RegionEast Timor
Native speakers
130,000 (2010 census)[1]
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3mgm
Distribution of Mambai mother-tongue speakers in East Timor
An illustration of Tetum language (left), Mambai language (center) and Portuguese language (right) being compared to one another.
An illustration of Tetum language (left), Mambai language (center) and Portuguese language (right) being compared to one another.

Mambai, also called Mambae or Manbae, is a language spoken by the Mambai people, the second largest ethnic group in the island country of East Timor.

Geographic distribution

Mambai is one of 15 constitutionally recognized national languages. The main centers of Mambai are ErmeraAileu, Remexio, Turiscai, Maubisse Administrative Post, Ainaro Administrative Post and Same Administrative Post. The majority of the Timorese community in Australia is native in Mambai.

Mambai used to be spoken in the area around Dili, when the Portuguese declared the city to be the capital of their colony Portuguese Timor. Therefore, the Tetum Prasa spoken in Dili is still exhibiting strong influences from its Mambai substrate.[2]



Labial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Nasal m n
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Fricative f s h
Trill r
Approximant l


Front Central Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a
Front Central
Close ai au
Mid ei ae ao


Mambae can be divided into three dialects according to Fogaça (2017):[7]: 82 


Examples of dialectal variation in Mambae:[7]

Numeral Northeast-Central Northwest South
1 iid iid iid
2 ruu ruu ruu
3 teul teul teul
4 faat paat faat/paat
5 liim liim liim
6 neen hohon iid liim nai-ida
7 hitu hohon ruu liim nai-rua
8 ualu hoho teul liim nai-telu
9 sia hoho paat liim nai-fata/pata
10 saguul sakuul saguul
20 rua nuul guul ruu (saguul) haet rua
30 teul nuul guul teul (saguul) haet teul
40 faat nuul guul paat (saguul) haet faat/paat
50 lima nuul guul liim (saguul) haet liim
Pronoun Northeast-Central Northwest South
1.SG au au au
2.SG iit iit iit
3.SG ua ua ura
1.PL, inclusive iit iit iit
1.PL, exclusive aem aem aem
2.PL iim iim iim
3.PL roo roo room
Gloss Northeast-Central Northwest South
'house' pada fada uum
'short' bloko pada bada
'wet' broe tita era
'dirty' kiniri rae foer
'many' doto klen rini
'lie (fib)' bea rau halaet
'eat' mua muu aa
'banana' muka mua muu

Comparison of selected body part words in Mambae dialects:[7]

gloss Liquiça (Bazartete) Ermera (Hatulia) Ermera (Railaco) Aileu (Laulara) Aileu (Vila Grupo) Aileu (Liquidoe) Ainaro (Hatu-Builico) Ainaro (Hato-Udo) Manufahi-Same (Letefoho) Manufahi-Same (Betano)
mouth gugun gugun gugun kukun kukun kukun kukun kuku kuku kuku
arm liman liman liman niman niman lima liman lima lima lima
elbow lima sikun liman sikun siun nima siun nima siun lima siun lima siun lima sikun lima siku lima siku
shoulder kabaːs kabasan kabasan kabaːs kabasa kabasa kabaːs labaːs kabaːs au balaːs
head gnutan glutan ulun ulun ulun ulun glutan ulu ulu hatu ulu
headache gnutan baːn glutan baːn glutan baːn ulun baːn ulun baːn glutan baːn glutan baːn ulu hatusae ulu hatusae ulu hatusae
hair ulu nɔɾan ulu laun ulun ulun lahon ulu nɔɾa ulun noran ulun ulu ulu ulu noɾa
black hair ulu meta ulu meta ulu meta ulun meta ulu nɔɾa mɛta ulun meta ulun meta ulu meta ulu mɛta ulu laha meta
flesh (human) ɛta lɔlon etan etan etan ɛtan etan ɛtan eta lɔlo ɛta lɔlo eta lolo
heart hua huan huan huan huan huan huan hua hua hua
back hɔhon tɛten hoho teten hɔhon hoho tɛten hɔhon hoho tɛten asa hɔho hɔhɔ tɛte hoho
tooth nipan nipan nipan nifan nifan nifan nifan nipa nifa nifa
finger lima huan lima huan lima huan nima huan lima huan lima kakun lima huan lima hua lima hua lima hua
liver aten aten aten aten aten aten aten ate ate ate
tongue lamalaun lamalaun lamalau lamalaun laman lamalaun lamelaun lama lama lama
hand liman liman liman niman niman liman liman lima lima sanak lima
nose ilu ilun ilun inun inun ilun inun ilu ilu ilu
eye matan matan matan matan matan matan matan mata mata mata
ear teliga tligan tliga kikan kika nɔɾan tika noɾan kikan teliga teliga teliga
bone rui ruin ruin ruin ruin ruin ruin rui rui rui
foot ɔen oen ɔen ɔɛn ɔɛn ɔɛn ɔɛn oe ɔɛ
skin litan eta litan litan litan litan litan litan tia tia eta tia
leg ɔen oen ɔen ɔɛn ɔɛn ɔɛn ɔɛn oe ɔɛ
neck tgeun tgeun tgeun tgeun tgeun kdeun tgeu tegeu tegeu
blood laɾa laɾa laɾa laɾan laɾa lalan laɾan laːr lara laːr


  1. ^ Mambai at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Hull, Geoffrey (24 August 2004). "The Languages of East Timor: Some Basic facts". Instituto Nacional de Linguística. Archived from the original on 16 July 2006.
  3. ^ Hull, Geoffrey (2003). Southern Mambai. Instituto Nacional de Linguística of the Universidade Nacional Timor Lorosa'e.
  4. ^ Fogaça (2013)
  5. ^ I Nengah Sukarnyana; I Made Denes; I Wayan Sudiartha; Ni Wayan Sudiati (1997). Struktur Bahasa Mambai [Mambai Language Structure] (in Indonesian). Jakarta: Pusat Pembinaan dan Pengembangan Bahasa. ISBN 979-459-777-5 – via
  6. ^ Hull, Geoffrey (2001). Mambai Language Manual (Ainaro dialect). Dili: Sebastião Aparício da Silva Project.
  7. ^ a b c Fogaça (2017)

Further reading