Taba language

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Not to be confused with West Makian language.
Native to Indonesia
Region North Maluku province
Native speakers
(20,000+ cited 1983)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 mky
Glottolog east2440[2]

Taba (also known as East Makian or Makian Dalam) is a Malayo-Polynesian language of the South Halmahera – West New Guinea group. It is spoken mostly on the islands of Makian, Kayoa and southern Halmahera in North Maluku province of Indonesia by about 20,000 people.[3]


There are minor differences in dialect between all of the villages on Makian island in which Taba is spoken. Most differences affect only a few words. One of the most widespread reflexes is the use of /o/ in Waikyon and Waigitang, where in other villages /a/ is retained from Proto-South Halmaheran.[4]

Geographic Distribution[edit]

As of 2005, Ethnologue lists Taba as having a speaking population of approximately 20,000, however, it has been argued by Linguists that this number could in reality be anywhere between 20,000 and 50,000.[5] The language is predominantly spoken in Eastern Makian Island, although it is also found on Southern Mori Island, Kayoa islands, Bacan and Obi island and along the west coast of south Halmahera. There has also been continued migration of speakers to North Maluku due to frequent volcanic eruptions on Makian island.[6] The island itself is home to two languages: Taba, which is spoken on the eastern side of the island, and a Papuan language spoken on the western side, known alternatively as West Makian or Makian Luar (outer Makian); in Taba, this language is known as Taba Lik ("Outer Taba"), while its native speakers know it as Moi.

Speech Levels[edit]

Taba is divided into three different levels of speech: alus, biasa and kasar.

Alus, or ‘refined’ Taba is used in situations in which the speaker is addressing someone older or of greater status than the speaker themselves.
Biasa, or ‘ordinary’ Taba, is used in most general situations.
The Kasar, or ‘coarse’ form of Taba is used only rarely and generally in anger.


Taba has fifteen indigenous consonant phonemes, and four loan phonemes: /ʔ dʒ tʃ f/. These are shown below:

Bilabial Apico-alveolar Lamino-palatal Dorso-velar Glottal
Stop b  p d  t ɡ  k (ʔ)
Nasal m n ŋ
Affricate (dʒ  tʃ)
Fricative (f) s
Trill r
Lateral l
Approximant w j h
The vowel phonemes of Taba on a vowel chart

Taba has five vowels, illustrated on the table below. The front and central vowels are unrounded; the back vowels are rounded.

Front Central Back
Close i  iː u  uː
Mid e  eː o  oː
Open a  aː


Word Order[edit]

Taba is, predominantly, a head-marking language which adheres to a basic AVO word order. However, there is a reasonable degree of flexibility.[9]

(1) yak k=ha-lekat pakakas ne
1SG 1SG=CAUS-broken tool PROX
"I broke this tool."

Taba has both prepositions and postpositions.


Independent Pronouns[10]
Person Number
Singular Plural
1INC tit
1EXCL yak am
2 au meu
3 i si

In Taba, independent pronouns cannot be used to refer to inanimate entities.


Person is also marked on proclitics which are attached to verb phrases, as can be seen below:

(1) yak k=wom
1SG 1SG=come
"I've come."


Number is marked on noun phrases and pronouns. Taba distinguishes grammatically between singular and plural categories. Plural marking is obligatory for humans and is used for all noun phrases which refer to multiple individuals. Plurality is also used to indicate respect in the second and third person when addressing or speaking of an individual who is older than the speaker.[11]

(1) nim mama lo baba=si l-ha=obal-k
2SG.POSS mother and father=PL 3PL=CAUS-call-APPL


Taba does not, as such, have possessive pronouns. Rather, the possessor noun and the possessed entity are linked by a possessive ligature. The Taba ligatures are shown below:

Possessive Particles[12]
Person Number
Singular Plural
1INC nit
1EXCL nik am
2 nim meu
3 ni nidi/di

Adnominal Possession[edit]

Adnominal possession involves the introduction of an inflected possessive particle between the possessor and the possessed entity; this inflected possessive, formally categorised as a ‘ligature’, is cross-referenced with the number and person of the possessor. This ligature indicates a possessive relationship between a modifier noun and its head-noun. In Taba, adnominal possession is distinguished by reverse genitive ordering, in which the possessor noun precedes the noun referring to the possessed entity.[13]

In many contexts the possessor will not be overtly referenced.

Example of reverse genitive ordering in Taba:

(1) ni mtu
3SG.POSS child
"His/her child."

Obligatory Possessive Marking[edit]

In Taba, alienable and inalienable possession is not obligatorily marked by the use of different forms, though this is common in many related languages. However, there are a number of seemingly inalienable entities which cannot be referred to without referencing a possessor.[14]

For example:

(2) meja ni wwe
table 3SG.POSS leg
"The leg (of the table)."

Verbal Possession[edit]

Verbal possession in Taba is generally indicated through the attaching of the causative prefix ha- to the adnominal possessive forms. The possessor then becomes actor of the clause, and the possessed entity becomes the undergoer.[15] This method of forming a possessive verb is very unusual, typologically, and is found in almost no other languages.[16]

(3) kabin da yak k=ha-nik
"That goat, I own it."

Name Taboo (Aroah)[edit]

As is common with many Melanesian people, Taba speakers practice ritual name taboo. As such, when a person dies in a Taba community, their name may not be used by any person with whom they had a close connection. This practice adheres to the Makianese belief that, if the names of the recently deceased are uttered, their spirits may be drastically disturbed. The deceased may be referred to simply as ‘Deku’s mother’ or ‘Dula’s sister’. Others in the community with the same name as the deceased will be given maronga, or substitute names.[17]


  1. ^ Taba at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "East Makian". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Ethnologue: Makian, East
  4. ^ Bowden 2001, p. 7
  5. ^ Ethnologue: Makian, East
  6. ^ Bowden 2001, p. 5
  7. ^ Bowden 2001, p. 26
  8. ^ Bowden 2001, p. 28
  9. ^ Bowden 2001, p. 1
  10. ^ Bowden 2001, p. 188
  11. ^ Bowden 2001, p. 190
  12. ^ Bowden 2001, p. 188
  13. ^ Bowden 2001, p. 230
  14. ^ Bowden 2001, p. 233
  15. ^ Bowden 2001, p. 197
  16. ^ Bowden 2001, p. 239
  17. ^ Bowden 2001, p. 22


  • Bowden, John (2001). Taba: a Description of a South Halmahera Language. Pacific Linguistics. Canberra: Australian National University press.