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The Ethnologue[R]: Languages of the World is a database providing a comprehensive listing of all of the world's known living languages. It provides summary data on languages, including their ISO categories, their relationship to other languages and dialects, their classification into language families, location and maps, domain, usage by age cohorts, and robustness showing the category of strength or weakness of usage according to the EGIDS Diagnostic (Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale) (Lewis & Simons 2010). It also shows the availability of publications and other media in the languages, and other information. The Ethnologue[R] is intended more as a catalogue than as an encyclopaedia and so provides summary data rather than more extensive descriptions of identified languages, although information on linguistic research and language studies is listed in its bibliography (

Started in 1951 by Richard S. Pittman, it first consisted of a mere ten mimeographed pages of information about forty-six languages. Today, it is an online digital database containing information about 7,500 languages. Each language is identified with a 3-letter code. The language codes were originally formulated by SIL International, and today the institute is the officially recognized body for language codes. It maintains and updates codes in accordance with ISO 639-3 definitions of languages and dialects (ISO 2007).

Over the years with shifts in language use and migration, patterns of language usage have changed in many parts of the world. Also, with the introduction of language codes, some inaccuracies in the classification of languages and language names and dialects may have entered the database. As a result, large sections of the Ethnologue[c] have periodically been reviewed with speakers and reviewers from the major languages through key universities and government ministries in selected countries to update and correct the database for those places.

So far, the Ethnologue[R] entries for languages in Brazil, the Philippines, Nepal, and, recently, for Sabah, Malaysia have been reviewed. The review of languages in Nepal took place in 2012. It would eventually provide important information on the locations of language communities, following the devastating 2015 earthquake.

The idea for reviewing the Ethnologue[R] descriptions of the languages in Sabah came from John Eppele (SIL International Assessment Coordinator) with the strong support of Mark Miller and other staff of SIL Malaysia. In September 2014, they met up with Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan (then Holder of the Kadazandusun Chair at Universiti Malaysia Sabah or UMS), Vincent Pang (then Dean of PPIB or Pusat Penataran Ilmu dan Bahasa at UMS), Jeannet Stephen (then Deputy Dean for Research and Development, PPIB), and other PPIB staff to discuss the proposed project. The proposal for "Review of Ethnologue[R] Descriptions of Languages in Sabah" was then submitted and approved by the university to be headed by the Kadazandusun Chair. This was a joint project largely funded by the Chair with expertise provided by SIL International and Ethnologue[R], and included academic staff from PPIB and the Faculty of Humanities, Arts and Heritage.

The Review Process

Early in 2015, a protem working committee was formed, provisional cluster editors were appointed, and potential reviewers for each language were identified and contacted. Peer review forms were distributed to peer reviewers and reviewers who are knowledgeable about the languages and most of whom come from the language communities themselves.

We then held a one week long workshop in August 2015 with reviewers to discuss each review form. The corrected data from each language was deliberated upon. Language peer reviewers who had earlier been unable to participate, also attended the workshop and gave their feedback (Plates 1, 2, and 3). As each review was completed, reviewers worked with the SIL cartographer to plot the locations of the language areas on a digital map of Sabah. The workshop was open to any interested scholars and students, and featured special lectures by M. Paul Lewis (then General Editor of the Ethnologue[R]), Irene Tucker (Senior Cartographer for SIL International), and John Eppele.

After the workshop, the permanent committee (the authors of this article) followed up with checking data and contacting reviewers who had been unable to attend. They also looked into the languages that had not yet been covered in the review, and continued updating the data.

The cluster editors and reviewers in this project are as in Table 1. For convenience, some clusters here were based on geographical region, not necessarily on language affinity.

We had regular meetings throughout 2016 and 2017 to check language maps and entries in the Ethnologue[R], as well as developments with follow-ups for languages not reviewed during the workshop. Since 2018, the preparations for a bilingual book or books in English and Malay on the reviewed Ethnologue[R] description of languages in Sabah have been underway.

An Overview of Languages in Sabah

There are around 60 languages spoken in Sabah, including indigenous Austronesian languages, cross-border Austronesian languages from other parts of Borneo and adjacent islands, and migrant languages. There is not room here to give a complete description of the language situation in Sabah. The following is but a very brief background sketch.

The three main ancient indigenous families of languages in Sabah are the Dusunic Family, the Murutic Family and the Paitanic Family of Bornean Stock of Western Austronesian Superstock of Austronesian languages (SIL Malaysia 1988). Some linguists have suggested that there may be a fourth family--the Bisaya-Lotud Family (Lobel 2013).

Speakers of Dusunic languages traditionally live in the interior, western and northern areas of Sabah. They include Kadazan Dusun (often simply called Dusun) [dtp] which is the largest single language in Sabah. Other Dusunic languages are Bisaya [bsy], Kimaragang [kqr], Klias River Kadazan [kqt], Kuijau [dkr] or Kuruyou, Lotud [dtr], Labuk-Kinabatangan Kadazan [dtb], Rungus [drg], and Tobilung [tgb]. Sonsogon was formerly regarded as a distinct Dusunic language (Miller 1988, SIL Malaysia 1988). Recently, however, it has been listed as a dialect of Kimaragang [kqr] in the Etlmologue[R], although there is ongoing debate concerning this. Papar [dpp], spoken in only two villages on the northern tip of the Kuala Penyu District), and Tatana' [txx] were formerly included in the Dusunic family, although some linguists believe they are Murutic languages (Brewis pers. comm. 1992; Dunn 1984/1997a, 1984/1997b; Lobel 2013:37, 42).

Murutic languages (not to be confused with the Kelabitic languages of Sarawak that were formerly called "Murut") are spoken across southern Sabah and parts of northern Sarawak and Kalimantan. They include Tahol Murut [mvv] the largest Murutic language, Bookan Murut [bnb], Gana' [gnq]. Kalabakan Murut [kve], Keningau Murut [kxi], Kolod Murut [kqv], Paluan Murut [plz], Selungai Murut [slg], Sembakung Murut [sbr], Serudung Murut [srk], and Timugon Murut [tih]. The Kolod (also known as Okolod and Kolor according to location) are also found in northern Kalimantan.

Beaufort Murut was also formerly included as a separate Murutic language (Smith 1984/1997: 24; Spitzack 1984/1997: 165-167, 177-178, 187-189). Recent editions of Ethnologue[R], however, refer to it as a dialect of Timugon. Oral history evidence suggests that speakers may be descended from Timugon Murut who moved to the Beaufort area from Tenom in the interior, many generations ago, but the nature of Beaufort Murut requires further study (Richard Brewis pers. comm. 2016).

Paitanic languages are spoken in communities located in areas of eastern Sabah, especially along the the Sugut, Paitan and Tengakarasan Rivers of Beluran District (formerly Labuk-Sugut District) and parts of the Kinabatangan. Tombonuo [txa] of Pitas District is the largest Paitanic language (the name "Sungai" is preferred by Muslim converts). Also included in the Paitanic Family are Abai Sungai [abf], Dumpas [dmv], Lanas Lobu [ruu], Tampias Lobu [low], and Upper Kinabatangan [dmg]. Dumpas was initially classified as a Dusunic language, but appears to be a Paitanic language with strong lexical borrowings from neighboring Dusunic languages (King 1984/1997a, 1984/1997b; King 1993:97).

Apart from these, there are also indigenous language isolates in Sabah that are distantly connected to these language families. The Tidung languages (Northern Tidung [ntd] of Sandakan District and Tawau Districts and some Southern Tidung [itd] of the Kalabakan area of Tawau District,) are related to Sabah's Murutic family (Moody 1984/1997; Brewis 2004: 900; Lobel pers. comm. 2015). The Ida'an [dbj] language, consisting of the dialects Ida'an, Bega'ak or Begak, and Subpan, is another indigenous isolate. It is spoken around Lahad Datu town and across the Dent Peninsula to Sandakan town, and along the lower Kinabatangan River as far as Bilit (Banker 1984b; Goodswarde 2005: 1-2; Moody 1993:131; Moody & Moody 1990/1991).

Some older studies suggested that the ancestors of all these indigenous Austronesian language speakers were present in northern Borneo from 6,000 years ago (Bellwood 1984: 85-87; Harrisson and Harrisson 1970). Recent genetics research, however, indicates that the ancestors of Sabah's indigenous Austronesians have inhabited northern Borneo from before 15,000 and possibly up to 20,000 years ago (Chia 2006; Oppenheimer 2000; Yewet. al 2018).

There are also other Borneo languages in Sabah whose areas extend across geopolitical borders. Brunei and Kadayan, for example, are said to be dialects of the Brunei [kxd] language of Brunei Darussalam and are part of the Malayic Family of languages. Brunei and Kadayan speakers are found in many coastal areas of Sabah, especially in the southwest and on Labuan Island.

Lundayeh [lnd], known as Lun Bawang in Sarawak and Lun Dayeh in Kalimantan, is also spoken in Sabah. The Lundayeh live in the Ulu Padas area of Sipitang in the southwest of Sabah, with some more recent villages in the Tenom and Keningau Districts. There is also a very small community of Iban [iba] speakers (Ibanic subgroup within the Malayic Family) who settled at Merotai in Tawau District during the 1950s.

In addition to these, there are other Austronesian languages spoken only in Sabah that are from language families from outside of northern Borneo. The Bonggi [bdg] language of Banggi and Balambangan Islands is related to Molbog [pwn] spoken by the Balabak (Palawanic Family). Iranun [ilm], spoken in coastal areas of Kota Belud District, parts of coastal Kudat and Lahad Datu Districts, is from the Danao Family that includes Maranao [mrw], Maguindanaon [mdh] and Iranon [ilp] languages of Mindanao (Banker 1984/1997; Smith 2008).

The Sama-Bajau languages constitute a subgroup of nine languages that extend from the Sulu area of the southern Philippines, to coastal areas of Sabah and eastern Indonesia. West Coast Bajau [bdr] is the only Sama-Bajau language whose geographical center is Sabah (Miller 2007, 2014). It is spoken the west and north coasts of Sabah. Other Sama-Bajau peoples are also found in Sabah, mostly on the east coast, especially at Semporna. Collectively known as "East Coast Bajau," they include the Southern Sama [ssb] as well as smaller numbers of Central Sama [sml], Mapun [sjm], and Balangingih Sama [sse]. The West Coast Bajau and speakers of some varieties of Southern Sama, such as the Bajau Kubang of Semporna, have long dwelled in Sabah and are considered to be indigenous. Some of the other Sama-Bajau residents are more recent immigrants from the Philippines, including speakers of various dialects of Central Sama [sml] and Southern Sama [ssb].

Suluk (Tausug) [tsg] is another language from the Philippines. Some families have been in Sabah since the 1800s, but most are recent immigrants.

Migrant languages from Indonesia include Javanese [jav], whose speakers were brought into North Borneo to work as indentured laborers under the North Borneo Company. More recent arrivals include speakers of Bugis [bug] and Toraja-Sa'dan [sda] from Sulawesi, and various languages from Flores.

Cocos Islanders from Australia's Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean have also migrated to Tawau, Sabah since 1959. Their language is Cocos Islands Malay [coa].

Non-Austronesian language communities in Sabah include speakers of various Chinese languages, as well as a small population of Indians who are mainly Sikhs. The Chinese collectively form the largest group of non-Austronesian peoples living in Sabah. They are established settlers, mostly descended from Christians who migrated from China during the North Borneo Company era. The Chinese language with the largest number of speakers is Hakka Chinese [hak], followed by Cantonese [yue], and three dialects of Min Nan Chinese [nan], namely Hainanese, Hokkien, and Teochew. Hakka Chinese [hak] is spoken as a lingua franca among most Chinese ethnic groups and is known by many indigenous people as well. The Hakka dialect used by the Chinese in Sabah is Loong Chun. Mandarin [cmn] is also spoken among the Chinese in Kota Kinabalu.

Sabah Malay [msi], however, is the main lingua franca used among all ethnic groups in Sabah. Today, it is spoken by almost all Sabahans regardless of ethnicity, except among the very elderly in remote areas. A member of the Malayic Family, it is a trade language that developed over the centuries between coastal and interior peoples. Hence, it was often called Melayu Pasar or Bazaar Malay. Today, Sabah Malay is the home language for many Sabahans and the first language of many speakers, especially the children of mixed-ethnic parentage (Wong 2000).

Changes in Language Classifications from the Project

As a result of the review, several changes were made in the classifications of certain languages and language families. For example, dialects of Kadazan Dusun had been incorrectly listed as separate languages. Correction of ISO codes involved recognition of the Kadazan Dusun language [dtp] with Tambunan Dusun, Central Dusun, Tinagas Dusun, Tempasuk Dusun or Dusun Tindal as it is locally known, and Coastal Kadazan as dialects.

The Murutic Language Family, which had been misplaced under Sarawak, was separated from the Kelabitic Family and moved into the Sabahan sub-group of Borneo languages. A new "Southern Murutic" subgroup, including Kalabakan Murut [kve], Sembakung Murut [sbr], and several other varieties spoken only in Kalimantan, plus a distinct Tidung cluster of languages was proposed. The spelling of "Tidong" was corrected to "Tidung." The Tidung group consists of two languages, Northern Tidung [ntd] and Southern Tidung [itd].

Bulungan [blj] (old spelling: Bolongan) was removed from the North Borneo group. It is now instead as an "unclassified" (Western) Malayo-Polynesian language. Serudung Murut, Gana' [gnq], and Papar [dpp] are now listed as "unclassified" Murutic languages, in parallel with the treatment of the Paitanic language Dumpas [dmv].

Tatana', a language spoken on the northern part of Kuala Penyu District on the Klias Peninsular of southwest Sabah, had been listed as a Dusunic language in the past, but as mentioned above, linguists working on Murutic languages had felt that it was a Murutic language with strong influences from the neighboring Bisaya, a Dusunic language. It was thus proposed to list Tatana [txx] as an "unclassified" Sabahan language, for further research.

Changes in ISO Codes

Changes were made in the ISO Codes. This involved either expanding the denotation of a language code element through the merging of one or more codes into it, thus retiring the merged code(s), or by splitting a language code element into two or more new codes.

The denotation of the language code [dtp] (previously Central Dusun) was expanded by merging the following codes into it: Dusun Tambunan [kzt], Dusun Tempasuk (Dusun Tindal) [tdu], and Coastal Kadazan [kzj]. Kota Marudu Tinagas [ktr] was included in this request as a language to be merged into [dtp], but it was merged instead into Sugut Dusun. (It appears, however, that Sugut Dusun may be a variety of Central Dusun.) With this merge, the new name assigned to the language code [dtp] became Kadazan Dusun, and the [kzt], [tdu], and [kzj] codes were retired.

On the other hand, the code for Iranun [ill] was split in order to acknowledge that the Iranun language spoken in Sabah is a distinct language from the Iranun language (often spelled Iranon) that is spoken in the Philippines. The new code assigned to the Iranun language spoken in Sabah is [ilm], while that assigned to the Iranun language spoken in the Philippines is [ilp] (previously [ill]).

Similarly, the code for Tidung [tid] was split into two languages, Northern Tidung and Southern Tidung. The retired code [tid] was replaced by [ntd] for Northern Tidung and [itd] for Southern Tidung. Northern Tidung is spoken in the Beluran and Tawau Districts of Sabah. Southern Tidung is spoken primarily in Kalimantan Utara (Indonesia) but with some communities in Kalabakan, Sabah, and along the bay facing Indonesia and on Sebatik Island.

Changes in Language Names in the Sabah Data

There were also changes made in language names, in line with requests from the communities and researchers. Lundayeh [lnd] was previously listed as Lun Bawang, the name of the language community in Sarawak. The name Lun Dayeh, however, is used in Kalimantan and its combined version Lundayeh is used in Sabah. Hence, the name change to Lundayeh for Sabah was approved.

Similarly, the name Suluk for Tausug [tsg] speakers was made for Sabah. Although the language originates from the Philippines where it is known as Tausug, speakers living in Sabah have always used the term "Suluk" to refer to their language and community. This name has also been accepted by recent immigrants. Hence, the name change was approved, but the language code [tsg] was retained to show that Suluk in Sabah is the same language as Tausug in the Philippines.

Inclusion of Other Languages in the Sabah Data

Other languages, that had previously been omitted from the Sabah data in the Ethnologue[R] were now included. These were Chinese languages and West Punjabi (spoken in the Sikh community), as well as immigrant Austronesian languages.

The Chinese are established communities in Sabah, and have an important historical role in the development of North Borneo, yet they were missing from the database for Sabah. Most are descended from Christians who fled persecution and famine in China, and were brought to North Borneo by the British North Borneo Company to open up the land in the early 1880s and 1900s. As mentioned above, the largest Chinese ethnic group is the Hakka, and Hakka is the main language used as a lingua franca among Chinese throughout Sabah. In the Kota Kinabalu area, however. Mandarin is also used, due to the historical presence near Jesselton of a group of northern Chinese who arrived from Shantung on one ship in 1913. These northern Muslim Chinese did not speak Hakka, so Mandarin was used as a lingua franca with the other Chinese. They intermarried with some of the local Kadazan from near Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu), and today their descendants who speak Kadazan are mostly members of the Roman Catholic Church that predominates among the coastal Kadazan (Lee 1976; Wong 1998, 1999).

Sabah has a small Indian community, mostly descended from Sikhs who came to North Borneo work as civil servants and police constables under the North Borneo Company administration. Like the Chinese, they are an established community in Sabah. Yet, their presence in Sabah was not properly reflected in the database. This has now been updated.

Another important inclusion was that of Florinese languages (Immigrant communities). According to Bp. Andhika Bamban Supeno (Minister Counselor) of the Konsulat Jenderal Republic Indonesia--Kota Kinabalu (pers.comm. 2015), the total number of recent immigrants from Indonesia is approximately 460,000, of whom around 30% are Bugis, 30% are Toraja, 30% are from Flores Island and surrounding areas, and the remaining 10% consist of various other Indonesian groups. The Bugis and Toraja data for Sabah was quite clear in the database, but information on Florinese groups was missing.

The Florinese in Sabah consist of many language communities from eastern Flores and neighboring islands in the Province of Nusantara Timur, who have migrated to Sabah since the 1980s along with Bugis and Toraja. These include speakers of Lamaholot [sip], Adonara [adr], Palu's [pie], Sika [ski], South Lembata [lmf], and West Lembata [lmj]. Adonara [adr] is said to be most widely spoken. They are often collectively referred to as "Timorese" by Sabahans, because they describe themselves as Orang Timur since they come from Nusantara Timur, but very few originate from Timor Island and the independent nation of Timor Leste.

Other Indonesians in Sabah include the Buton who speak Wolio [wlo] and the Muna [mnb]. These groups are often confused by Sabahans because they both originate from southeast Sulawesi. The Wolio-speaking Buton come from Buton Island in Wakatobi Regency, Southeast Sulawesi Province, where Wolio was the court language of the Baubau Sultanate. The first Buton man came to Sabah in 1965, and today there are around 6,000 to 8,000 Buton in Sabah, of whom approximately 1,500 are fluent in Wolio, especially the Kaledupa dialect. Most are highly educated, and work in the civil service or as academicians and professionals.

The Muna also come from Sulawesi, but from Muna Island near Buton Island. In Sabah they are also referred to as "Buton" although the Muna [mnb] language has no similarity to Wolio [wlo]. They are transient workers in Sabah. The men work as grass-cutters and laborers, while the women are often employed as domestic helpers. After some years, they move back to Indonesia.


Corrections have been made to the preliminary maps that were compiled during the project. A complete map showing all the languages in Sabah is in the final stages of checking, and will be shown in the Ethnologue[R] as well as published together with the findings from the project as books by Penerbit UMS.

The mapping side of the project has led to the recognition of earlier maps by Institut Linguistik SIL--Cawangan Malaysia that were based on language intelligibility tests and locational surveys from the 1980s (King& King 1984/1997). Surprisingly, many of those maps are still accurate, and provide important information about the distribution of indigenous Austronesian ethnic groups in Sabah.

Outcomes--Need for Further Corrections in the Ethnologue[R]

Further corrections are still needed in the Ethnologue[R]. Sugut Dusun needs to be corrected to Dusun Tinagas, the ethnonym of the people living in those villages (Kroeger 1985). This is apparently a variant of the Central Dusun dialect of Kadazan Dusun (pers. comm. Laurentius Kitingan 11 August 2015). Similarly, Dusun Talantang, related to Dusun Tinagas and listed as part of Sugut Dusun, is a sub-dialect of Central Dusun.

Potential Areas for Further Research

Many questions have arisen from this project, which require further and deeper research. These may give rise to postgraduate studies or other research in Linguistics.

For example, are Kimaragang and Sonsogon of Kota Marudu District in the north of Sabah, separate languages or dialects of the same language? At present, Sonsogon is placed as part of the Kimaragang language in the Ethnologue[R]. The Kimaragang say that the Sonsogon are actually Kimaragang from the hills. But, the Sonsogon themselves and others who have lived for long periods among them, claim that they speak a different language from the Kimaragang. It was pointed out during the 2015 Workshop that Sonsogon worldview, adat and culture are quite different from those of the Kimaragang. When some Sonsogon came down to the plains and lived among the Kimaragang over the past few decades, they adapted themselves to Kimaragang culture and lifestyle, and have learned to speak Kimaragang (pers. comm. Paul Porodong & Porodong Magilin, 10 August 2015). Earlier SIL maps from Sabah also showed Kimaragang and Sonsogon as separate languages. Recent genetic research also indicates that the Sonsogon have been very isolated from other Dusunic groups (Yew

Another question concerns Minokok, a dialect listed as related to Central Dusun and part of the huge Kadazan Dusun language. But is Minokok really a dialect of Kadazan Dusun, or of Rungus as some claim, or of the Labuk-Kinabatangan Dusun language? This requires further research.

What is Sandayoh? This is an isoglot from the Pitas District, shown as "Kadazan-Tombonuo" on early maps. The late Wayne King (former SIL Malaysia Director) who with his wife Julie spent decades doing linguistics research among the Tombonuo/Sungai, said that "Sandayoh" was a Tombonuo term for Dusunic people living in the hills (pers. comm. Wayne King 1996). Others have supported this, saying that the name "Sandayoh" conveys the meaning of being inland or remote (pers. comm. Paul Porodong 2017). Over time, the Sandayoh have moved from their original location in Pitas, towards the Kimaragang, and there has been some cultural convergence in terms of costumes and music with the Kimaragang (pers. comm. Juliane Mohiling, 2018). This language, however, has not been studied and requires research.

Is Bisaya-Lotud a sub-family within the Dusunic Family of languages, or a separate Family? The Bisaya are a major Dusunic group from Kuala Penyu in southwest Sabah. The Lotud are the main group in Tuaran District on the west coast. Clearly, in terms of culture, worldview, ritual language, and other aspects, the Lotud are closely related to other Dusunic peoples of Sabah (Judeth John Baptist 2008; Pugh-Kitingan & John Baptist 2009), while Sabah's Bisaya have been strongly influenced by the culture of the Brunei. The relationship of these two languages and their position in the Dusunic Family requires further research.

More research is needed into the languages Northern Tidung and Southern Tidung, and into their relationship with Sabah's Murutic Family of Languages. Further research is also needed on Tatana' to determine whether it is a Dusnic language or, as claimed by many, a Murutic language that has been strongly influenced by Bisaya.

Similarly, research is needed on Beaufort Murut. Speakers of this language may be descended from Timugon Murut who moved out from the northern Tenom District area in the interior many generations ago, and migrated towards the location of today's Beaufort District on the west coast. If that is so, is Beaufort Murut a separate Murutic language or a dialect of Timugon? Its speakers do not identify as Timugon.

Also, if Tatana' is a Murutic language, what is the relationship between Timugon from Tenom, Beaufort Murut towards the coast, and Tatana' on the northern part of the Klias Peninsula? Are they connected and do they show an outward migration from the interior to the coast in ages past? Also, is Papar a Murutic language and how is it related to Tatana?

Research on Abai Sungai, a Paitanic language from the mouth of the Kinabatangan River on Sabah's east coast is needed. This group is located at the place from where explorer film makers Martin and Osa Johnson began their historic expedition up the Kinabatangan River to the remote interior in the 1930s (Johnson 1965). To date, however, no in depth studies of this language here have been carried out.

The Subpan dialect of Ida'an is fast disappearing due to intermarriage with Paitanic peoples, and today is spoken only among the elderly. There is a need for urgent research on this dialect before it becomes extinct.

Further research is also needed on the relationship between Brunei and Kadayan. Currently, they are classified as dialects of the Brunei language. The Brunei were a maritime people, and the Brunei Empire was a major historical power in Southeast Asia during the 15th to 17th centuries (Bala 2005). The Kadayan, however, are an agricultural people planting wet rice (Maxwell 1970). Some members of both the Brunei and Kadayan communities in Sabah claim they are culturally and linguistically different and speak separate languages. Indeed, there are cultural differences between the two groups, but is Kadayan a dialect Brunei or a separate language?


With changes in Sabah's landscape due to infrastructure development, such as the construction of highways and destruction of forests for largescale oil palm cultivation, many people are moving to towns and other places for employment away from their traditional home areas. While most indigenous urban dwellers maintain strong ties with their home villages, demographic movements will eventually affect language use among younger generations, as communities come into contact with dominant languages from outside. Similarly, the presence of large immigrant populations in the state may eventually affect language use among younger generations of indigenous language speakers.

The use of Standard Malay [zsm] as the main medium of instruction in primary and secondary schools is seen by many as causing a decline in heritage language proficiency among their youths. This is especially the case when some parents persistently speak to their young children in Sabah Malay [msi] in the mistaken belief that it will later enable them cope better at school. Some communities, however, have developed private kindergartens using the standard preschool syllabi but in their heritage languages, to ensure that their children learn to read in their own language first before going to school. This has led to multi-lingual proficiency and higher academic achievements of such children in schools, while strengthening heritage languages.

This review of the Ethnologue[R] for Sabah languages thus provides a snapshot in time of the language situation in the state. It will become a record for the future as change affects the peoples of Sabah and their languages.


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King, Julie K. 1984a The Dumpas language. In: Julie K. King and J. Wayne King (eds.), Languages of Sabah: A survey report (Pacific Linguistics C-78), pp. 231-235. Canberra: Research School of Pacific Studies, The Australian National Univerity. Reprinted in 1997.

1984b The Paitanic language family. In: Julie K. King and J. Wayne King (eds.), Languages of Sabah: A survey report (Pacific Linguistics C-78), pp. 139-153. Canberra: Research School of Pacific Studies, The Australian National University. Reprinted in 1997.

King, Julie K. and J. Wayne King (eds.) 1984 Languages of Sabah: A survey report (Pacific Linguistics C-78). Canberra: Research School of Pacific Studies, The Australian National University. Reprinted in 1997.

Kroeger, Paul 1985 Linguistic relations among the Dusunic groups in the Kota Marudu District. Borneo Research Bulletin, 17(1): 31-46.

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Lewis, M. Paul and Gary F. Simons 2010 Assessing endangerment: Expanding Fishman's GIDS. Revue Roumaine de Linguistique 55(2): 103-120. Online URL:

Lobel, Jason W. 2013 Southwest Sabah Revisited. Oceanic Linguistics 52(1): 36-68. Online URL:

Maxwell, Allen R. 1970 On the various spellings of the word 'Kadayan.' Brunei Museum Journal 2(1): 87-103.

Miller, Carolyn P. 1988 The Dusun language--Dialect distribution and the question of language maintenance. Paper presented at the Conference on Dusun Culture in the Context of National Development, Kota Kinabalu.

Miller, Mark T. 2007 A grammar of West Coast Bajau. Arlington: The University of Texas at Arlington(PhD dissertation).Online URL

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Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan Professor of Ethnomusicology, UMS

Mark T. Miller SIL Malaysia

Jane Wong Kon Ling Pusat Penataran Ilmu dan Bahasa, UMS

Veronica Petrus Atin Pusat Penataran Ilmu dan Bahasa, UMS

Paul Porodong Faculty of Humanities, Arts and Heritage, UMS

Patricia Lajumin Pusat Penataran llmu dan Bahasa, UMS

Angela Kluge SIL International
Table 1: Cluster editors and language reviewers for Sabah Ethnologue[R]

Cluster         Cluster editor/s           Language/dialect

Malayic         Jane Wong Kon Ling         Cocos Islands Malay
                                           Sabah Malay
                                           Iban (of Merotai)
Murutic         Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan   Gana
                Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan   Keningau Murut
                Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan   Tahol Murut
                Silipah Majius             Timugon
                Paul Porodong              Bookan
                Jae-Young Choi             Kalabakan
                Mark Miller                Serudung
                Jason Lobel                Sembakung
                John Eppele                Selungai
                Silipah Majius             Kolod
                Jason Lobel                Tidung
Bisaya          Jane Wong Kon Ling         Tatana'
Dusunic         Veronica P. Atin           Kuijau (Kuruyou)
                Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan   Lotud
                Jane Wong Kon              Papar
                Paul Porodong              Rungus
                Jane Wong Kon              Klias River
                Ling                       Kadazan
                Paul Porodong              Kimaragang
                Paul Porodong              Tobilung
                Veronica P. Atin           Coastal Kadazan
                Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan   Dusun Tindal
                                           (formerly called
                                           Tempasuk Dusun)
Dusunic         Veronica Petrus            Central Dusun
(Central)       Atin
                Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan   Tambunan Dusun
                                           Dusun Tinagas

                                           (formely called
                                           Kota Marudu
                                           (Sugut Dusun)
                Veronica P. Atin           Minokok
Dusunic         Paul Porodong              Labuk-Kinabatangan
(East &                                    Kadazan
                                           Dumpas (Paitanic)
Paitanic        Paul Porodong              Abai Sungai
                                           Lanas Lobu
                                           Tampias Lobu
                Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan   Ida'an-Begak
Palawano        Mark Miller                Bonggi
Iranun &        Mark Miller,               Iranun
Sama-Bajau      Sean Conklin
                Mark Miller                West Coast Bajau
                                           Sama Balangingih
                                           Southern Sama
                                           Central Sama
Other           Jane Wong Kon              Lundayeh
Languages       Ling
                Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan   Suluk (Tausug)
                                           Wolio (Buton)
                Jane Wong Kon Ling         Banjar
                Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan   Toraja
                                           Chinese (Hakka)
                Jeannet Stephen            West Punjabi

Cluster                                 Reviewers

Malayic                                 Amego Serasa Tosel
                                        Saat Awang Dam it,
                                        Baszley Bee Basrah Bee,
                                        Mohd Azree Bin Abd Ghani
                                        Jane Wong Kon Ling,
                                        Saat Awang Dam it,
                                        Baszley Bee Basrah Bee
                                        Nulai anak Bungau,
                                        Abdul Rahman Bin Mad
                                        Ali alias Abang,
                                        Amrullah Maraining
Murutic                                 Jason Lobel,
                                        Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan
                                        Ailina Jampadin
                                        (Not reviewed)
                                        Lasong Murang,
                                        Anton Bajah,
                                        Awang Ganduk,
                                        Nika Andy Anthony
                                        Silipah Majius
                                        Henry Majit,
                                        Alosius Lius bin Liun
                                        Jae-Young Choi,
                                        Banggali Bin Lingki
                                        Jack Rushing
                                        Jason Lobel
                                        Peer review by the
                                        Ricky Ganang
                                        Jason Lobel
Bisaya                                  Sebastian Dirih Anjim,
                                        Monih Epin,
                                        Bonaventure Boniface
                                        Colonius Atang
                                        Nadin alias Maidin Hj.
                                        Siti Aidah Hj. Lukin alias
Dusunic (West)                          Sulaiman Bin Maduli
                                        Judeth John Baptist,
                                        Pamanday Salvia Poit,
                                        Gazali bin Suhaili
                                        Sebastian Dirih Anjim,
                                        Monih Epin,
                                        Colon ius Atang
                                        Paul Porodong,
                                        Felix Akiam,
                                        Steven Daang,
                                        Sebastian Dirih Anjim,
                                        Monih Epin
                                        Colon ius Atang
                                        James Johansson
                                        Nelleke Johansson
                                        (Not reviewed)
                                        George Saidi
                                        Gillian Buck
                                        Abar Gumpai
                                        Benedict Topin,
                                        Cosmas Julius Abah alias
                                        Eddol (Datuk)
                                        Maine Suadik
                                        Hamimah Talib
                                        Jupili Panchai
Dusunic (Central)                       Rozita Buyoh
                                        Laurentius Kitingan
                                        Benedict Topin
                                        Laurentius Kitingan
                                        Benedict Topin
                                        Laurentius Kitingan
                                        (Not reviewed)
                                        Yormiah binti Jusmin
Dusunic (East & Unclassified)           Jason Lobel
                                        KAN Ahloi Lian
                                        KK Nasir Batin,
                                        Jaya Awang,
                                        Aduan Jakaria,
                                        Hj. Awang Ismail
Paitanic                                (Not reviewed)
                                        Jeong-Ho Choi
                                        Paul Porodong,
                                        Matius Angot Paul
                                        Alim Yukin
                                        Dayu Sansalu,
                                        Justin Sansalu
                                        Mohamad bin Sarangith,
                                        Hj. Mahil bin Kamarudin,
                                        Jong-Dae Lee
Palawano                                Michael Boutin
                                        Tingkahan bin ImamTuah
Iranun & Sama-Bajau                     Dayang Suria Mulia,
                                        Datu' Ismail Sidik,
                                        Mabulmaddin Shaiddin
                                        Halina Sandera Mohd.
                                        Rosmah Bte Derak,
                                        Saidatul Nornis Mahali,
                                        Awang Rablah Bin Salil,
                                        Junaidah Januin,
                                        Tingkahan bin Imam Tuah
                                        Mohd. Said Hinayat
                                        Mursalim Tanjul
                                        Mohd. Said Hinayat,
                                        Mark Miller
                                        Mark Miller
Other Languages                         Ricky Ganang
                                        Nelson Dino,
                                        Hatta Yunus alias Sawabi
                                        Asmiaty Amat,
                                        Ramli Dollah
                                        Haerul bin Hj. Marsudi,
                                        Hj. Marsudi bin Alleh
                                        alias Laruo bin Ladua
                                        Fauzi Sarjono
                                        Saat Awang Dam it.
                                        Baszley Bee Basrah Bee
                                        Pius Simon
                                        Pauline Yong Pau Lin
                                        Balwant Singh Kler (Datuk)
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Title Annotation:RESEARCH NOTES
Author:Pugh-Kitingan, Jacqueline; Miller, Mark T.; Ling, Jane Wong Kon; Atin, Veronica Petrus; Porodong, Pa
Publication:Borneo Research Bulletin
Date:Jan 1, 2018

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