While their villages lie off the beaten path, most Balaesang people are multilingual owing to frequent contact with Kaili, Bugis, Bajau, Pendau and speakers of other languages, and Himmelmann also reports a high level of proficiency in Indonesian (see below). The situation as reported by Himmelmann was not as dire in Balaesang as in other, more endangered Tomini-Tolitoli languages, and following his descriptions probably deserving a rating of 4/Vulnerable. Nonetheless we follow UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger (Moseley 2010) and rate Balaesang as 3/Definitely Endangered, assuming that in the intervening two decades the situation has progressed toward less use of Balaesang among the younger generation. At the same time we urge that the area be revisited to assess the current degree of endangerment of the Balaesang language, including whether Himmelmann’s predictions have proved accurate.
Although Wurm (2007:477) suggests that over a sixteen year period Balaesang decreased by 800 speakers and from five to three villages, a more likely explanation is that Himmelmann's data (Himmelmann 2001:18, 23) was simply more accurate than that collected during a preceding survey (Barr and Barr 1979:39)
What Others Have Written
In Rano, at least (the compiler did not visit the other locations), Balaesang is still very much the everyday language of communication, though most people also appear to have an excellent command of Indonesian. Furthermore, almost everyone seems to know Kaili and some Bajau (due to the Bajau in Pomolulu who cater sea fish to the village). The contributors easily recognized words from other Tomini-Tolitoli languages and had a relatively precise knowledge of the southern part of the Tomini-Tolitoli area.
The three villages where Balaesang is spoken … are almost exclusively populated by Balaesang. In Rano, the only village I actually visited, I observed the following: almost everybody in this small village (827 inhabitants according to the 1991 census) was speaking Balaesang. This was fairly easy to observe since a large part of the population crowded at night around the village's two television sets. On first sight, Rano gives the impression of a very vital Balaesang speech community. However, there was a conspicuous hole in the population present at the television meetings, pertaining to the 15–30 years age bracket. Upon inquiry, it turned out that almost every family was said to have some children studying in Palu (or Makassar). Thus, although the symptoms of the emigration scenario are not yet as noticeable in Rano as they are in the town of Tolitoli or in Talaga, it seems likely that the further development proceeds along the lines characteristic of the emigration scenario.
In 1979, it was spoken in five villages, with 4,000 inhabitants. In 1995 there were only three, with about 3,200 inhabitants. However, these three are almost entirely populated by Balaesang speakers, though the 15–30 year-olds study in towns where they bring back Indonesian as their preferred language. This makes the language endangered, though it still may have close to 3,000 speakers.
Barr, Donald F.; and Sharon G. Barr. 1979. Languages of Central Sulawesi: checklist, preliminary classification, language maps, wordlists. In cooperation with C. Salombe. Ujung Pandang: UNHAS-SIL.
Himmelmann, Nikolaus P. (compiler.) 2001. Sourcebook on Tomini-Tolitoli languages: General information and word lists. (Pacific Linguistics, 511.) Canberra: Australian National University.
Himmelmann, Nikolaus P. 2010. Language endangerment scenarios: A case study from northern Central Sulawesi. Endangered Languages of Austronesia, edited by Margaret Florey, 45–72. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Moseley, Christopher (ed.) 2010. Atlas of the world’s languages in danger, 3rd ed., entirely revised, enlarged and updated. (Memory of Peoples Series.) Paris: UNESCO Publishing.
Wurm, Stephen A. 2007. Australasia and the Pacific. Encyclopedia of the world’s endangered languages, edited by Christopher Moseley, 425–577. New York: Routledge.