Languages of South Sulawesi

Sulsel linguistic map [Converted]

Stephen Druce

The languages spoken in South Sulawesi belong to one of four stocks of the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family; namely, the South Sulawesi stock, the Central Sulawesi stock, the Muna-Buton stock and the Sama-Bajaw stock. Speakers of Muna-Buton stock languages inhabit the area of Wotu in kabupaten (regency) Luwu Utara, the southern tip of Selayar island and the small islands of Kalao, Bonerate, Kalaotoa and Karompa, all of which are located to the southeast of Selayar. Speakers of Central Sulawesi stock languages inhabit the northern half of kabupaten Mamuju and the northern and eastern parts of Luwu Utara. Sama-Bajaw speakers are scattered in a few coastal areas of kabupaten Bone, the Gulf of Bone, and around the islands of Selayar and kabupaten Pangkep. Here I will focus only on those languages that make up the South Sulawesi language group, which are spoken by the vast majority of the province’s inhabitants.

Grimes and Grimes (1987) tentatively identified about 20 distinct languages of the South Sulawesi stock, which they placed into 10 related family or subfamily groupings. Friberg and Laskowske (1989) revised this identification to 28 distinct languages within 8 family or subfamily groupings. A further revision by Grimes (2000) now identifies 29 distinct languages within 8 family or subfamily groupings.

(1) The Bugis family, which consists of two languages: Bugis (3,500,000 speakers) and Campalagian (30,000 speakers)

(2) The Lemolang language (2,000 speakers)

(3) The Makasar family, which consists of five languages: Bentong (25,000 speakers), Coastal Konjo (125,000 speakers), Highland Konjo (150,000 speakers), Makasar (1,600,000 speakers) and Selayar (90,000 speakers)

(4) The Northern South Sulawesi family, which consists of two languages, Mandar (200,000 speakers) and Mamuju (60,000 speakers), and three subfamilies (below, 5, 6 & 7

(5) The Massenrempulu subfamily, which consists of four languages: Duri (95,000 speakers), Enrekang (50,000 speakers), Maiwa (50,000 speakers) and Malimpung (5,000 speakers)

(6) The Pitu Ulunna Salu subfamily, which consists of five languages: Aralle-Tabulahan (12,000 speakers), Bambam (22,000 speakers), Dakka (1,500 speakers), Pannei (9,000 speakers) and Ulumandaq (30,000 speakers)

(7) The Toraja-Saddan subfamily, which consists of six languages: Kalumpang (12,000 speakers), Mamasa (100,000 speakers), Taeq (250,000 speakers), Talondoq (500  speakers), Toalaq (30,000 speakers) and Toraja-Saddan (500,000 speakers)

(8) The Seko family, which consists of four languages: Budong-Budong (70 speakers) Panasuan (900 speakers), Seko-Padang (5,000 speakers) and Seko-Tengah (2,500 speakers)

The most divergent of the South Sulawesi languages are those that make up the Makasar family, sharing an average of just 43% lexical similarity with the other members of the South Sulawesi stock (Grimes and Grimes 1987:25).  Earlier linguistic work by Mills (1975:491) also shows Makasar languages to be the most distinct of the South Sulawesi languages. Both Mills (Mills 1975:503-4) and Grimes and Grimes (1987:25) conclude that Makasar was the first language to break off from the Proto South Sulawesi language. At the same time, there is also significant divergence within the Makasar family itself: the Makasar language shares 75 per cent, 76 per cent and 69 per cent lexical similarities with Highland Konjo, Coastal Konjo and Selayar respectively (Grimes 2000).

Of the remaining language families, the Northern South Sulawesi family is of particular interest because of the large number of languages that make up this family. The 17 languages have lexical similarities with one another ranging from 52% to 72%. The Bugis family shares a relatively high percentage of lexicostatistical similarities with the Northern South Sulawesi family languages, averaging over 52%. By comparison, the average shared lexical similarity between the two languages that make up the Bugis family and the four languages that make up the Makasar family is just 45% (Grimes and Grimes 1987:23).


Druce S.C. 2009. The lands west of the lakes: A history of the Ajattappareng kingdoms of South Sulawesi, 1200 to 1600 CE. Leiden: KITLV Press.

Grimes B.F. (ed.) 2000. Ethnologue: Languages of the world (fourteenth edition: CD-ROM). SIL International.

Grimes, C. E. and B. E. Grimes. 1987. Languages of South Sulawesi. Canberra: Department of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University.

Friberg, T. and T.V. Laskowske. 1989. South Sulawesi languages. In: J.N. Sneddon (ed.), Studies in Sulawesi linguistics part 1. Jakarta: Badan Penyelenggara Seri Nusa.

Mills, R.F. 1975. Proto South Sulawesi and Proto Austronesian phonology. PhD thesis, University of Michigan.

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