Buru language

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Bahasa Buru
Native toIndonesia
RegionBuru Island (Maluku)
Native speakers
(33,000 cited 1989)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3mhs

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 Australian missionaries and ethnographers Charles E. Grimes and Barbara Dix Grimes.[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 about 90% between Masarete and Wae Sama, 88% between Masarete and Rana and 80% between Wae Sama and Rana. Aside from native vernaculars, most Buru people, especially in the coastal regions and towns, have at least some command and 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 use traditional names, along with Muslim or Christian names, 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 t̪  d tʃ  (dʒ) k  g
Fricative f s h
Nasal m n ŋ
Lateral l
Trill r
Semivowel w j
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."


Depending on its distribution a possessive word can behave verbally or nominally, or as the head of a predicative possessive construction or as the modifier of the possessive NP. The possessive word is the only word in the Buru language obligatorily inflected for person and number and behaves much like a verb in its affixing possibilities. All examples in this section have been taken from Grimes, 1991 chapter 14.[3]
The basic structure of the constituent is SVO.

(1) Yako nango huma saa.
1SG 1SGPOSS house one
"I have/own a house." (p. 279)

Functional and distributional behaviour of the possessive construction:
Applicative /-k/ is used to indicate a definite pronominal object (an object that functions as a pronoun).

(2) Todo naa, ya nangu-k.
machete PROX 1SG 1SGPOSS-k
"This machete, it is mine." (p. 280)

(3) San nake-k?
who 3SGPOSS-k
"Whose is it?." (p. 280)

The possessive word can also accept valence changing verbal prefixes however this is restricted to the third singular form 'nake'.

(4) Petu kami rua hai em-nake-k eta dena na Rana.
SEQ 1PLE two follow STAT-3SGPOSS-k until arrive PROX lake
"So the two of us followed as his companion-assistants until arriving here at Rana." (p. 280)

(5) Geba-ro kadu-k pa du wana em-nake-k eta lea.
person-PL come-k REAL 3PL awake STAT-3SGPOSS-k until sun
"People came and they stayed away at his disposal keeping him company until dawn." (p. 280)

People can be put at someone’s disposal through the combination of /ep-em-/.

(6) Kawasan p-em-nake-k geba rua ute ringe eta dena la masi.
head CAUS-STAT-3SGPOSS-k person two DAT 3SG until arrive downstream sea
"The village head put two people at his disposal until they should reach the coast." (p. 280/1)

The possessive word, with or without a proceeding cliticised free pronoun, functions as a possessive pronoun with a NP.

(7) Da kala-k ya nang ama.
3SG call-k [1SG 1SGPOSS father]NP
"He summoned my father." (p. 281)

(8) Da lata-h tu ya nang todo.
3SG cut-it [with 1SG 1SGPOSS machete]
"He cut it with my machete." (p. 281)

Used with verbs of exchange, the possessive word can have the force of a dative argument.

(9) Ego nang pawe saa.
Get 1SGPOSS mango one
"Get me a mango/get a mango for me." (p. 281)


  1. ^ Buru at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Buru (Indonesia)". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ a b c d 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. Archived from the original on 2010-10-19.
  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). "Halmahera and beyond". In Visser, L.E. Buru inside out. Leiden.