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This squib presents a short description of the pronominal systems of Mongondow-Gorontalo languages, several of which include count forms that do not seem to be limited in terms of numerical value. Two of these languages have also replaced the historical plural pronouns with forms explicitly marked as trials. Such systems have not been found in any other Philippine or Philippine-type language, and are only otherwise known to exist in some of the languages of western and central Borneo and in some Oceanic languages.

1. Introduction.1

In Blust’s 2009 overview of the approximately 1,200-member Austronesian (An) family, he mentions that, outside of the Oceanic subgroup, “the only other An languages known to recognize more than a singular/plural pronominal number distinction are found in central and western Borneo” (2009:307), giving examples of languages that have duals, trials, and in one case, quadral forms, in addition to plurals. Another Bornean language, Mukah Melanau, has even replaced the historical plurals with forms clearly marked morphologically as trial in number. Some of the Mongondow-Gorontalo languages of northern Sulawesi (see map 1) also have pronominal systems that exhibit curiously similar behavior, as will be illustrated in the following discussion. Note that given the geographic and genetic distance between western Borneo, northern Sulawesi, and Oceania, there can be little doubt that these systems developed independently in each area. Furthermore, even within the Mongondow-Gorontalo subgroup, the number categories represented differ from language to language, as illustrated in table 1. Each language will be discussed individually below.

2. Mongondow, Ponosakan, and Lolak

Among the Mongondow-Gorontalo languages, Mongondow and Lolak have the most complex system of pronominal number, including singular, dual, trial, count (four or more), and plural forms, [End Page 543] as illustrated in table 2.2 The dual and trial forms in Mongondow and Lolak differ from the count forms because of the presence of a frozen ligature *-n- not otherwise found in these languages (cf. table 3), and the dual forms use a base for ‘two’ different from the standalone numeral. This ligature is completely absent in the count forms in all languages. It is worth noting that, while the ligature *-n- occurs in most of the same bases in both Mongondow and Lolak (1excl.du.nom, 1excl.tri.nom, 2du.nom, 2tri.nom, 1excl.du.gen, and 2du.gen), two forms—the 1excl.tri.gen and the 2tri.gen—reflect the ligature in Lolak but not in Mongondow.3 Besides containing the ligature in Mongondow and Lolak, the dual forms in all three languages are formed not with the stand-alone numeral for ‘two’ in each language (Lolak doʔiya, Ponosakan dohuwa, Mongondow doyowa ~ deywa), but with an alternate form: Lolak -diya ~ -deya, Ponosakan -ruwa, and Mongondow -da in most forms but -duwa in the 3rd person forms

Map 1. The Languages of Northern Sulawesi
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Map 1.

The Languages of Northern Sulawesi

Table 1. Mongondow-Gorontalo Pronoun Number
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Table 1.

Mongondow-Gorontalo Pronoun Number

[End Page 544]

(the base -duwa also being attested in the Mongondow ordinal induwa ‘second’). Ponosakan has a similar system but does not reflect the ligature *-n- in any form, and therefore lacks a morphologically marked trial form. As a result, its system can be said to consist of singular, dual, count (three or more), and plural forms.4

Table 2. Mongondow, Ponosakan, and Lolak Pronouns
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Table 2.

Mongondow, Ponosakan, and Lolak Pronouns

The 2nd and 3rd person dual/trial/count bases in Mongondow and Ponosakan are easily differentiated from their plural counterparts because earlier nominative plural bases *kamu and *sira (cf. table 4) were replaced in the plural set by moʔiko(w) and mosiya, respectively, and earlier genitive plural bases *namu and *nira were likewise replaced by [End Page 545] monimu and moniya, respectively. The difference between the count bases and the plural bases is less drastic in Lolak, where the 2nd person plural form, kamiyo, differs only slightly from the 2nd person dual/trial/count base kamu- (plural namiyo vs. dual/trial/count namu- in the genitive), and the 3rd person plural forms saha (Nominative) and naha (Genitive) only differ from the 3rd person count bases sara- ~ saha- (Nominative) and nara- ~ naha- (Genitive) in that there is no stand-alone plural of the **sara/**nara count variant.5

Table 3. Ligature *-N- in 1st Person Exclusive and 2nd Person Pronouns in Mongondow and Lolak
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Table 3.

Ligature *-N- in 1st Person Exclusive and 2nd Person Pronouns in Mongondow and Lolak

Table 4. Proto–Mongondow-Gorontalo Pronouns
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Table 4.

Proto–Mongondow-Gorontalo Pronouns

There is virtually no limit to the number that the count forms can reach. Such forms can be created by using the count base with the numbers opat ‘four’, lima ‘five’, onom ‘six’, pitu ‘seven’, walu ‘eight’, siyow ‘nine’, mopuluʔ ‘ten’, and so on. To take the second person genitive of Mongondow as an example (with base namu, which has been replaced in the plural set by monimu), the forms up to ten in Mongondow are namunda ‘the two of you’, namutolu ‘the three of you’, namu opat ‘the four of you’, namu lima ‘the five of you’, namu onom ‘the six of you’, namu pitu ‘the seven of you’, namu walu ‘the eight of you’, namu siyow ‘the nine of you’, and namu mopuluʔ ‘the ten of you’. Note, however, that the count forms are used even beyond the number ten (for example, taya mopuluʔ bo duwa ‘the twelve of them’), and that the rule of thumb is that whenever [End Page 546] a number follows the pronoun, the count base namu must be used, not the independent plural form monimu. There also does not appear to be any rule prohibiting the use of a plural pronoun when referring to two or three people, as long as the numeral is not uttered after the pronoun: for example, in Mongondow, two people may be referred to as moiko ‘you (pl.)’ or kamunda ‘the two of you’, but never as **moiko doyowa nor as **kamu.

3. Bolango and Suwawa

An assessment of Bolango and Suwawa is complicated by the fact that their plural forms are identical to the count bases. The count bases can be followed by any number over two (as illustrated in table 5 using tolu ‘three’), and the only place where the count forms differ from a straightforward combination of plural pronoun plus stand-alone numeral is in the dual form, which includes the dual-marking Bolango -diya, Suwawa -deya, which is different from the stand-alone number for ‘two’, Bolango duwiya, Suwawa deyuwa.

4. Bintauna and Bolang-Itang/kaidipang

The Bintauna and Bolang-Itang/Kaidipang pronoun systems consist of a singular, dual, and plural, but in a bizarre shift, the plural has been replaced by the historical trial, complete with frozen number -tolu ‘three’ (cf. table 6). This is structurally identical to the development Blust (2009) illustrates for Mukah Melanau on the west coast of central Sarawak (Borneo) facing away from Sulawesi. It is noteworthy that in Kaidipang town, the noncount form kinami ‘’ without any number attached only appears as a polite-register equivalent of kinamiyo ~ kinamindaa ‘1excl.du.nom’ and kinamintolu ‘’, corresponding to the contrast in the singular between ataina ‘1sg.nom.pol’ and aka ‘1sg.nom’.6 Otherwise, none of the other plural bases occurs as a stand-alone form without -diya or -tolu suffixed to indicate dual or plural, respectively. Note also that a ligature -n- similar to that of Mongondow and Lolak is also found in Bintauna and Bolang-Itang/Kaidipang in the dual and plural forms of 1excl, 1incl, and 2nd person.

5. Gorontalo and Buol

Gorontalo and Buol are the only two Mongondow-Gorontalo languages in which no trace of the pronominal count system has been found, both languages having only a basic singular-plural contrast. The pronouns of these two languages are illustrated in table 7 to allow for comparison with those of the other Mongondow-Gorontalo languages.

6. Discussion

This squib has provided a short overview of the pronominal systems of the Mongondow-Gorontalo languages, which have until now gone unreported in the literature.7 The pronominal system of these languages is the type of feature that would be easily overlooked in eliciting wordlists, and even in eliciting complete sentences. For the current author, these forms did not immediately surface, as the equivalents of (Standard) [End Page 547]

Table 5. Pronouns in Bolango and Suwawa
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Table 5.

Pronouns in Bolango and Suwawa

[End Page 548]

Indonesian kami, kita, kamu, and mereka were consistently given as plurals in the target languages, not as dual, trial, or count forms. It was only after I stumbled upon the forms in Mongondow that I became aware of them, leading me to investigate whether they also existed in the other Mongondow-Gorontalo languages. Unfortunately, the eliciting of numbers after pronouns is absent from all elicitation lists that I have seen, including my own, which is one reason why these forms are not easily elicited even in the languages where they do exist. While there has been much discussion about a 1st person inclusive dual pronoun (cf. Blust 2009, Reid 2009), there has been little or no discussion of a wider dual vs. plural, let alone trial or other count forms, in Philippine and Philippine-type languages. It remains to be seen if more systems such as those described in this squib and in Blust (2009) turn up as more research is done on other Austronesian languages. In the meantime, they serve as a reminder, as we conduct our fieldwork, that interesting phenomena can easily turn up not only where we least expect them, but also where our research methods and tools are most poorly equipped to detect them.

Table 6. Bintauna and Bolang-Itang/Kaidipang Pronouns
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Table 6.

Bintauna and Bolang-Itang/Kaidipang Pronouns

[End Page 549]

Table 7. Pronouns in Gorontalo and Buol
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Table 7.

Pronouns in Gorontalo and Buol

Jason William Lobel
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa


Blust, Robert. 1983. A note on hypercorrection in Mongondow. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 139(4):459–64.
———. 2009. The Austronesian languages. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
Dunnebier, W. 1951. Bolaang Mongondowsch–Nederlandsch woordenboek, met Nederlandsch–Bolaang Mongondowsch register. The Hague: Nijhoff.
Ginupit, Bernard. 2003a. Belajar Bahasa Mongondow. n.p.: Kotamobagu (Indonesia).
———. 2003b. Kamus Bahasa Mongondow–Indonesia. Jakarta: Cakra Media.
Lembaga Alkitab Indonesia. 2006. Dodandian Mobagu, kom Bonu im Bahasa Mongondow Pomuloi in Singgai. Jakarta: Lembaga Alkitab Indonesia.
Reid, Lawrence A. 2009. The reconstruction of a dual pronoun to Proto Malayo-Polynesian. In Discovering history through language: Papers in honour of Malcolm Ross, ed. by Bethwyn Evans, 461–77. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. [End Page 550]


1. Special thanks are due to all of my friends and informants in Sulawesi Utara and Gorontalo provinces, especially Jantje Lomboan, Juddy Mandak, Abang Hatam, Bernard Ginupit, Biling Paputungan, Rone Paputungan, Halik Gobel, the staff and students of Universitas Dumoga Kotamobagu, Universitas Sam Ratulangi, and Universitas Klabat; to Om Sanun, Om Karim, Om Asri, Om Kader, and the late Om Salim Tora, the last Ponosakan speakers; and to Robert Blust, David Zorc, and an anonymous reviewer. Nonstandard abbreviations are: ct, count form; inf, informal form; pol, polite form; tri, trial number. This article is dedicated to Haji Hunggu Tadjuddin Usup (1940–2010), and to another dear friend and language mentor, Mongondow singermusician Abang Hadam (d. 2011), whose passing I sadly learned of as this issue went to press.

2. The oblique forms are not illustrated, but are based on the genitive plus koʔi- in Mongondow or ko- in Lolak and Ponosakan; the only forms that differ are the 1st person singular Ponosakan, Lolak konakoʔ, Mongondow koʔinakoʔ; and 2nd person singular Mongondow koʔinimu, Ponosakan, Lolak konimu.

3. The final /n/ of the 1st person inclusive forms in Lolak is not a ligature, but the resurfacing of the final *-n of *naton (> Lolak nato). In Lolak, final *-n was lost in most environments, but resurfaces in the presence of clitics.

4. Note that I was unable to elicit the 1incl.du or 1incl.ct forms in Ponosakan, due to miscommunication between me and my elderly informants, and not because the language lacks these forms.

5. Note that in Lolak, /r/ and /h/ alternate in much the same way that /r/ and /y/ do in Mongondow (cf. Blust 1983).

6. Polite 1sg.nom forms also occur in Suwawa wateya (pol) vs. waʔu (inf), Buol kamiʔatoniyu (pol) vs. aku (inf), Gorontalo watiya (pol) vs. waʔu (inf), and Bolango watáa (pol) vs. waʔu (inf). Bolango also extends the polite vs. informal contrast to the 1st person exclusive plural, amibeya (pol) vs. ami (inf). Furthermore, Bolang-Itang/Kaidipang and Bintauna have polite 2sg.nom forms goginaa and ʔamu, respectively.

7. An anonymous reviewer correctly points out that the Mongondow forms have been randomly mentioned in passing in dictionaries and descriptions such as Dunnebier (1951) and Ginupit (2003a, 2003b), and in Dodandian Mobagu, the Mongondow translation of the New Testament (Lembaga Alkitab Indonesia 2006). However, there has never been a systematic description or listing of these forms, nor an explicit mention that these systems exist in any of the Mongondow-Gorontalo languages.

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