North Moluccan Malay

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North Moluccan Malay
Bahasa Pasar
Native to Indonesia
Region North Maluku
Native speakers
700,000 (2001)[1]
Malay Creole
  • East Indonesian
    • North Moluccan Malay
Language codes
ISO 639-3 max
Glottolog nort2828[2]

North Moluccan Malay (also known as Ternate Malay) is a language spoken in Ternate, Tidore and Halmahera islands, North Maluku for intergroup communications, and in the Sula Islands. The local name of the language is Bahasa Pasar, and the name Ternate Malay is also used, after the main ethnic group speaking the language. Since North Moluccan Malay is used only for spoken communication, there is no standard orthography.

This creole resembles Manado Malay, but with different accents and vocabulary. A large percentage of its vocabulary is borrowed from Ternatean, such as, ngana "you (sg.)", ngoni "you (pl.)", bifi "ant" and ciri "to fall".



The vowel system of North Moluccan Malay consists of five vowel phonemes and five diphthongs.[3]:15

Front Back
High i u
Mid e o
Low a

The five diphthongs are /ai/, /ae/, /ao/, /oi/ and /ei/.[3]:15


North Moluccan Malay has eighteen consonants and two semivowels.[3]:19

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Plosive p b t d c ɟ k ɡ ʔ
Fricative f s h
Lateral l
Trill r
Semivowel w j



In Ternate Malay, words do not align its forms with its grammatical roles; therefore, the functions of words are often determined by linguistic context and non-linguistic situation. In this case, possessions are often used as a tool to determine the borders of constituents for the sake of successful interpretation of word meanings and functions. (Litamahuputty, 2012, pp. 41) [3]

Generally, words in Ternate Malay are often constructed in head-initial structure, except from the two possessive constructions – Y pe X constructions and YX constructions, where words are constructed in head-final structure. (Litamahuputty, 2012, pp. 59) [3]

Y pe X constructions [edit]

In the Y pe X construction, the Y element refers to the modifier (possessor) while the X element refers to the head (possessum). The possessor and possessum are connected by pe, in which the possessum expresses de facto a nominal meaning. In English, the Y pe X constructions gives the meaning of ‘Y’s X’ and ‘the X or Y’. (Litamahuputty, 2012, pp. 59) [3]

According to Litamahuputty (2012, pp. 92),[3] Y pe X construction can express different meanings ranging from possession in animate subjects and inanimate subjects to non-possessive meanings. The examples below are extracted from Litamahuputty (2012, pp. 92–98) [3] to illustrate situations when Y pe X construction is used to express possessions

Non-human relationships[edit]
X is part of Y[edit]

In example (1), tong pe kaki is a possessive construction where the possessor tong ‘the first person plural – our’ is connected to the possessum kaki ‘leg’ using pe. Together, the construction gives the meaning of ‘our leg’, in which the leg is a part of ‘our’ body, demonstrating the relationship of ‘X is part of Y’

Example (1):

ka       sana,        de            poloso          tong          pe         kaki.

to         there       3SG          squeeze         1PL          POSS       leg

when we go there, she massages our legs    

(Litamahuputty, 2012, pp. 3) [3]

X is a product of Y[edit]

In example (2), ular pe bias is a possessive construction where the possessor ular ‘snake’ is connected to the possessum bias ‘venom’ using pe. Together, the construction means ‘the snake’s venom’, in which the venom is produced by the snake, demonstrating the relationship of ‘X is a product of Y’.

Example (2):

baru           de            buka           ular             pe            bisa…

then           3SG           open            snake             POSS          poison

then he takes out the snake’s venom

(Litamahuputty, 2012, pp. 94) [3]

X is a feature of Y[edit]

In example (3), motor pe warna is a possessive construction where the possessor motor ‘motorcycle’ is connected to the possessum warna ‘colour’ using pe. Together, the construction gives the meaning of ‘the colour of the motorcycle’, in which the colour is one of the features (such as shape, model, engine…etc.) of the motorcycle, demonstrating the relationship of ‘X is a feature of Y’.

Example (3):

motor           pe        warna        deng        dia        sama.

motorcycle    POSS     colour           and         3SG        same

the colour of the motorcycle and him are the same.

(Litamahuputty, 2012, pp. 95) [3]

Human relationships[edit]
Social relationship [edit]

In example (4), bank pe bini is a possessive construction where the possessor bank ‘bank employee’ is connected to the possessum bini ‘wife’ using pe. Together, the construction brings the meaning of ‘the bank employees’ wives’, which expresses the social relationship between the humane animates. 

Example (4):

kalo     dong      lia       ibu-ibu             bank         ka...

when     3PL      see      RED-mother        bank          or

when they see bank employees or


bank        pe          bini,       orang-orang       di       bank,

bank        POSS       wife        RED-person         in        bank

the wives of bank employees, employees at the bank,

(Litamahuputty, 2012, pp. 95) [3]

Kinship relationship[edit]

In example (5), Fadin de kaka is a possessive construction where the possessor Fadin (a proper noun) is connected to the possessum kaka ‘older sibling’. Together, the construction gives the meaning of ‘Fadin’s older brother’, which expresses the kinship relationship between the two humane animates.

Example (5):

Fadin              pe                      kaka                   ni.

Fadin              POSS                  older.sibling             this

he’s Fadin’s older brother

(Litamahuputty, 2012, pp. 93) [3]

Time relationships[edit]
Future relationship[edit]

Example (6) is about a story of how the speaker accidentally spilled hot oil on himself.

In the possessive construction de pe beso, the possessor de ‘third person singular refers to the day of incident, where the possessum beso ‘tomorrow’ refers to the day after the incident. Future time relationship is shown between the day of incident and the day after the incident.    

Example (6):

eh,            de          pe              beso           kita            kage             nae.

EXCL      3SG      POSS      tomorrow        1SG          startled       go.up

gee, the next morning I woke up in a shock.

(Litamahuputty, 2012, pp. 97) [3]

Past relationship[edit]

Example (7) is about the journey of the speaker and his friends in an island where he heard a strange voice.

In the possessive construction de pe kalamareng malang, the possessor de ‘third person singular refers to the moment when the speaker was talking, where the possessum kalamareng malang ‘yesterday night’ refers to the night before that moment, demonstrating past time relationship between the time when the speaker heard strange voice and the time he talked.    

Example (7):

baru              de           pe            kalamareng       malang    tu

moreover   3SG        POSS           yesterday            night        that

moreover, last night


kita        ada           dengar        orang          pe           suara.

1SG       exist           hear           person      POSS       voice

I heard someone’s voice    

(Litamahuputty, 2012, pp. 97) [3]

Human Quality[edit]

In Example (8), de pe bae is a possessive expression where the possessor de ‘third person singular – his’ is connected to the possesum bae ‘kindness’ with pe. The expression has the meaning of ‘his kindness’, demonstrating a quality of the humane subject.

This relationship is similar to X is a feature of Y which was demonstrated earlier, where example (8) refers to an animate and example (3) refers to an inanimate.

Example (8):

kita        inga           de      pe         bae      skali.

1SG      remember    3SG    POSS      good     very

I always remember his kindness.

(Litamahuputty, 2012, pp. 98) [3]

From the above examples, it can be seen that wide ranges of possessions, including possessions in human, animals, objects or even abstract items like time, can be demonstrated from the Y pe X constructions.

As mentioned earlier, word functions in Ternate Malay are often determined from contexts rather than word forms. Therefore, not all Y pe X constructions show possessive meanings. The examples below demonstrate situations where Y pe X construction is used to express meanings other than possession, for example, to express evaluative meanings or additional information: (Litamahuputty, 2012, pp. 99–102)[3]  

When the possessum (X) denotes a quality with exclamative markers, it has an evaluative meaning rather than a possessive meaning.[edit]

In example (9), the Y element in the Y pe X construction ‘ngana pe capat’ is ngana, which refers to second person singular’; and the X element is capa’, which refers to ‘fast’.

Since the sentence is expressed in exclamative intonations, which can be shown from the exclamation mark used at the end of the sentence and the use of ih (the exclamative expression), the construction has the evaluative meaning of ‘how fast you are!’ rather than a possessive meaning of referring the ‘quality of fastness’ to the subject.    

Example (9):

ih,       Anwar,       ngana      pe      capat!

EXCL   Anwar          2SG        POSS     fast

gee, Anwar, you’re fast!

(Litamahuputty, 2012, pp. 99) [3]

When the possessum (X) denotes an action or activity, it supplies additional information to the action or activity rather than showing possessions. [edit]

In example (10), the Y element in the Y pe X construction ‘paitua pe cuci balangang’ is paitua, which refers to ‘old man’; and the X element is cuci balangan, which refers to ‘to wash a wok’.

The example provided extra information on what surprised the speaker rather than showing possession between the old man and his way of washing a wok.   

Example (10):

paitua         pe        cuci     balangang     kita      herang.       POSS    wash         wok              1SG     surprised

the way he washed the wok surprised me.

(Litamahuputty, 2012, pp. 100) [3]

YX constructions[edit]

In the YX construction, the Y element refers to the modifier  (possessor), which is often a personal pronoun or a kinship term; and the X element refers to the head (possessum), which is often a thing word. The construction also has a meaning of ‘Y’s X’ and ‘the X or Y’ in English. (Litamahuputty, 2012, pp. 102)[3] The examples below are extracted from Litamahuputty (2012, pp. 103–104),[3] which demonstrated the use of element Y as a personal pronoun and kinship term in YX constructions:

Possessor Y as a personal pronoun [edit]

Example (11) has demonstrated the use of YX construction with element Y as a personal pronoun, where the possessor dong refers to  ‘third person plural’ and the possessum parau refers to ‘boat’. Together, it has the meaning of ‘their boat’ .

Example (11):

ikang        bawa         dong           parau.

fish           bring            3PL              boat

a fish is pulling their boat

(Litamahuputty, 2012, pp. 104) [3]  

Possessor Y as a kinship term [edit]

Example (12) has demonstrated the use of YX construction with element Y as a kinship term, where the possessor tete refers to grandfather and the possessum papa refers to father. Together, the expression has the meaning of ‘the grandfather’s father’, demonstrating the kinship relationship.

Example (12):

tete papa orang Ternate.

grandfather father person Ternate

my grandfather’s father is a person from Ternate.

(Litamahuputty, 2012, pp. 103) [3]

Personal Pronouns[edit]

Personal pronouns in North Moluccan Malay only distinguish between person (first, second and third person) and number (singular and plural). Some pronouns can also be used to show respect to other speakers.[3]:142

Person Singular Plural
Full Shortened Full Shortened
1 kita
saya (respectful)
- (ki)torang tong
2 ngana - ngoni -
3 dia de dorang dong


The use of the first person singular pronouns kita and saya is dependent on the speech situation. Kita is used when talking to others of the same or lower age, rank or status. On the other hand, saya is used in more formal situations or when conversing with someone with a higher rank or status, to show respect to the other person.[3]:143

The second person singular and plural pronouns, ngana and ngoni also share a similar distinction. Ngana is used to refer to an addressee if they of the same or lower age, rank or status. Otherwise speakers may use personal names or kinship terms to refer to the addressee.[3]:144 Alternatively, the plural second person pronoun ngoni can occasionally be used to refer to a single addressee respectfully, although it is typically reserved for addressing a group of people.[3]:147

These distinctions are demonstrated in example (1) where the speaker telling his friends of a situation where he explains to a woman that he does not want to accept money for helping to carry her shopping onto the bus. Since he is talking to his friends he refers to himself as kita, but because he is not familiar with the woman he uses the more respectful saya to refer to himself and ngoni to address her.

(1) kita bilang, "Ibu... saya bantu saja pa ngoni."
1SG say mother 1SG assist only to 2
"I said: 'Madam, I'm only helping you.'"[3]:143

Full and shortened forms[edit]

For pronouns with a full and shortened form, the two forms may be used interchangeably in most contexts. However, following the conjunction deng or prepositions (such as di, ka, dari or pa) only the full form may be used.[3]:142 This is seen in example (2) where the short form de is used except following the preposition pa, where the full forms dia and torang appear instead:

(2) tikus ini, kalo manakal pa dia, de manakal pa torang.
mouse this when be.naughty to 3SG 3SG be.naughty to 1PL
"this mouse, if we harm it, it will harm us"[3]:145

In addition, the shortened forms do not appear post-verbally (i.e. after predicates).[3]:144–147 Hence in the following example tong cannot appear after the verb bunu "kill", only the full form torang is allowed:

(3) iblis tara mungkin bunu torang
devil NEG possible kill 1PL
"it's impossible for a devil to kill us"[3]:146

It should be noted that the full form of the first person plural pronoun torang is actually a shortening of kitorang which is sometimes used by older speakers however younger speakers rarely use this form.[3]:145

The only exceptions to the two restrictions mentioned above is when the pronoun is part of a Y pe X possessive construction in which case the shortened form may be used as the possessor Y.[3]:142 Example (4) shows a possessive Y pe X construction containing the first person plural short form pronoun dong occurring after a preposition pa:

(4) tong brenti pas pa dong pe muka.
1PL stop exact to 3PL POSS face
"we stopped precisely in front of them."[3]:148

Similarly, example (5) shows the third person singular short form pronoun de occurring after the verb iko "follow" also as part of a Y pe X possessive construction. This contrasts with the use of the full form dia after the second instance of iko, where the pronoun is no longer part of a possessive construction:

(5) de pe lalar iko de pe luka, bukang iko dia.
3SG POSS fly follow 3SG POSS wound NEG follow 3SG
"the flies are following his wounds, they are not following him."[3]:145


  1. ^ North Moluccan Malay at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "North Moluccan Malay". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj Litamahuputty, Bathseba Helena Johanna (2012). Ternate Malay: Grammar and Texts. Utrecht: LOT. ISBN 978-94-6093-088-1.