Ambonese Malay

Ambonese Malay
Region Moluccas
Native speakers
(250,000 cited 1987)[1]
1.4 million L2 speakers
Malay creole
  • East Indonesian

    • Ambonese Malay
Dialects Papuan Malay?
Language codes
ISO 639-3 abs
Glottolog ambo1250[2]

Ambonese Malay is a Malay creole that has been apparent since the 17th century. It was first brought by traders from Western Indonesia, then developed when the Dutch Empire colonized the Maluku Islands. This was the first example of the transliteration of Malay into Roman script, and used as a tool of the missionaries in Eastern Indonesia. Malay has been taught in schools and churches in Ambon, and because of this, has become a lingua franca in Ambon and its surroundings.

Christian speakers use Ambonese Malay as their mother tongue, while Muslims speak it as second language as they have their own language. Muslims in Ambon island particularly live in several areas in Municipality of Ambon, dominant in Salahutu and Leihitu Peninsula. While in the Lease (/leɪ-a-seɪ/) islands, Christian Ambonese-speaking community is dominant in part of Haruku, Saparua and Nusa Laut islands. Ambonese Malay Creole has also become lingua franca in Buru, Seram, Geser-Gorom and south-western Maluku Islands, though with different accents.

Ambonese Malay is based on Malay with a great influences from both European languages (Dutch and Portuguese) as well as the vocabularies or grammatical structures of indigenous languages. It is famous for its melodious accent. Muslims and Christian speakers tend to make different choices in vocabulary. Papuan Malay, a Malay creole spoken on the Indonesian part of Papua is said to be derived from Ambon Malay or Manado Malay or a mixture of both.

Examples :

Ambonese word samples


Pronouns and Person Markers

In Ambonese Malay, personal pronouns typically have a full form, as well as another one or more shortened and/or variant forms.[3] The pronouns vary in terms of number, that is singular and plural, as well as clusivity, such as exclusive forms, i.e. forms that exclude the addressee, and inclusive forms, i.e. forms that include the addressee. Such distinction is relatively typical of Austronesian languages. The following table provides a summary of all the pronouns found in Malay Ambon:

Personal Pronouns [3]

Person Clusivity Singular Plural
Full (and Variant) Form Short Form Full (and Variant) Form Short Form
1st Person Exclusive Beta bet; be Bat'ong (dialectical form recorded at Booi, Saparua Island)
Inclusive Kat'ong tong
2nd Person Ose


os; se


Dorang dong
3rd Person

3rd Person Neuter


Ontua; Ongtua; Antua; Angtua Akang

di; de

ont'o; ant'u; ant'o kang; ang

Dorang dong


A number of observations can be made from the pronouns of Ambonese Malay, which demonstrate etymology of certain pronouns:

1) There is a number of pronouns that are historically compounded. They are:

Derives from beta 'I (1SG) + orang 'people; man' [3]

Derives from *kita 'we (1PL) + orang 'people; man' [3]

Derives from dia 'he; she; it (3SG) + orang 'people; man' [3]

2) The 2nd Person singular form ose is derived from Portuguese pronoun voce, meaning 'you; thou'.[3]

3) The 2nd Person singular form ale is derived from a native language.[3]


Similarly to other Austronesian languages, such as Malay and Indonesian, the 2nd person singular and one of the 3rd person singular pronouns in Ambonese Malay vary in their degree of politeness. They are summarised in the following table:[3]

Person Politeness Marking Full Singular Form Short Singular Form
2nd Markedly impolite

Used in familiar and intimate relationships and when no outspoken respect needs to be expressed

Expresses intimacy. Used among peers, or to people of lower status






3rd Markedly polite. used by people of younger age to refer to adults, and by adults to refer to people of equal or higher social rank Ontua; ongtua; antua; angtua

It is also important to note that although in Malay Ambon the 1st person singular form Beta, is the standard form, in Classical Malay, it is used only by royal persons speaking to equals of rank.[3]

Syntactic Positions

As previously mentioned, Malay Ambon pronouns consist of a full and one or more variant form. Full forms occur in every syntactic position, variant form have a more restricted distribution and may be functionally different.[3] The following table summarises the set of full personal pronouns plus (in brackets) their variant forms according to context and syntactic function:

Personal Pronouns and their Syntactic Function [3]

Person One-word Sentence Subject Object (of verb or prep.)
1S beta beta (bet; be) beta
2S ose (os; se)


ose (os; se)

ale (al)

ose (os; se)





antua (etc.) ontua (etc.)

dia (di; de)

antua (etc.) ontua (etc.) akang


antua (etc.) ontua (etc.) akang (kang; ang)

1P kat'ong kat'ong (tong) kat'ong
2P dorang (dong) dorang (dong) dorang (dong)
3P dorang (dong) dorang (dong) dorang (dong)

From this table it follows that two factors determine whether a personal pronoun can be shortened: syntactic construction and syntactic position:

These facts show that se, os 'you', dong 'you', ont'o, ant'o, ant'u 'he; she' and dong 'they' have developed into doublets which are functionally (but not semantically) on a par with their full forms, while other short forms (bet, al, kang, ang) are phonological variants with a more restricted distribution.[3]

It is also important to note a number of syntactic variations within the functions of personal pronouns in Malay Ambon:

1) The 3rd person single dia 's/he; it' can be shortened to di or de when it is in Subject position, or when it is head of a Noun Phrase (NP) in object position.[3]

2) The 3rd person single antua (and angtua, ontua, ongtua) is also a modifier of head nominals in a phrase, thereby adding an aspect of deference. It adds a feature respect.[3]


   (1) Ant'o Onggo
        3S O.
        Mr. Onggo [3]
   (2) Antua parangpuan sana tu
        3S woman yonder that
        the woman overthere [3]

3) The third form, akang, is a neater pronoun 'it', which also functions as a determiner. This form links up with the demonstratives ini and itu for deictic reference: it occurs as a single attribute before nouns, and in combination with postnominal tu.


   (1) Akang barang tu
        3Sn things that
        those goods [3]
   (2) Akang gunting di mana?
        3Sn scissors where
        Where are the scissors? [3]

4) The short form of dorang, which is dong, also functions as a modifier in NPs to create collective plurals.[3]


   (1) mama dong
        mother 3P
        mother and the others (i.e. the children, her family, friends, etc.)[3]
   (2) Okto dong
         O. 3P
         Okto and people who are like him [3]

   (3) Anis dong
        A. 3P 
        Anis and his friends [3]


Reduplication with personal pronouns is not frequent. The following examples denote a concept 'referent of pronoun plus persons who are alike':[3]


   (1) De seng datang lia kat'ong-kat'ong
        3S not come see Red#1P
        He doesn't come to visit people like us [3]
   (2) Macang ose-ose bagini seng bisa dapa akang
         kind Red#2S like this not can get 3Sn
         People like you now can't get it [3]


  1. Ambonese Malay at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Ambonese Malay". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 Minde, D. (1997). Malayu Ambong (p. 68). Leiden, the Netherlands: Research School CNWS


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