population also uses the Melayu Ambon, also known as Ambonese Malay[4][9]

Naming and Taboo[edit]

Buru people, along with the Muslim or Christian names, also use traditional ones, the most common being Lesnussa, Latbual, Nurlatu, Lehalima, Wael and Sigmarlatu. The language has several sets of taboo words, which are both behavioral and linguistic. For example, relatives refer to each other by kin names, but not by proper names (i.e., father, but not Lesnussa). However, contrary to many other Austronesian cultures, Buru people do refer to the deceased relatives by name. Other restrictions apply to the objects of nature, harvest, hunting and fishing, for which certain words should be chosen depending on the island area. These taboos have explanations in associated myths of legends. In all cases, the words for taboo items are not omitted, but substituted by alternatives.[8] All Buru dialects have loanwords. Many of them originated from Dutch and Portuguese during the Dutch colonization and referred to the objects not previously seen on the island. Other types of borrowed words came from Malayan languages as a result of inflow of people from the nearby island.[8]


The Buru Language has 5 vowels and 17 consonants.[3] They are illustrated on the tables below:

Labial Apical Laminal Dorsal
Stop p  b t  d c  (j) k  g
Fricative f s h
Nasal m n ng
Lateral l
Trill r
Semivowel w y

Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e o
Open a

Writing System[edit]

Contrary to other indigenous languages of Buru and the nearby island of Ambelau (Lisela, Kayeli and Ambelau), Buru has a functional writing system based on the Latin alphabet. Buru Christians worship with a Bible written in their native language, the first translations of which were made back in 1904 by Dutch missionaries.[4]


The Buru language can be classified as an SVO language, prepositional, with modifiers following the head noun in a noun phrase, and the genitive occurring before the noun.

Pronouns and Person Markers[edit]

Free pronouns may be used equally for the subject and object of intransitive verbs (marking either actor or undergoer).[3]

Free Pronouns
Person Number
Singular Plural Dual
1INC kita
1EXCL yako kami
2 kae kimi
3 rine/ringe sira sino


(1) Yako paha ringe
1SG hit 3SG
"I hit him."

(2) Ringe paha yako
1SG hit 1SG
"He hit me."

(3) Yako iko
1SG go
"I go."

(4) Sira oli
3PL return
"They come back."

(5) Yako glada
1SG hunger
"I am hungry."

(6) Ringe mata
3SG die
"He died."
Pronominal Proclitics
Person Number
Singular Plural
1INC kam
1EXCL yak/ya kit
2 ku kim
3 da du


(7) Ya paha ringe
1SG hit 3SG
"I hit him."

(8) da paha yako
3SG hit 1SG
"He hit me."

(9) ya iko
1SG go
"I go."

(10) Du oli
3PL return
"They come back."

(11) Ya glada
1SG hunger
"I am hungry."

(12) Da mata
3SG die
"He died."


  1. ^ Buru at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Buru (Indonesia)". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b c Grimes, Charles E. (1991). The Buru Language of Eastern Indonesia. Australian National University. 
  4. ^ a b c Ethnologue: Languages of the World. "Buru: A language of Indonesia (Maluku)". 
  5. ^ "Publications by Barbara Dix Grimes". SIL International. 
  6. ^ "Publications by Charles E. Grimes". SIL International. 
  7. ^ "Chuck & Barbara Grimes, Wycliffe Bible Translators". Bethel Grove Bible Church. 
  8. ^ a b c Dutton, T.E & Tryon, D.T. (1994). Language Contact and Change in the Austronesian World. De Gruyter. 
  9. ^ "Buru people" (in Russian). Encyclopedia of people and religions of the world. Retrieved 18 May 2010. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Grimes, Barbara Dix (1994). Buru inside out. In: Visser, L.E., ed. Halmahera and beyond. Leiden.