Native toIndonesia
RegionWest Timor
Native speakers
(14,000 cited 1997)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3heg
Location of the Helong Language in blue (Western Tip)
Location of the Helong Language in blue (Western Tip)

Helong (alternate names Helon, Kupang and Semau[2]) is a Central Malayo-Polynesian language of West Timor. Speakers are interspersed with those of Amarasi. This language has become endangered as a result of its native speakers marrying those who do not speak Helong, and as a result of coming in contact with the outside community.[3] Helong speakers are found in four villages on the South-Western coast of West Timor, as well as on Semau Island, a small island just off the coast of West Timor.[4] The mostly Christian, slightly patriarchal society of Semau do their best to send their children away to Bali (or elsewhere) to earn money to send home.


Helong is an Austronesian language and belongs to its Malayo-Polynesian branch. The Endangered Languages Project has classified Helong as "vulnerable", based on the most recent data from 1997.[5] The largest threat to Helong is a dialect of Malay spoken in Kupang, called Kupang Malay, as the native Helong speakers often visit Kupang, and use that dialect when there.[4]


Helong was once the primary language spoken in Kupang, but the language has since fallen out of popularity, and is now used sparsely around Kupang, but mostly used on Semau Island just off the coast of Kupang.[6] In recent years, the people in Kupang have spoken a local dialect of Malay, resulting in Helong being largely forgotten by those who visit the capital city often. While the new language has left behind a lot of the region's history, experts believe that Helong speakers contain a vast wealth of knowledge around the past, specifically, the spreading of Atoni culture when the Dutch gave them weapons, which wiped out many of the other cultures that existed in West Timor, but leaving Helong traditions and culture widely intact.[7]



Helong word structure follows a standard C(C)V(C)V(C) (where (C) indicates that a consonant can appear here but does not have to) word structure. Additionally, there is always a consonant at the beginning of every non-clitic word. Ignoring suffixes, the last consonant in any word can only be a few things, the glottal or apical consonants found in the table in the Phonology section, with the exception of the letter d, which does not satisfy this rule. On the contrary, there are no such limits on the last vowel of a word, which can be any of the five.[4]


Helong follows a VSO word order like the other languages closely related to it.[8][4] Helong is similar to languages like Spanish when it comes to noun-adjective order. The noun will come before the adjective describing it in a sentence. For example, ana hmunan directly translates as "child first", but refers to somebody's first child. However, unlike in Spanish, punctuation will only come at the end of a sentence. Like most languages, the first word of each sentence, as well as proper nouns are capitalized.[8] Helong uses negative modifiers to change the meaning of a sentence to the opposite. For example, "... parsai lo" means "do not believe", with parsai being a word meaning believe, and lo being a negative modifier.[8]

Writing system

Helong uses the same Latin script used in the majority of languages around the world. While Helong does not use the full 26-character ISO basic Latin alphabet, but contains 27 characters total, which can be seen in the Phonology section below.[8][4] While most of Helong words are written in the same format as English words, one key difference is that when using modifiers such as plurals, distributive numerals, and frequencies, Helong uses Hyphens or Tildes to connect the base word to the modifier.[8]

For example, in the sentence "Tode-s dua~dua le halin nahi-s deken", tode means lay, so tode-s would refer to laying multiple things, as the -s indicates plurality. Dua is the number two, so dua~dua would translate to the English "pair"


Helong has 5 vowels: /a, e, i, o, u/. These vowels are identical to those in the English language, including the pronunciation.[4][8]

Consonants [4][8]
Labial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Stop voiceless p t k ʔ
voiced b d g
Fricative f s h
Approximant w l
Trill r

The palatal stops /c, ɟ/ and the voiced labio-velar approximant /w/ are marginal phonemes, only occurring in a few loanwords.[9]


Numbers 1-30
mesa 1 hngul esa 11 buk dua beas esa


buk dua-s esa

dua 2 hngul dua 12 buk dua beas dua


buk dua-s dua

tilu 3 hngul tilu 13 buk dua beas tilu


buk dua-s tilu

aat 4 hngul aat 14 buk dua beas aat


buk dua-s aat

lima 5 hngul lima 15 buk dua beas lima


buk dua-s lima

eneng 6 hngul eneng 16 buk dua beas eneng


buk dua-s eneng

itu 7 hngul itu 17 buk dua beas itu


buk dua-s itu

palu 8 hngul palu 18 buk dua beas palu


buk dua-s palu

sipa 9 hngul sipa 19 buk dua beas sipa


buk dua-s sipa

hngulu 10 buk dua 20 buk tilu 30

The Helong language uses words for each base unit (i.e. tens, hundreds, thousands). For example, the number 27 could be said as "tens two ones seven", indicating a 2 in the tens column and a 7 in the ones column.[8]

Base Units
beas ones
buk tens
ngatus hundreds
lihu thousands
juta millions

Ordinal numbers, with the exception of the word for first, simply add ke in front of the word for the number. Researchers have been unable to determine if ke is its own word, a prefix, or a proclitic.[8]

hmunan First ke eneng Sixth
ke dua Second ke itu Seventh
ke tilu Third ke palu Eighth
ke aat Fourth ke sipa Ninth
ke lima Fifth ke hngulu Tenth

Non-numeric quantity

Non-Numeric Quantity
mamo, mamamo many
toang, totang all
hut, hutu many (crowded)
mamo kose plenty (many lots)
mamo tene plenty (many big)
mamo naseke too much (many excessive)
nuli entire (complete)
ketang kaa to way too many
ase none, nothing
sii alone, by yourself
mesa-mesa each

'ketang kaa to' is a Helong idiom that translates directly as "cockatoos eating seeds", which they use as a saying to describe way too many of a specific item.[8]


The following are example sentences of Helong:[8]

Helong Literal Translation Actual Translation
Ni un ana ke lima la nia This child fifth hers This is her fifth child
Atuil at hngul dua na-s maa daek hulung people ten two come work help Those twelve people came to help
Laok nui kit hmake salat dua go pick (person and self) tamarind cluster two Let's go pick two bunches of tamarind
Bingin tilu halas-sam oen pait maa-s day three just then 3 people return come-plural In three days then they will come back
Kaim daad lelo ila lo se la-ng we stay day several at distant place (general) We stayed there for several days.
Oen tilu-s lii naseke people 3-plural frighten too much The three of them were very scared.
Minggua mesa-m oe dua week one (pause) time two Two times in one week.
Lahin oen maa-s se ia-s yesterday people come-plural at close place Yesterday they came here


  1. ^ Helong at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Lewis, Paul M; et al. (2014). Ethnologue: Languages of Asia, 17th Edition. Texas: Sil International, Global Publishing. pp. 163, 454. ISBN 978-1-55-671370-5.
  3. ^ "Helong". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2017-02-10.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Steinhauer, Hein. Synchronic Metathesis and Apocope in Three Austronesian Languages of the Timor Area. Thesis. Leiden University, 1996. Retrieved 2017-3-7.
  5. ^ "Did you know Helong is vulnerable?". Endangered Languages. Retrieved 2017-03-08.
  6. ^ Bowden, John Metathesis in Helong 2010. Presentation. Accessed 2017-04-26
  7. ^ Fox, James T. (2003). Out of the Ashes. ANU Press. Retrieved 2017-04-26.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Klamer, Marian; et al. (2014). Number and quantity in East Nusantara. Asia-Pacific Linguistics, College of Asia and the Pacific. Retrieved 2017-03-02 hdl:1885/11917
  9. ^ Balle, Misriani (2017). "Phonological Sketch of Helong, an Austronesian Language of Timor". Journal of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society. 10 (1): 91–103. hdl:10524/52399.