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A Grammar of Balantak: A Language of Eastern Sulawesi

While endangerment is a growing concern for the world’s minority languages, the authors of A Grammar of Balantak observe a healthy level of language vitality. The next generation is actively learning and using Balantak.


There is something very special about learning an unwritten language, connecting unfamiliar sounds with familiar meanings, delving into the complexities of verbal morphology, prying into the meaning of elusive particles and realizing that behind the abundance of sounds and words there is a system, that there are balanced structures, fixed patterns and tight associations of sound and meaning which allow people to communicate. It has given us great satisfaction to formulate these structures and through well-chosen examples open a window on the language and culture of the Balantak people.

- From the preface to A Grammar of Balantak

(October 2012) In cooperation with members of the local community, two SIL linguists have completed a new work entitled A Grammar of Balantak: A Language of Eastern Sulawesi. This is the first comprehensive description of the grammar of Balantak, one of Indonesia’s 719 living languages, which is spoken by thirty thousand people on the island of Sulawesi.

Co-authors Dr. René van den Berg and Robert Busenitz bring many years of experience to this project. Van den Berg is a senior linguistics consultant whose research focus is the Austronesian languages of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. His 1989 PhD dissertation described the grammatical features of Muna, a related language also spoken in Sulawesi. Busenitz has been involved with language development in the Balantak community for over thirty years. He and his family lived in a Balantak village from 1981 to 1992. They have remained in close contact with the community and have continued to make frequent visits.

Van den Berg and Busenitz allow the patterns of Balantak to inform the analysis by taking a structural and theory-neutral approach towards the language. With its description of many unique characteristics of the language, A Grammar of Balantak will be of interest to both Austronesianists and linguists researching language universals. Particularly interesting features of Balantak include:

In addition to a thorough coverage of the language’s syntax, the book also includes a selection of photos featuring aspects of local community life and six interlinearized texts: two first-person narratives describing contemporary events, two traditional stories, one procedural text on the making of coconut oil and an expository text describing the community’s traditional belief system.

A Grammar of Balantak is available for download as a free SIL e-Book for personal use and study.


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