By all accounts this language is now in serious decline as younger generations have shifted to Manado Malay and Indonesian. Himmelmann and Wolff (1999:3) estimated only 500 fluent speakers, mostly over the age of 60, along with several thousand semi-speakers. In UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger (Moseley 2010), Ratahan is rated as 3/Defintely Endangered. We suggest that this be revised to 1/Critically Endangered.
What Others Have Written
Toratán (Ratahan) is spoken by the older generation in a handful of villages located in southern Minahasa, North Sulawesi, Indonesia. It is an isolated member of the Sangiric language family, surrounded by Minahasan languages. Like other languages of the region, it is giving way to Manado Malay and the national language Bahasa Indonesia. Its decline is more advanced than most regional languages, with no more than a few hundred fluent speakers, all of advanced age. A southern dialect, Bentenan, spoken on and adjacent to the offshore island of the same name, appears to have disappeared already.
Ron Whisler (2009:pers.comm.)
We see in Ratahan the same phenomenon as in the Minahasan ethnic groups: strong ethnic identity yet language loss. While the number of ethnic Ratahan is probably between 15,000 and 30,000, the actual number of Ratahan speakers is far lower.
As in other language communities in north Sulawesi, language shift to Manado Malay and Indonesian has been observed in the Toratán community. According to Ethnologue (2009), the Toratán’s population in 1989 was approximately 30,000. However, this number was probably based on the population of Ratahan district (Himmelmann and Wolff 1999:3). The estimated number of Toratán speakers in the late 1990s was approximately 500, and most of the good speakers were over 60 years old (Himmelmann and Wolff 1999:3). Within a decade, the estimated number of speakers decreased to 150, and most of them were now over 70 years old (Jukes 2008:198). Due to aging and loss of speakers as well as little transmission of Toratán to younger generations, the number of speakers keeps decreasing. During my visit to Toratán communities (Wioi, Wongkai, and Bentenan) in 2010, I heard little about language revitalization or positive phenomena which would reverse this language shift. Considering the life expectancy in Indonesia, it is assumed that the vast majority of fluent speakers of Toratán will pass away within a decade. UNESCO (2009) categorized the language vitality of Toratán as "definitely endangered," however, this data might have not been updated in recent years (the number of speakers listed is still 500 (1999)). The current situation of Toratán might be more serious than the UNESCO's estimation.
Himmelmann and Wolff (1999:3)
For all intents and purposes, Toratán is now spoken in only three villages, i.e. Pangu, Wioi, and Wangkay. And even in those villages there are few people who use the language habitually. It is estimated that now only 500 good speakers of Toratán are left, mostly over 60 years of age, and a few thousand semi-speakers. … Unfortunately, language death is well advanced throughout the area, not only in Toratán but also in the bordering communities which speak Tontemboan and Tonsawang, and the possibilities for obtaining linguistic documentation for historical facts will soon be gone.
Ratahan is well on the way to extinction, being replaced by Manado Malay in the larger towns and in all but three villages, Pangu, Wioi, and Wongkai, the language is for all intents and purposes dead. In the three village34s in which Ratahan is still alive, there were very few good speakers under fifty in the 1990's, and with a small number of exceptions, nobody under 60 used the language habitually with anyone. To my knowledge, no children have learned the language or used it in the home or with their playmates for the past forty to fifty years.
There is some literacy in it. In 1989, 30,000 Toratán were reported, which was probably the ethnic group. A report from 1999 estimates that there are only 500 good speakers, most of them over sixty years old, and a few thousand semi-speakers. The language is evidently on the way to being seriously endangered from pressure of Minahasan languages surrounding it.
Himmelmann, Nikolaus P.; and John U. Wolff. 1999. Toratán (Ratahan). (Languages of the World Materials, 130.) München: Lincom Europa.
Jukes, Anthony. 2004. Documentation of Ratahan, an endangered Austronesian language of North Sulawesi. The Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project. Online. URL: http://www.hrelp.org/grants/projects/index.php?lang=91 (accessed August 4, 2012).
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.
Nakagawa, Takashi. 2010. The function of "to" in Toratán. MA thesis, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
Wolff, John U. 2010. Proto-Austronesian phonology with glossary. 2 vols. Ithaca: Southeast Asia Program Publications, Cornell University.
Wurm, Stephen A. 2007. Australasia and the Pacific. Encyclopedia of the world’s endangered languages, edited by Christopher Moseley, 425–577. New York: Routledge.