Timor–Alor–Pantar languages

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Timor and neighboring islands
Linguistic classificationTrans–New Guinea or independent language family

The Timor–Alor–Pantar (TAP) languages are a family of Papuan (non-Austronesian) languages spoken in Timor, Kisar, and the Alor archipelago in Southern Indonesia.

Holton and Klamer (2018) classify Timor–Alor–Pantar as an independent language family, as they did not find convincing links with Trans-New Guinea.[2] Usher (2020) finds them to be one of three branches of the West Bomberai family within Trans–New Guinea, with regular sound correspondences.[1]


The languages are demonstrably related, with the Alor–Pantar languages forming a distinct subgroup.[3][4] The following conservative classification is from Ross (2005), Schapper et al. (2012), and Holton et al. (2012).

The list given above is conservative, without any undemonstrated groups.

Bunak and the Alor–Pantar languages are sometimes grouped together as "West Timor", while Bunak and East Timor have been grouped as "Timor–Kisar". Although the Alor–Pantar languages are clearly related, as are the Timor–Kisar languages and the two groups to each other, until comparative work is done on all languages simultaneously it will not be clear whether Bunak is closer to East Timor or to Alor–Pantar, or whether Alor–Pantar is a valid node. Kaiping and Klamer (2019), though, found Bunak to be the most divergent Timor-Alor-Pantar language, splitting off before East Timor and Alor-Pantar did.[5]

Languages in Central and East Alor are generally more agglutinative than languages in Pantar and Timor, which are more isolating.[2]

Classification history[edit]

Despite their geographic proximity, the Papuan languages of Timor are not closely related, and demonstration of a relationship between any of them is difficult, apart from the clearly related Alor–Pantar languages on the islands neighboring Timor.

Arthur Capell first proposed that the Timor languages were a family in 1941, and Watuseke & Anceaux did the same for Timor–Alor–Pantar in 1973. Both units have been broken up in more recent classifications, though their ultimate relationship is generally accepted.[6]

In 1957 HKL Cowan linked the Timor languages to the West Papuan family. However, when Stephen Wurm expanded Trans–New Guinea in 1975, he decided Timor–Alor–Pantar belonged there, and he linked it to the South Bird's Head languages in a South Bird's Head – Timor–Alor–Pantar branch of that phylum. Wurm noted similarities with West Papuan, a different family, but suggested this was due to substratum influence.

Ross (2005) classifies Timor–Alor–Pantar with the West Bomberai languages, the two groups forming a branch within West Trans–New Guinea. Based on a careful examination of new lexical data, Holton & Robinson (2014) find little evidence to support a connection between TAP and TNG.[7] However, Holton & Robinson (2017) concedes that a relationship with Trans-New Guinea and West Bomberai in particular is the most likely hypothesis, though they prefer to leave it unclassified for now.[8]

Usher (2020) finds that the Timor–Alor–Pantar fit within the West Bomberai languages, as a third branch of that family, and has begun to reconstruct the West Bomberai protolanguage as the ancestor of Timor–Alor–Pantar,[1] as well as proto–Timor–Alor–Pantar itself.[9]

According to Dryer (2022), based on a preliminary quantitative analysis of data from the ASJP database, Timor–Alor–Pantar is likely to be a subgroup of Trans–New Guinea.[10]

Language contact[edit]

The Timor–Alor–Pantar languages have been in considerable contact with these Austronesian languages:[11]


Reconstruction ofTimor–Alor–Pantar languages
Lower-order reconstructions


Holton & Klamer (2018) reconstruct the Proto–Timor–Alor–Pantar consonant inventory as follows:[2]

p t k
b d g
m n
f s h
w j
l, r, ʀ

Proto–Alor–Pantar developed a voiceless uvular stop *q but lost *f and some of the liquids.[2]

Usher (2020) reconstructs a somewhat different inventory:[9]

p t ts k
b d dz g
m n
w j
l, r

*l and *r do not occur initially in native words.

Usher reconstructs the vowels as *i *u [*e] [*o] *a *ɒ (where it's not clear that *e, *o were phonemically distinct) and the diphthong *ai.[9]

Heston reconstructs the vowels *a, *e, *i, *o, *u, and *ə.[12]

Heston also proposes that Proto–Timor–Alor–Pantar had penultimate stress when the penultimate and final syllables were both light, and final stress when the final syllable was heavy.[13]


Proto-Timor–Alor–Pantar pronouns as reconstructed by Ross (2005) are:

sg pl
1excl *ani~na *ini
1incl *api
2 *ai *i
3 *ga (*gi)

Usher (2020) reconstructs the free and bound forms of the pronouns as:

sg pl
1excl *an, *na- *in, *ni-
1incl *ap, *?
2 *a, *a- *i, *i-
3 *ga, *ga- *gi, *gi-

These have regular paradigms, with suffixes *-i and *-u on the bound forms, so for example 1sg is free *an, direct object and inalienable possessor *na-, locative, ergative and alienable possessor *nai, and dative *nau.[9]

Ross (2005) suggest these pronouns reflect proto-Trans–New Guinea 1st person *na, *ni and 2nd person *ga, *gi, and possibly the pTNG dual/inclusive *-pi-.[14] The objection has been raised that this requires positing a "flip-flop" in which proto-TNG second-person pronouns correspond to proto-TAP third-person pronouns.[citation needed] Usher however establishes that proto–West Bomberai initial *k was lost from proto–Timor–Alor–Pantar (for example, proto-WB *kina 'eye', *kira 'water' and *kena[t] 'see' correspond to proto-TAP *ina, *ira and *ena), and that the proto–West Bomberai pronouns 2sg *ka and 2pl *ki, inherited from proto–Trans–New Guinea, correspond regularly to proto–Timor–Alor–Pantar *a and *i, while the proto–Timor–Alor–Pantar third-person pronouns *ga and *gi do not correspond to the rest of West Bomberai (or Trans–New Guinea) and are only coincidentally similar to the reconstructed proto-TNG second-person pronouns.[1]


Schapper, et al. (2017)[edit]

Schapper, et al. (2017: 141-143) reconstruct the following proto-Timor-Alor-Pantar, proto-Alor-Pantar, and proto-Timor forms, demonstrating the relatedness of the Timor and Alor-Pantar languages.[15]

proto-Timor-Alor-Pantar reconstructions (Schapper, et al. 2017)
gloss proto-Timor-Alor-Pantar proto-Alor-Pantar proto-Timor
bamboo *mari *mari *mari
banana *mugul *mogol *mugu
bark, call *lVu *le(k)u(l)
bat *madel *madel *maTa
bathe *weLi *weli *weru
bird *(h)adul *(a)dVl *haDa
bite *ki(l) *(ta)ki *(ga)gel
blood *waj *wai *waj
bone *se(r, R) *ser *(se)sa(r, R)
breast *hami *hami *hami
child *-uaQal *-uaqal *-al
clew *ma(i)ta(r) *maita *matar
coconut *wata *wata *wa(t, D)a
crawl *er *er *er
crouch *luk(V) *luk(V) *luk
die *mV(n) *min(a) *-umV
dirty *karV(k) *karok *gari
dream *(h)ipar *hipar *ufar(ana)
ear *-waRi *-uari *-wali
eat *nVa *nai *nua
excrement *(h)at(V) *has *a(t, D)u
face *panu *-pona *-fanu
far *le(t, d)e *lete *eTar
fire *hada *hada *haTa
fish *habi *habi *hapi
flat *tatok *tatok *tetok
garden *magad *magad(a) *(u, a)mar
girl *pan(a) *pon *fana
give *-(e, i)na *-ena *-inV
grandparent *(t, d)ama *tam(a, u) *moTo
green *lugar *(wa)logar *ugar
hand *-tan(a) *-tan *-tana
hear *mage(n) *magi *mage(n)
inside *mi *mi *mi
itchy *iRak *(i)ruk *ilag
laugh *jagir *jagir *jiger
leg *buta *-bat *buta
low *po *po *ufe
mat *bit *bis *biti
meat *isor *iser *seor
moon *hur(u) *wur *huru
mountain *buku *buku *bugu
name *-en(i, u) *-nej
new *(t, s)iba(r) *siba(r) *(t, s)ipa(r)
new place *lan *lan *lan
nose *-mVN *-mim *-muni
one *nukV *nuk *uneki
other *abe(nVC) *aben(VC) *epi
Pterocarpus indicus *matar *matar *ma(t, D)ar
path *jega *jega *jiga
person *anV(N) *anin *anu
pig *baj *baj *baj
pound *tapa(i) *tapai *tafa
price *boL *bol *bura
rain *anu(r, R) *anur *ine(r, R)
rat *dur(a) *dur *Dura
ripe *tena *tena *tena
run *tipar *tiara *tifar
scorpion *pV(r, R) *pVr *fe(r, R)e
scratch *karab *karab *gabar
sea *tam(a) *tam *mata
shark *sibar *sib(a, i)r *supor
sit *mit *mis *mit
six *talam *talam *tamal
sleep *tia(r) *tia *tia(r)
spit *puRV(n) *purVn *fulu(k, n)
spoon *suRa *surV *sula
stand *nat(er) *nate(r) *nat
star *jibV *jibV *ipi(-bere)
stone *war *war *war
sugarcane *ub(a) *huːba *upa
sun *wad(i, u) *wadi *waTu
taboo *palu(l, n) *palol *falu(n)
tail *-oRa *-ora *-ula(ʔ)
tongue *-lebuR *-lebur *-ipul
tooth *-wasin *-uasin *-wasin
tree *hate *tei *hate
vagina *-ar(u) *-ar *-aru
wake *tan(i) *-ten *Tani
walk (1) *lak(Vr) *laka *lagar
walk (2) *lamV *lam(ar) *male
water *jira *jira *ira
weave *sine(N) *sine(N) *sina
yellow *bagur(V) *bagori *gabar
1pi *pi *pi- *fi
1sg *na- *na- *n-
3 *gie *ge *gie
3poss *ga- *ga- *g-

Usher (2020)[edit]

Some lexical reconstructions by Usher (2020) are:[1]

gloss Proto-Timor-Alor Bunaq Proto-East Timor Proto-Alor-Pantar Proto-Alor-Pantar (Schapper et al.)
head/hair *dzage
hair of head *dagu
ear *ˈwali[k] hol *wali[k] *wari *-waRi
eye *ina *ina *ina
nose *muni[k] *muni[k] *muni
tooth *ˈwasin -we *wasin *wasin *-wasin
tongue -up *ibul *lebur *-lebuR
foot/leg *iˈdi -iri *idi
blood *waⁱ[s] ho *waⁱ[s] *waⁱ *waj
bone *s[a/o]p[a/o]
peel/skin *pasu *pasu *pasu
breast *ami -omoʔ *ami *ami *hami
louse *amin *amin *amin
dog *ˈj[a]bar zap *[dz/j]ebar *jabar *dibar
bird *ˈadz[o]l hos *adza *adol *(h)adul
egg *ˈudu -ut *udu [*uTa]
tree *at[eⁱ] *ate *at[eⁱ] *hate
man/male *nami *nami
woman *tubur *tubur
sun *ˈwadu hot *wadu *wadu *wad(i,u)
water *ˈira il *ira *ira *jira
fire *aˈda hoto *ada *ada *ada
stone *war hol *war *w[o]r *war
path *ˈ[ja]gal hik *iga[r] *jagal *jega
name *naⁱ -ni *naⁱ *naⁱ [*nei]
eat/drink *nawa *nawa *naː *nVa
one *uˈkani uen *ukani
two *age


Pawley and Hammarström (2018) list the following probable reflexes of Proto-Timor-Alor-Pantar (pTAP) and proto-Alor-Pantar (pAP; reconstructions drawn from Holton and Klamer 2018) from proto-Trans-New Guinea (pTNG; reconstructions from Pawley and Hammarström 2018).[2][16]

pTNG = proto-Trans New Guinea, pTAP = proto-Timor-Alor-Pantar, pAP = proto-Alor-Pantar
  • pTNG *am(i,u) ‘breast’ > pTAP *hami ‘breast’
  • pTNG *na ‘eat’ > pTAP *nVa ‘eat, drink’
  • pTNG *ata ‘excrement’ > pTAP *(h)at(V) ‘excrement’
  • pTNG *kumV- ‘die’ > pTAP *mV(n), pAP *min(a) ‘die’, pTimor *-mV ‘die’
  • pTNG *inda ‘tree, wood’ > pTAP *hate ‘fire, wood’
  • pTNG *panV > pTAP *pan(a) ‘girl’
  • pTNG *nan(a,i) ‘older sibling’ > pAP *nan(a) ‘older sibling’
  • pTNG *me ‘come’ > pAP *mai ‘come’
  • pTNG *mundu ‘nose’ > pTAP *mVN ‘nose’
  • pTNG *tukumba[C] ‘short’ > pAP *tukV ‘short’
  • pTNG *ŋgatata ‘dry’ > pAP *takata
  • pTNG *(m,mb)elak ‘lightning’ > Blagar merax, Retta melak ‘lightning’

However, Holton and Robinson (2014) classify Timor-Alor-Pantar as an independent language family, rather than as part of Trans-New Guinea.


  1. ^ a b c d e New Guinea World, West Bomberai
  2. ^ a b c d e Holton, Gary; Klamer, Marian (2018). "The Papuan languages of East Nusantara and the Bird's Head". In Palmer, Bill (ed.). The Languages and Linguistics of the New Guinea Area: A Comprehensive Guide. The World of Linguistics. Vol. 4. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 569–640. ISBN 978-3-11-028642-7.
  3. ^ Holton, Gary; Klamer, Marian; Kratochvíl, František; Robinson, Laura C.; Schapper, Antoinette (2012). "The historical relation of the Papuan languages of Alor and Pantar". Oceanic Linguistics. 51 (1): 87–122. doi:10.1353/ol.2012.0001. hdl:1887/18594. S2CID 54756537.
  4. ^ Schapper, Antoinette; Huber, Juliette; van Engelenhoven, Aone (2012), "The historical relation of the Papuan languages of Timor and Kisar", in Hammarström, Harald; van der Heuvel, Wilco (eds.), History, Contact and Classification of Papuan Languages, Port Moresby: Linguistic Society of New Guinea
  5. ^ Gereon A. Kaiping and Marian Klamer. 2019b. Subgrouping the Timor-Alor-Pantar languages using systematic Bayesian inference. Leiden University Centre for Linguistics, Universiteit Leiden.
  6. ^ Capell, Arthur (1944). "Peoples and languages of Timor". Oceania. 15 (3): 19–48. doi:10.1002/j.1834-4461.1944.tb00409.x.
  7. ^ Holton, Gary; Robinson, Laura C. (2014), "The linguistic position of the Timor-Alor-Pantar languages", in Klamer, Marian (ed.), Alor Pantar languages: History and Typology, Berlin: Language Sciences Press, pp. 155–198, doi:10.17169/langsci.b22.48, ISBN 9783944675480
  8. ^ Holton, Gary; Robinson, Laura C. (2017), "The linguistic position of the Timor-Alor-Pantar languages", in Klamer, Marian (ed.), Alor Pantar languages: History and Typology Second Edition, Berlin: Language Sciences Press, pp. 147–190, doi:10.5281/zenodo.437098, ISBN 9783944675947
  9. ^ a b c d "Timor-Alor-Pantar - newguineaworld".
  10. ^ Dryer, Matthew S. (2022). Trans-New Guinea IV.2: Evaluating Membership in Trans-New Guinea.
  11. ^ Juliette Huber and Antoinette Schapper. 2019. The Austronesian-Papuan contact history of eastern Timor: What lexical borrowing can tell us. 11th International Austronesian and Papuan Languages and Linguistics Conference (APLL11), 13–15 June 2019, Leiden University.
  12. ^ Heston, Tyler (2017). "A First Reconstruction of Vowels in Proto-Timor-Alor-Pantar". Oceanic Linguistics. 56 (1): 73–89. doi:10.1353/ol.2017.0003. S2CID 149113148.
  13. ^ Heston, Tyler (2016). "Stress in Proto-Timor-Alor-Pantar". Oceanic Linguistics. 55 (1): 278–289. doi:10.1353/ol.2016.0012. S2CID 148422198.
  14. ^ Ross, Malcolm (2005), "Pronouns as a preliminary diagnostic for grouping Papuan languages", in Pawley, Andrew; Attenborough, Robert; Golson, Jack; Hide, Robin (eds.), Papuan Pasts: Cultural, linguistic and biological histories of Papuan-speaking peoples, Canberra: Pacific Linguistics
  15. ^ Antoinette Schapper, Juliette Huber & Aone van Engelenhoven. 2017. The relatedness of Timor-Kisar and Alor-Pantar languages: A preliminary demonstration. In Marian Klamer (ed.), The Alor-Pantar languages, 91–147. Berlin: Language Science Press. doi:10.5281/zenodo.569389
  16. ^ Pawley, Andrew; Hammarström, Harald (2018). "The Trans New Guinea family". In Palmer, Bill (ed.). The Languages and Linguistics of the New Guinea Area: A Comprehensive Guide. The World of Linguistics. Vol. 4. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 21–196. ISBN 978-3-11-028642-7.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]