The Bambam language is spoken in the interior of West Sulawesi province in portions of the Maloso and Mapili watersheds. Throughout the Bambam area and extending into neighboring languages such as Ulumanda', Aralle-Tabulahan, and Pannei, there is complex dialect chaining, with sometimes even single villages exhibiting dialectal differences from one end to the other. This complex chaining was investigated by three SIL survey teams in the 1980s—results are reported in Grimes and Grimes (1987:39 ff.), Friberg (1987) and Strømme (1987)—and it is the last of these that delineated the borders of the Bambam language area as it has come down to us today.
A name formerly used for this language is Pitu Ulunna Salu (in its abbreviated form: PUS). The term Pitu Ulunna Salu, ‘seven headwaters,’ refers to seven upland territories, similar in culture, that in the sixteenth century formed a cooperative alliance for trade and self-defense (George 1996:27). These seven territories were Matangnga, Tu'bi, Rantebulahan, Bambang, Tabulahan, Aralle, and Mambi. Because this historical region encompasses several languages, Pitu Ulunna Salu is to be avoided as a language name.
Within Bambam eight dialects (or sometimes more) have been recognized on lexicostatistical grounds, including: Bambang Hulu, Salu Mokanam, Bumal, Mehalaan, Pattae', Matangnga, Issilita', and Pakkau. However, a more pertinent feature recognized by Bambam speakers themselves is an h-r correspondence, as seen for example in pairs such as hea ~ rea ‘blood’ and duhi ~ duri ‘thorn.’ According to this feature, speakers of Bambang Hulu, Salu Mokanam and a subdialect of Bumal use /h/, where speakers of another subdialect of Bumal and the remaining dialects use /r/.
Estimates based on 1983 demographic data placed the number of Bambam speakers at 22,000 or, broken down by dialect area, Bumal 5,500; Issilita' and Bambang Hulu 6,000; Salu Mukanan and Pakkau 4,000; Mehalaan 3,500; Pattae' 500; and Matangnga 2,500 (Strømme 1987:29). Along the lines of the h-r correspondence discussed above, the populations of h- and r-dialect speakers are roughly equal.
Friberg, Timothy. 1987. Kabupaten Polewali-Mamasa, northern section. UNHAS-SIL South Sulawesi sociolinguistic surveys, 1983–1987 (Workpapers in Indonesian Languages and Cultures, 5), edited by Timothy Friberg, 9–16. Ujung Pandang: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
George, Kenneth M. 1996. Showing signs of violence: The cultural politics of a twentieth-century headhunting ritual. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Grimes, Charles E.; and Barbara D. Grimes. 1987. Languages of South Sulawesi. (Pacific Linguistics, D-78.) Canberra: Australian National University.
Strømme, Kåre J. 1987. Kabupaten Polewali Mamasa, west-central section. UNHAS-SIL South Sulawesi sociolinguistic surveys, 1983–1987 (Workpapers in Indonesian Languages and Cultures, 5), edited by Timothy Friberg, 17–40. Ujung Pandang: Summer Institute of Linguistics.