Kambera language

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East Sumbanese
Native toIndonesia
RegionLesser Sunda Islands
Native speakers
240,000 (2009)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3xbr
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Kambera, also known as East Sumbanese, is a Malayo-Polynesian language spoken in the Lesser Sunda Islands, Indonesia. Kambera is a member of Bima-Sumba subgrouping within Central Malayo-Polynesian inside Malayo-Polynesian.[2] The island of Sumba, located in Eastern Indonesia, has an area of 12,297 km2.[3] The name Kambera comes from a traditional region which is close to a town in Waingapu. Because of export trades which concentrated in Waingapu in the 19th century, the language of the Kambera region has become the bridging language in eastern Sumba.



Front Back
High i iː u uː
Mid e ai o au
Low a,

The diphthongs /ai/ and /au/ function phonologically as the long counterparts to /e/ and /o/, respectively.


Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop p t k
Implosive ɓ ɗ
Voiced affricate
Nasal m n ŋ
Prenasalized stop ᵐb ⁿd ᵑɡ
Prenasalized affricate ᶮdʒ
Fricative h
Lateral l
Rhotic r
Semivowel w j
Prenasalized semivowel ᶮj

Kambera formerly had /s/, but a sound change occurring around the turn of the 20th century replaced all occurrences of former /s/ with /h/.



Negators are used in Kambera, and other languages, to make a clause or sentence negative in meaning. Kambera has several types of negators. There are six main types of negators listed below.

Negators English translation
nda negation
ndia emphatic negation
ndedi 'not yet'
àmbu 'won't, don't' (irrealis negation)
àmbu...ndoku 'won't/don't...at all'
nda...ndoku 'not...at all'

Ndia 'no' is used for general negation, and nda 'negative' or ndedi 'not yet' are predicate negators. Ndoku is used to emphasise the negation by being placed with the negator àmbu or nda.[4] Example:

(1)[5] Ambu bobar ndoku -ma -ya!
NEG.irr preach NEG.emp -EMP -3sA
"Do not talk about it at all!"

Àmbu is used to express future negation, as well as negation in imperatives.[4]

(1)[4] Àmbu katuda=kau nàhu!
NEG.IRR sleep=2s.ACC now
"Don't go to sleep now!"

Negators are elements in a clause that are deictic. They can be used to refer to time, space and discourse.[6] Shown below, the negator, ndia is used to refer to discourse.

(1)[7] Ndia ná!
"No!" (not like that)

Two of these negators nda and àmbu – with nda being a general negator, are used for nominal and verbal predicates.

(1)[8] Nda ningu ndoku
NEG be NEG.emp
"There are none at all."

Negators into verbs[edit]

The word pa in Kambera is derivational and can be added to few prepositional nouns, numerals and negators to create verbs. The emphatic negator ndia 'no' can become a verb through pa derivation. The translation of this verb then becomes "to deny".[9]

Example below of how ndia is constructed into a verb in a given phrase:

(1)[10] na- pa.ndia -ya ba nda na- njala
3sN- pa.no -3sA CNJ NEG 3sN be/do wrong
"He denied that he did wrong."

Noun phrases[edit]

A nuclear clause has the predicate as the head in Kambera, and modifiers are positioned at the beginning of the clause. As nda is a modifier it is placed at the beginning of a clause, as a clause-initial negator, before the verb and the rest of the elements of a nuclear clause.[11]

You can distinguish nominal clauses from NPs is through the irrealis negator àmbu and the negator nda, which both never occur inside a possessed NP.[12]


The Kambera word nda is also considered to be a pro-clitic as well, as they do not conform to the minimal word requirement and must occur with a syntactic/phonological host.[13] A clitic is a type of bound morpheme which is syntactically free, but are phonologically bound morphemes. They can attach themselves to a stem, for example the negator nda. Nda appears before its host and is used to mark negation. It has a very simple phonotactic properties and cannot carry stress. [14]Nda as a clitic can only ever occur with a host.


(1)[15] Ka 'nggiki hi nda =u- 'ita -ka?
CNJ why CNJ NEG 2pN- see -1sA
"Why didn't you see me?"

In the example above, the negator nda becomes nda u- [ndaw], with nda attaching itself to the allomorph u- .[16] Nda is a proclitic that marks an embedded clause in Kambera.

Relative clauses[edit]

Negators are also included in relative clauses, but are not a part of the noun phrase.


(1)[17] [Nda [ndui pa- bohu]NP] -ya
NEG money RmO- steal -3sA
"It (is) not stolen money."

Pronouns and person markers[edit]

Personal pronouns are used in Kambera for emphasis/disambiguation and the syntactic relation between full pronouns and clitics is similar to that between NPs and clitics. NPs and pronouns have morphological case.

Personal Pronouns
Person Number
Singular Plural
1INC nyuta
1EXCL nyungga nyuma
2 nyumu nyimi
3 nyuna nyuda

Kambera, as a head-marking language, has rich morpho-syntactic marking on its predicators. The pronominal, aspectual and/or mood clitics together with the predicate constitute the nuclear clause. Definite verbal arguments are crossreferenced on the predicate for person, number and case (Nominative (N), Gentive (G), Dative (D), Accusative (A)). The four main pronominal clitic paradigms are given below.

Nominative Genitive Accusative Dative
1SG ku- -nggu -ka -ngga
2SG (m)u- -mu -kau -nggau
3SG na- -na -ya -nya
1PL.INC ta- -nda ta- -nda
1PL.EXC ma- -ma -kama -nggama
2PL (m)i- -mi -ka(m)i -ngga(m)i
3PL da- -da -ha -nja


(1) apu-nggu
"My granny."

(2) ana-na
"His child."

(3) Kau pa.ta.lunggur-ya na wihi-na                                        
scratch CAU.be sore ART leg-3SG.GEN                                        
"He scratched his leg sore." (lit. "He scratched and caused his leg to be sore")

(4) Na-tari-bia nahu angu-na
3SG.NOM-watch-MOD now companion-3SG.GEN
"He just watches his companion."

(5) Ningu uma-nggua                     
be.here house-3SG.GEN                     
"I have a house." (lit. "Here is a house of mine.")

(6) Nyuda-ha-ka nahu da ana-nda
they-3PL.ACC-PRF now ART child-1PL.GEN
"They are our children now."

The items in the table below mark person and number of the subject when the clause has continuative aspect.

Person Number
Singular Plural
1INC -ndanya
1EXCL -nggunya -manya
2 -munya -minya
3 -nanya -danya


(1) Lunggur-nanya na Ihi-na
scratch-3SG.CONT ART body-3SG.GEN
"He is scratching his body."
(2) "Laku-nnguya ina", wa-na
go-1SG.CONT mother say-3SG
"'I am going, mother," he said.'"


Kambera has a possessive or reflexive noun wiki 'self/own', which can be used to mark possession (1).

(1) Uma wiki -nggu
house self/own -1sG
'My own house'

Wiki has the structural properties of a noun and can be used as a nominal modifier (compare 2 & 3), unlike pronouns which must be cross-referenced on the noun with a genitive clitic (3).[18]

(2) Uma witu -nggu
house grass -1sG
'My hut'
(3) Uma -nggu nyungga
house -1sG I
'My house'

As (3) is a possessed noun phrase, the enclitic attaches to the noun. In possessed and modified noun phrases, the genitive enclitic attaches to the noun modifier (4).[19]

(4) Na uma 'bakul -nggu
ART house be big -1sG
'My big house'

In Kambera, where cross-referencing is used, the noun phrase is optional. A verb along with its pronominal markers constitutes a complete sentence. Pronominal clitics are a morphological way of expressing relationships between syntactic constituents such as a noun and its possessor.[20]

Possessor relativisation[edit]

Possessors can be relativised with a ma- relative clause.[21] There are three types of clauses used in the relativisation of possessors.

The first is when the embedded verb is derived from a relational noun such as mother or child. These derived transitive verbs express relations between the subject and the object (5).

(5) Na anakeda [na ma- ina -nya]
ART child [ART RmS- mother -3sD]
'the child whose mother she is'/'the child she is the mother of'

The second clause type is where the possessor is the head of the ma- relative clause and the possessee is the subject of the embedded verb (6).

(6) Ita -nggu -nya [na tau na ma-meti kuru uma -na]
See -1sG -3sD [ART person ART RmS-die wife -3sG]
'I saw [the man whose wife died]

The final type is where the relative clause contains the verb ningu 'be' and the incorporated argument of this verb. The head of the relative construction is the possessor (7).

(7) Na tau na ma- ningu ihi woka .ng
ART person ART RmS- be content garden .ng
'the person that has crops' (lit.: 'the person whose garden content is')

*N.B: the morpheme .ng marks the edge of incorporation

Normally, the possessor pronoun nyuna 'he/she' follows the possessed noun (8), though it can also be the head of a relativised clause (9).

(8) Na marihak [na kalembi -na nyuna]
ART be dirty [ART shirt -3sG he]
'His shirt is dirty'
(9) Nyuna na [ma- marihak na kalembi -na
He ART RmS- be dirty ART shirt -3sG
'He whose shirt is dirty'

Possessors can also be relativised in the same way as subjects. For example, in the following headless relative clause (no possessor NP is present), a definite article is present (10).

(10) Na ma- rabih karaha kalai -na
ART RmS- trickle side left -3sG
'The (one) whose left side trickles (i.e. lets water through)'

(mythological character that is the source of rain)


Gloss Meaning
NEG.irr irrealis negator
NEG.emp emphatic negator
EMP emphasis marker
2s 2nd person singular
ACC accusative
DEI deictic element (space/time)
3sN 3rd person singular nominative
3sA 3rd person accusative singular emphatic pronoun
CNJ conjunction
2pN 2nd person singular pronoun
1sA 1st person accusative singular emphatic pronoun
RmO object relative clause marker


  1. ^ Kambera at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Klamer 1998
  3. ^ Klamer 1998
  4. ^ a b c Klamer 2005, p. 723
  5. ^ Klamer 1998, p. 143
  6. ^ Klamer 1998, p. 142
  7. ^ Klamer 1998, p. 142
  8. ^ Klamer 1998, p. 143
  9. ^ Klamer 1998, p. 184
  10. ^ Klamer 1998, p. 185
  11. ^ Klamer 1998, p. 77
  12. ^ Klamer 1998, p. 99
  13. ^ Klamer 1998, p. 27
  14. ^ Klamer 1998, p. 47
  15. ^ Klamer 1998, p. 50
  16. ^ Klamer 1998, p. 50
  17. ^ Klamer 1998, p. 336
  18. ^ Klamer 1998, p. 130–131
  19. ^ Klamer 1998, p. 48
  20. ^ Klamer 1998, p. 60–61
  21. ^ Klamer 1998, p. 320–321


  • Klamer, Marian (1998). A Grammar of Kambera. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-016187-7.
  • Klamer, Marian (2005). "Kambera". In Adelaar, Karl Alexander; Himmelmann, Nikolaus (eds.). The Austronesian Languages of Asia and Madagascar. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-7007-1286-0.