Lii Dhao (Ndao) Online Dictionary


The documentation of the Dhao language is a work-in-progress being carried out under the Language and Culture Unit (UBB-GMIT), Kupang. The current preliminary version of the lexicon has just under 1,600 headwords and includes homonyms, subentries, multiple senses, lexical relations, and example sentences. The lexicon was compiled in Toolbox following the MDF conventions (Coward and Grimes 1995, 2000), and ported over to Lexique Pro. As a work-in-progress, some of the entries are more reliable than others.

Copyright ©2008 UBB-GMIT, Kupang. Email:

ISBN: 978-1-86892-592-6

Compilers: Charles E. Grimes, Ph.D. (Linguistics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University; and SIL International); Rev. Dr. Ayub Ranoh, Th.D., Helena Aplugi.

Other contributors: Lazarus Aplugi, Drs. Michael Sina, Lazarus Lusi, Paul Ledo. We have worked with approximately 45 other speakers, male and female, young and old, from the island of Ndao, and a few who live in Kupang. There are minor variations in how strongly the implosives are articulated, and in a few lexical variants.

The tiny island of Ndao is located in the Sabu sea west of Rote and Timor. The Dhao language (Ethnologue/ISO code NFA) is spoken by around 7,000 speakers. Hundreds of speakers of Dhao are found on the island of Rote, in the city of Kupang, and scattered throughout the Timor mainland.

Some notes on the phonology and practical orthography (spelling)

The Dhao language has no /nd/ sound or sequence. The spelling and pronunciation as ‘Ndao’ come from the dominant Rote languages on near-by Rote Island (described in Fox and Grimes 1995). The /dh/ digraph in the practical orthography represents a slightly retroflexed and slightly affricated voiced dental obstruent represented for convenience as [ɖ]. The name of the tiny island continues to be Ndao within the political system under which it currently functions. A sketch of Dhao phonology is found in C. Grimes (1999). Notes on Dhao serial verb constructions are found in J. Jacob and Grimes (2005). Contrasts with the subsystems of Hawu are found in Grimes (forthcoming).

Dhao consonants are displayed in the figure below (with practical orthography symbols in parentheses) and [loan phonemes in square brackets]. These latter are found mostly in proper names and a few high frequency loans introduced via Malay.


Labial     Apical     Laminal  Dorsal    Glottal

Stop            voiceless

Stop            voiced








p            t             ʧ (c)      k            ʔ (')

b            d            ʤ (j)      g

ɓ (b')      ɗ (d')      ʄ (j')       ɠ (g')

b͡ß (bh)   ɖ (dh)                                ʁ (#VV)

[f]          s                                         h

m           n            ɲ (ny)    ŋ (ng)



[w]                       [y]

Dhao has a six vowel system as displayed in the figure below.


Front        Central      Back




i                             u

  e             ə (è)     o  



Phonetically long vowels are a sequence of two vowels. There are no single unit diphthongs.

Word stress falls on the penultimate syllable of the word. Each vowel is a syllable nucleus, so stress falls on the penultimate vowel in VV sequences, regardless of whether the two vowels are same or different.

A stressed schwa /ə/ in a VCV# sequence results in phonetic lengthening of the following consonant. Because this is predictable it is not written in either the transcription or the practical orthography

The double vowel onset in the practical orthography noted in the table of consonants is contrastive. But it has extremely limited distribution. It seems to function at a lexical or phrasal level, and hence is not a phoneme of the same sort as the others. This is illustrated in the examples below.

         [ɖəu ʔae]               dhèu ae             ‘many people’
[ɖəu ʁae]               dhèu aae           ‘king’
[ʔəlːe]                    èle                     ‘complete, finished, done’
[ʔele]                     ele                     ‘disappear’
[təkːe ʁele]            tèke eele           ‘abandon s.t., leave s.t. behind’
[ʔiki]                     iki                      ‘small’
[ʔana ʁiki]             ana iiki              ‘small child’
[ʔuru]                    uru                    ‘first, prior, preceding’
[nətːi ʔuru ka mai]  nèti uru ka mai ‘from long ago’
[ʔana ʁuru]            ana uuru           ‘eldest child’
[ʁaː]                      aa                      ‘and (conjunction)’
[ʁoː]                      oo                      ‘also, as well, additionally (adverb)’

Last updated 8 April 2008.


Aplugi, Lazarus, Charles E. Grimes, Ayub Ranoh, and Michael Sina, compilers. 2000. Kamus Pengantar Lii Dhao (Bahasa Ndao). Kupang: Artha Wacana Press. [Introductory dictionary of Dhao.]

Coward, David F. and Charles E. Grimes. 1995, 2000. Making dictionaries: a guide to lexicography and the Multi-Dictionary Formatter. Waxhaw: Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Fox, James J. 1977. Harvest of the palm: ecological change in eastern Indonesia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Fox, James J. and Charles E. Grimes. 1995. ‘Roti introduction.’ In Darrell Tryon, ed. Comparative Austronesian Dictionary; an introduction to Austronesian studies. 4 Parts. Trends in Linguistics, Documentation 10. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. Part 1, Fascicle 1:611–622.

Grimes, Charles E. 1999. ‘Implikasi penelitian fonologis untuk cara menulis bahasa-bahasa daerah di Kawasan Timur Indonesia.’ In Soenjono Dardjowidjojo and Yassir Nasanius, eds. PELBBA 12: Pertemuan Linguistik (Pusat Kajian) Bahasa dan Budaya Atma Jaya Kedua Belas. Kanisius: Yogyakarta, Indonesia. pp. 173–197. [Implications from phonological research for ways of writing vernacular languages in eastern Indonesia.]

Grimes, Charles E. (forthcoming). Hawu and Dhao in eastern Indonesia: revisiting their relationship. In Michael Ewing and Marian Klamer, eds. Typological and Areal Analyses: Contributions from East Nusantara. Leiden: KITLV Press.

Grimes, Charles E., Tom Therik, Barbara Dix Grimes, and Max Jacob. 1997. A guide to the people and languages of Nusa Tenggara. Paradigma B–1. Kupang: Artha Wacana Press.

Jacob, June and Charles E. Grimes. 2005. ‘Aspect and directionality in Kupang Malay serial verb constructions.’ Paper presented by June Jacob at the 4th International East Nusantara Linguistics Conference held in Leiden, 30 June & 1 July 2005.

Jonker, J.C.G. 1903. ‘Iets over de taal van Dao.’ In Album Kern. (Opstellen geschreven ter eere van Dr. H. Kern). Leiden: E.J. Brill. pp. 85-89.

Ranoh, Ayub, Lazarus Aplugi, Michael Sina, Charles E. Grimes, translators. 2000. Li Lolo Be’a nèti Lamatua Yesus madhutu sasuri Markus. Kupang: Artha Wacana Press. [Gospel of Mark in Dhao, with sketch of phonology in introduction.]

Ranoh, Ayub, Lazarus Aplugi, Michael Sina, Charles E. Grimes, translators. 2004. Lii Lole nèti Ana Pajuu-paleha Lamatua Yesus. Kupang: Artha Wacana Press. [Acts of the Apostles in Dhao.]

Ranoh, Ayub, Lazarus Aplugi, Michael Sina, Charles E. Grimes, translators. 2005. Li Lolo dhu uru tèka. Kupang: Artha Wacana Press. [Genesis in Dhao.]

Ranoh, Ayub, Lazarus Aplugi, Michael Sina, Charles E. Grimes, translators. 2006. Li Holo Nori mi Dhèu Sarani. Kupang: UBB-GMIT. [Pastoral epistles in Dhao.]

Walker, Alan T. 1982. A Grammar of Sawu. NUSA Linguistic Studies in Indonesian and Languages of Indonesia. Vol. 13. [Includes a brief discussion of Dhao.]