Helong is a small endangered language from the Austronesian language family. It is spoken in the vicinity of Kupang, which is the provincial capital of Nusa Tenggara Timur province in Indonesia.

Indonesia showing Kupang

According to the very useful little book on the languages of Nusa Tenggara produced by Chuck Grimes and others, there are a total of 14,000 people in the Helong ethnic group. The number of active speakers of Helong is quite a bit less than 14,000 though because many of the people who identify ethnically as Helong don’t speak the language. The former raja of Helong used to be located in what is now Kupang city, and the city’s spread has led to Kupang Malay taking over as the main language in many areas where Helong used to be spoken. <continued…>

The Kupang region from space

Kupang is the provincial capital of Nusa Tenggara Timor province and it has become a major urban centre. Helong is not just spoken on the mainland of Timor though. On nearby Semau island, language use is much more vibrant than it is on the Timor mainland. The mainland Bolok and Funai dialects are in much more trouble than Semau. Funai has hardly any young speakers at all.

The Helong documentation project comes at a critical time for the language. At least Semau is still strong right now, and we might be able to learn some onteresting things about the course of possible language obsolescence by making detailed comparisons between the different dialects. I’ll say more about plans for the documentation project in later posts.

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