Nias language

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Li Niha
Native to Indonesia
Region Nias and Batu Islands, North Sumatra
Native speakers
770,000 (2000 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-2 nia
ISO 639-3 nia
Glottolog nias1242[2]
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The Nias language is an Austronesian language spoken on Nias Island and the Batu Islands off the west coast of Sumatra in Indonesia. It is known as Li Niha by its native speakers. It belongs to the Northwest Sumatran subgroup which also includes Mentawai and the Batak languages.[3] It had about 770,000 speakers in 2000.[3] There are three main dialects: northern, central and southern.[4]


The following dialects are distinguished in Ethnologue.

  • North dialect (particularly the Gunungsitoli variety)
  • South dialect (particularly the Teluk Dalam variety)
  • Northwest dialect: Alasa area, west in Sirombu and Mandrehe areas
  • Central dialect: Gomo area, south Teluk Dalam and Batu Islands.


The southern dialect of Nias has the following phonemes:[5]

  Front Сentral Back
Close i u
Mid e ⟨ö⟩ ɤ o
Open a
  Labial Dental/
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n        
Stop    b t
⟨ndr⟩ [dʳ]
⟨c⟩ [tʃ]
⟨z⟩ [dʒ]
⟨'⟩ [ʔ]
Fricative ɸ
s     ⟨kh⟩ [x] h
Approximant ⟨ß⟩ [ʋ] l   ⟨y⟩ [j] w  
Trills ⟨mb⟩ [ʙ] r        

The status of initial [ʔ] is not determined; there are no phonetic vowel-initial words in Nias. Northern Nias has /ŋ/ but not /c/; in addition, /z/ is pronounced [z].


Nias has an ergative–absolutive alignment.[5] Unusually, it appears to be the absolutive (mutated) case which is marked, against the near-universal tendency to mark the ergative.[6]

There are no adjectives in Nias, with that function taken by verbs.[5]

Nias shows consonant mutation at the beginning of nouns and some other classes of words to show grammatical case. Several consonants are subject to mutation as shown in the table below. Where a word begins in a vowel, either n or g is added before the vowel; the choice of n or g is lexically conditioned. (For example, öri ~ nöri is 'village federation', öri ~ göri is 'bracelet'.)[5]

Initial mutations
Base form Mutated form
f v
t d
s z
k g
b mb
d ndr
vowel n + vowel
g + vowel

Other consonants do not change.

The unmutated form is used in citation. The mutated form only occurs on the first noun in a noun phrase (that is, not after a conjunction like 'and'). It is used for:

  • absolutive case (with a transitive verb, only in a main clause; with an intransitive verb, also in dependent clauses)
  • possessor (nouns only; pronouns take a genitive case)
  • object of most prepositions (pronouns take the genitive)
  • both arguments of some experiencer verbs, such as:
a-ta'u mba'e nono
stative-fear monkey.ABS child.ABS
'The monkey is afraid of the child'

Besides being the citation form, the unmutated form is used for:

  • ergative case
  • both arguments (A and P) in a dependent transitive clause
  • predicate nominal (with a copula)
  • with löna 'to not exist'
  • after some prepositions (such as faoma 'with (instrumental)')
  • topic


  1. Nias at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Nias". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Lewis, M. Paul (ed.), 2009. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. Online version:
  4. Brown, Lea (1997) Nominal Mutation in Nias. In: Odé, Cecilia & Wim Stokhof (1997) Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics, Rodopi, Amsterdam. ISBN 90-420-0253-0.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Brown, Lea (2005) Nias. In: Adelaar, Alexander & Nikolaus P. Himmelmann (eds.) (2005) The Austronesian Languages of Asia and Madagascar, Routledge, Abingdon. ISBN 0-7007-1286-0.
  6. Donohue, Mark (2008). "Semantic alignment systems: what's what, and what's not". In Donohue, Mark & Søren Wichmann, eds. (2008). The Typology of Semantic Alignment. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 27

External links