Vanishing Languages of Maluku: Local Dialects Facing Extinction

Lapangan Merdeka, Jalan Slamet Riyadi, Uritetu, Kota Ambon, Maluku, Indonesia (photo: Jody A. Khomaro - Unsplash)

Indonesia is well-known for its linguistic diversity, particularly in the eastern part of the country. However, the sad reality is that at least five out of the 62 regional languages documented in the Maluku province are now extinct or endangered due to a lack of speakers. This was revealed by Sahril, the Head of the Maluku Language Office.

Sahril mentioned that the extinct Maluku regional languages include Kayeli and Masareta from Buru, Lun and Nila from Central Maluku, and Piru from West Seram.

Although there are still indigenous people living in the Teon Nila Sarua sub-district of Central Maluku, the Nila language originating from that area is no longer widely used.

Sahril explained that the Nila community has dispersed to various areas and now uses the language spoken in their new place of residence. As a result, the number of Nila language speakers has continued to decline.

Regarding the extinct Kayeli and Masareta languages, Sahril mentioned that although there are no longer any speakers, they have been documented in the form of vocabulary dictionaries.

According to Sahril, based on UNESCO’s standards, languages with less than one million speakers are classified as endangered or extinct.

Therefore, most of the regional languages in the province, with a population of less than two million, are at risk of becoming extinct.

“Maluku Malay language currently has one million speakers, which causes other regional languages to become almost extinct,” said Sahril.

He explained that Indonesian and Maluku Malay are now more commonly used than the native regional languages in everyday communication, even within families.

Therefore, the Maluku Language Office is gradually working to revitalize the endangered regional languages in the region.

In 2022, the office aimed to revitalize three regional languages, namely Kei language from Southeast Maluku Regency, Buru language from Buru Regency, and Yamdena language from Tanimbar Islands Regency.

This effort will continue in 2023, with the addition of Seram language from East Seram Regency and Tarangan language from Aru Islands Regency as targets for the regional language revitalization program.