Hawu language

Not to be confused with Havu language or Habu language.
Pronunciation [ˈhavu]
Native to Indonesia
Region Lesser Sunda Islands
Native speakers
110,000 (1997)[1]
  • Seba (Həɓa)
  • Timu (Dimu)
  • Liae
  • Mesara (Mehara)
  • Raijua (Raidjua)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 hvn
Glottolog sabu1255[2]

The Hawu AKA Havu language, historically Sawu and known to outsiders as Savu or Sabu (thus Havunese, Savunese, Sawunese), is the language of Savu Island in Indonesia and of Raijua Island off the western tip of Savu. Traditionally classified as a Sumba language in the Austronesian family, it may actually be a non-Austronesian (Papuan) language. (See Savu languages for details.) Dhao, once considered a dialect, is not mutually intelligible with Hawu.


Seba dialect is dominant, covering most of Savu Island and the main city of Seba. Timu is spoken on the eastern, Mesara on the western, and Liae on the southern tip of the island. Raijua is spoken on the island of the same name (Rai Jua 'Jua Island') just off-shore to the west.


Hawu shares implosive (or perhaps pre-glottalized) consonants with the Bima–Sumba languages and languages of Flores and Sulawesi, such Wolio.

Hawu *s, attested during the Portuguese colonial era, has shifted to /h/, a change that has not happened in Dhao. The Hawu consonant inventory is smaller than Dhao:

pt kʔ
v~β h
l, r(j)

Consonants of the /n/ column are apical, those of the /ɲ/ column laminal. The implosives are written b', d', j', g'. w is pronounced [v] or [β]. A wye sound /j/ (written y) is found at the beginning of some words in Seba dialect where Dimu and Raijua dialects have /ʄ/.

Vowels are /i u e ə o a/, with /ə/ written è. Phonetic long vowels and diphthongs are vowel sequences. The penultimate syllable/vowel is stressed. (Every vowel constitutes a syllable.) A stressed schwa lengthens the following consonant:

/ŋa/ [ŋa] 'with', /niŋaa/ [niˈŋaː] 'what?', /ŋaʔa/ [ˈŋaʔa] 'eat, food', /ŋali/ [ˈŋali] 'senile', /ŋəlu/ [ˈŋəlːu] 'wind'.

Syllables are consonant-vowel or vowel-only.


Hawu appears to be an ergative–absolutive language with ergative preposition ri (Seba dialect), ro (Dimu), or la (Raijua). Clauses are verb-initial, with intransitive VS and transitive VOA. Within noun phrases, modifiers usually follow the noun, though there are some possibly lexicalized exceptions, such as ae dəu 'many people' (compare Dhao ɖʐəu ae 'people many').

The number of the object of transitive clauses is marked on the verb with a singular suffix -e that replaces the final vowel of the verb, as in ɓudʒu 'touch them', ɓudʒe 'touch it'.[3] Apart from this, and unlike in Dhao, all pronominal reference uses independent pronouns. These are:

I Seba: jaa
Dimu: ʄaa
Raijua: ʄaa, dʒoo
we (incl) dii
we (excl) ʄii
thou əu, au, ou y'all muu
s/he noo they roo
Raijua: naa

The demonstratives are complex and poorly understood. There may be number (see Walker 1982), but it is not confirmed by Grimes.

just this ɗii
this nee
the əne, ne
that nəi
yon nii

These can be made locative (here, now, there, then, yonder) by preceding the n forms with na; the neutral form na əne optionally contracting to nəne. 'Like this/that' is marked with mi or mi na, with the n becoming h and the neutral əne form appearing irregularly as mi (na) həre.

Sample clauses (Grimes 2006). (Compare the Dhao equivalents at Dhao language#Grammar.)

ta nəru ke Simo oro ŋidi dahi.
'Simo was walking along the edge of the sea.'
ta nəru ke roo teruu la Həɓa.
'They kept walking to Seba.'
ta la əte ke ri roo ne kətu noo.
NPST?go cut.off (?) ERGtheytheheadhe/his
'They went and cut off his head.'
tapulara pe-made noo ri roo.
'But they killed him.'
ki made ama noo,
if/when die fatherhe/his
'When his father dies,'
ɗai təra noo ne rui.
very much he the strong
'He was incredibly strong.'


  1. Hawu at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Sabu". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. This is mostly regular, but in əCu and iCu verbs the final vowel becomes singular o, as in bəlu, bəlo 'to forget', and in iCa the i changes to e, as in liba, lebe 'to sow'.


Further reading

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