Indonesian Languages

Map of Indonesia

While the exact number is disputed, there are over 700 language spoken in Indonesia. Most of these are considered endangered to varying degrees. That is, they are falling out of use, and with that lack of use they become forgotten and die. When a language dies, cultural-specific knowledge is also often lost. The reasons for language endangerment vary from community to community, but there are some commonalities, such as government and education policies, employment pressures, and prestige issues around the idea of being 'modern'.

I have had the privilege of working with three communities in the Province of East Nusa Tenggara on their endangered languages, namely Keo, Klon and Kafoa.  

A Language Map Showing Keo, Klon, and Kafoa locations


Keo (also known as Bahasa Ma'u, or Nagekeo) (ISO 639-3 code: xxk / Glottocode: keoo1238) is spoken on the south coast of the island of central Flores. It's one of at least 17 languages spoken on the island. It's an Austronesian language, so is related to many of the other languages spoken in Indonesia, including the Javanese and Balinese languages spoken in the more populous part of the country. At the turn of the century it had around 40,000 speakers.

The last time I visited Flores in 2016 I didn't observe anyone over the age of about 30 years old speaking a local language in the main towns I visited (Maumere, Ende, Bajawa, Ruteng, Labuan Bajo) or villages that are centres for tourism (eg. Moni) or local government, local transport and markets (eg. Nangaroro, Boawae). Happily, however, in the more remote villages, such as Udiworowatu, where I conducted my PhD research, Keo was still being learnt by children.

Maundai Beach

You can find the language corpora I collected on Keo at: http://catalog.paradisec.org.au/collections/LRB1
My PhD dissertation was titled: A Grammar of Keo: An Austronesian Language of East Indonesia.
Other books, book chapters and journal articles I've written about Keo include:
  1. Baird, Louise & Philipus Tule. 2003. Ceritera Rakyat Keo [Keo Folk Stories]. Nusa Indah Press.
  2. Baird, Louise. 2008. 'Motion Serialisation in Keo'. In Senft, Gunter (Ed.). Serial Verb Constructions in Austronesian and Papuan Languages. Pacific Linguistics: Canberra. 55-74.
  3. Baird, Louise. 2002. 'Keo: Illustrations fo the IPA.' Journal of the International Phonetics Association. 32:1. 93-97.
  4. Baird, Louise. 2001. 'Numerals and Classifiers in Keo.' Linguistika.
    14. 1-22.


Klon (also spelt Kelon) (ISO 639-3 code: kyo / Glottocode: kelo1247) is spoken in the mountains in the western part of the island of Alor. It's one of about 20 languages spoken in the Alor archipelago. It's a Papuan (or Non-Austronesian) language, so is related to languages on the island of Papua, rather than other languages spoken in the western part of Indonesia, such as Javanese and Balinese. Earlier this century there were around 5000-6000 people who identified as belonging to the Klon ethnic group. This was split into about 3000 people who identified as being Klon Bring, and 2000-3000 people who identified as being Klon Paneia. Each sub-group of the Klon speak a different dialect of the Klon language. The dialect that I primarily worked on was Klon Bring. When I was conducting research on the Klon language, there were already many children under the age of about 12 that were being brought up solely speaking Alor Malay and/or Indonesian.

  • Walking through Klon gardens

    You can find the language corpora I collected for Klon at:
    A book, book chapter, and journal article written on Klon are:
  • Baird, Louise. 2008. A Grammar of Klon: A Non-Austronesian Language of Alor. Pacific Linguistics: Canberra.
  • Baird, Louise. 2010. 'Grammaticalisation of Asymmetrical SVCs in Klon.' In Ewing, Michael & Marian Klamer (Eds.). Typological and Areal Analysis: Contributions from East Nusantara. Pacific Linguistics: Canberra. 185-202.
  • Baird, Louise. 2005. 'Doing the Split-S in Klon.' In Doetjes, Jenny and Jeroen van de Weijer (Eds.). Linguistics in the Netherlands 2005. AVT Publications. John Benjamins Publishing Company: Amsterdam / Philadelphia. 1-12.


Kafoa (ISO 639-3 code: kpu / Glottocode: kafo1240) is spoken in a single hamlet in the mountains of west Alor. Like Klon, it's one of about 20 languages spoken in the Alor archipelago. Also like Klon it is a Papuan (or Non-Austronesian) language. In 2004 600 people identified as being of the Kafoa ethnic group and speaking Kafoa.

Historically, Alor saw a lot of head-hunting. I was told that the Kafoa were often the victims of head-hunting raids. Therefore, their 12 clans split and lived on other people's lands up until they were reunited and assigned their own village by the Indonesian government 1961. Perhaps because of their history, at the time I worked with the community, they had a strong sense of identity, which included maintaining use of their language, as well as speaking other local languages and Alor Malay and/or Indonesian.

View from Kafoa lands

You can find the language corpora I collected for Kafoa at:
I have written a sketch grammar for Kafoa:
Baird, Louise. 2017. 'Kafoa'. In Schapper, Antoinette (Ed.). Papuan Languages of Timor-Alor-Pantar: Sketch Grammars. Vol 2. Pacific Linguistics Series 655 De Gruyter Mouton. 55-108.

Dhawura nguna dhawura Ngunnawal. I acknowledge I live and work on Ngunnawal country. I pay respect to the country, culture, language and people, especially the Ngunnawal Elders. I would also like to extend my respect to the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which you live, wherever you may be in the world.