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, since they find links with Trans-New Guinea too unconvincing.[3]


The languages are demonstrably related, with the Alor–Pantar languages forming a distinct subgroup.[4][5] The following conservative classification is from Ross (2005), Schapper et al. (2012), and Holton et al. (2012).

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


Pronouns are:

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

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-, but this has not been demonstrated to the satisfaction of other linguists, many of whom view Timor–Alor–Pantar as a distinct family.[6] In particular the pronoun relationships requires positing a "flip-flop" in which TNG 2nd person corresponds to TAP 3rd person pronouns.


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).[3][7]

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 Klamer classify Timor-Alor-Pantar as an independent language family than as part of Trans-New Guinea.

History and classification[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.[8]

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.[9] 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.[10]


  1. ^ New Guinea World, West Bomberai
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Timor–Alor–Pantar". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ a b 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. 4. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 569–640. ISBN 978-3-11-028642-7.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ 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. 4. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 21–196. ISBN 978-3-11-028642-7.
  8. ^ Capell, Arthur (1944). "Peoples and languages of Timor". Oceania. 15 (3): 19–48. doi:10.1002/j.1834-4461.1944.tb00409.x.
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ 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