North Halmahera Languages
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North Halmahera Languages
North Halmahera
Halmahera, North Halmaheran
Maluku Islands
Linguistic classificationWest Papuan
  • North Halmahera

The North Halmahera languages are the Papuan languages spoken in the northern and eastern parts of the island of Halmahera and some neighboring islands in Indonesia. The southwestern part of the island is occupied by the unrelated South Halmahera languages, which are a subgroup of Austronesian.

The North Halmahera languages are classified by some to be part of a larger West Papuan family, along with the languages of the Bird's Head region of Western New Guinea,[2] while others consider North Halmahera to form a distinct language family, with no demonstrable relationship outside the region.[3] It is suggested that these languages may have been brought to the region by migrants from New Guinea.[2] The languages of North Halmahera appear to have the closest affinity with the languages of the Bird's Head, which suggests a migration from the western Bird's Head to northern Halmahera.[4]

The best known North Halmaheran language is Ternate (50 000 native speakers), which is a regional lingua franca and which, along with Tidore, were the languages of the rival medieval Ternate and Tidore sultanates, famous for their role in the spice trade.


The family is dialectally heterogeneous, with blurry lines between different languages. While different authors tend to disagree on the number of distinct languages identified,[5] there is general accord regarding the internal subgrouping of the family.[6]

The classification used here is that of Voorhoeve 1988.[7]

 Core Halmaheran 


Sahu: Sahu, Waioli, Gamkonora

Galela-Tobelo (Northeast Halmaheran): Tobelo, Galela-Loloda, Modole, Pagu, Tabaru

West Makian

West Makian is divergent due to heavy Austronesian influence. It was once classified as an Austronesian language.[8] It should be distinguished from East Makian (Taba), an unrelated Austronesian language.[6]

There is a degree of mutual intelligibility between the Galela-Tobelo languages, and Voorhoeve 1988 considered them dialects of a language he called Northeast Halmaheran, though most speakers consider them to be distinct languages. Ethnologue adds Kao, which it classifies as Sahu but notes may be a marginal dialect of Pagu.

Ternate and Tidore are generally treated as separate languages, though there is little Abstand involved, and the separation appears to be based on sociopolitical grounds.[5] Voorhoeve groups these idioms together as varieties of a unitary "Ternate-Tidore" language,[6] while Miriam van Staden classifies them as distinct languages,[6] and so does Ethnologue.[5]


Proto-North Halmahera consonants are (after Voorhoeve 1994: 68, cited in Holton and Klamer 2018: 584):[9]

p t k q
b d ? g
m n ?
f s h
l (r)

Proto-North Halmahera is notable for having the voiced retroflex stop *?, as retroflex consonants are often not found in Papuan languages.

The following proto-North Halmahera reconstructions are listed in Holton and Kramer (2018: 620-621).[9] Most of the forms in Holton and Kramer are derived from Wada (1980).[10]

proto-North Halmahera reconstructions (Holton & Kramer 2018)
gloss proto-North Halmahera
'back' *?u?un
'bad' *torou
'bark' *kahi
'big' *lamok
'bite' *goli
'black' *tarom
'blood' *aun
'blow' *hoa
'blue' *bisi
'boil' *sakahi
'bone' *kobo?
'brother' *hira?
'burn' *so(?a)ra
'child' *?opak
'cloud' *lobi
'cold' (1) *alo
'cold' (2) *malat
'come' *bola
'count' *eto?
'cry' *ores
'cut' *luit
'dance' *selo
'die' *sone?
'dig' *puait
'dirty' *pepeke
'dog' *kaso
'dull' *bo?o
'ear' *?auk
'earth' *tonak
'eat' *o?om
'egg' *boro
'eight' *tupaa?e
'eye' *lako
'fall' *?ota
'far' *kurut
'fat, grease' *saki
'father' *baba
'fear' *mo?o?
'feather' *gogo
'female' *?ope?eka
'few' *ucu
'fight' *ku?ubu
'fire' *uku
'fish' *nawok
'five' *motoha
'float' *bawo
'flow' *uhis
'flower' *leru
'fly' *sosor
'fog' *rasa
'four' *ihat
'fruit' *sopok
'give' *hike
'good' *loha
'grass' *?a?aru
'green' *ijo
'guts' *toto
'hair' *hutu
'hand' *giam
'head' *sahek
'hear' *isen
'heart' *sini?a
'heavy' *tubuso
'hit' *?apo
'horn' *ta?u
'hot' *sahuk
'husband' *rokat
'kill' *tooma
'knee' *puku
'know' *nako
'lake' *talaga
'laugh' *?ohe
'leaf' *soka
'left' *gubali
'leg/foot' *?ohu
'lie' *?a?u
'live' *oho
'liver' *gate
'long' (1) *kurut
'long' (2) *teka
'louse/flea' *gani
'male' *naur
'many' *?ala
'meat' *lake
'moon' *?oosa
'mother' *awa
'mountain' *tala
'mouth' *uru
'nail' *gitipir
'name' *ro?a
'narrow' *peneto
'near' *?umu
'neck' *toko
'new' *momuane
'night' *putu
'nine' *siwo
'nose' *?unu?
'old' *?owo
'one' *moi
'person' *?awa
'pierce' *topok
'pull' *lia
'push' *hito(si)
'rain' *muura
'red' *sawala
'right' *girinak
'river' *selera
'roast' *tupu
'root' *?utuk
'rope' *gumin
'rotten' *baka
'round' *pululun
'rub' *ese
'salt' *gasi
'sand' *?owo?i
'say' *temo
'scratch' *rago
'sea' *?olot
'see' *kelelo
'seed' *gisisi
'seven' *tumu?i?i
'sew' *urit
'sharp' *?oto
'shoot' *?upu
'short' *timisi
'sing' *?a?i
'sister' *bira?
'sit' *tamie
'six' *buta?a
'skin' *kahi
'sky' *?ipa?
'sleep' *kiolok
'small' *ece
'smell' *hame
'smoke' *?opo
'smooth' *maahi
'snake' *?ihia
'speak' *bicara
'spear' *kamanu
'spit' *hobir
'split' *raca
'stand' *oko
'star' *?oma
'stone' *teto
'straight' *bolowo
'suck' *suyu
'swell' *?obo
'swim' *tobo?
'tail' *pego
'take, hold' *aho
'ten' *mogiowok
'thick' *kipirin
'thin' *hina
'think' *fikiri < Arabic
'three' *saa?e
'throw' *sariwi
'tie' *piriku
'to dry' *?u?u?
'tongue' *akir
'tooth' *i?ir
'tree' *gota
'true' *tero
'twenty' *monohalok
'two' *sinoto
'vomit' *?una?
'walk' *tagi
'warm' *sakuk
'wash' *boka
'water' *aker
'way' *?ekom
'wet' *pesa
'white' *ares
'wide' *?ohat
'wife' *pe?akat
'wind' *paro
'wing' *golipupu
'wipe' *piki
'woods' *po?an
'worm' *kalubati
'young' *kiau


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "North Halmahera". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ a b Blench, Roger; Spriggs, Matthew (1998), Archaeology and Language: Correlating archaeological and linguistic hypotheses, Psychology Press, p. 136, ISBN 9780415117616
  3. ^ Enfield, Nick; Comrie, Bernard (2015), Languages of Mainland Southeast Asia: The State of the Art, Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG, p. 269, ISBN 9781501501685
  4. ^ Foley, William (2000), "The Languages of New Guinea", Annual Review of Anthropology, 29, JSTOR 223425
  5. ^ a b c Bowden, John, Emic and etic classifications of languages in the North Maluku region (PDF), Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
  6. ^ a b c d Palmer, Bill (2017), The Languages and Linguistics of the New Guinea Area: A Comprehensive Guide, Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG, p. 577, ISBN 9783110295252
  7. ^ Voorhoeve, C.L. 1988. The languages of the northern Halmaheran stock. Papers in New Guinea Linguistics, no. 26., 181-209. (Pacific Linguistics A-76). Canberra: Australian National University.
  8. ^ Voorhoeve, Clemens L. (1982), "The West Makian language, North Moluccas, Indonesia: a fieldwork report", in Voorhoeve, Clemens L. (ed.), The Makian Languages and Their Neighbours (PDF), Materials in languages of Indonesia, 12, Pacific Linguistics, p. 46
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Wada, Yuiti. "1980 Correspondence of consonants in North Halmahera languages and the conservation of archaic sounds in Galela.". In Ishige, Naomichi (ed.). The Galela of Halmahera: A Preliminary Survey. Osaka: Museum of Ethnology. pp. 497-527.

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