At one time there amy have been 14,000 Suwawa speakers (Sneddon and Usup 1986:409). Because the language is no longer being passed on to the younger generation, however, the number of speakers continues to decline. Kitada (In progress) reports fewer than 5,000 speakers, adding that while most of the population of grandparental age (50 years and above) are fluent in Suwawa, only some parents and almost no children can speak their heritage language, for whom the local variety of Malay has taken over informal domains. Following Kitada’s suggestion, we rate Suwawa as 3/Definitely Endangered.
What Others Have Written
The Suwawa language is spoken in the inland district of Suwawa, northeast of Gorontalo proper, by only about half of the population, and has clearly lost ground to the prestigious Gorontalo language, which is spoken not only in the adjacent areas but also by a large part of the population of Suwawa itself.
Merrifield and Salea (1996:130–131)
According to the sociolinguistic data obtained from the four Suwawa villages, adults use the Suwawa language when conversing with each other, but are often also fluent in the Gorontalo language and also speak Indonesian. In two of the villages children are reported to speak both Suwawa and Indonesian, and in the other two villages they are reported to use Indonesian for the most part. Of the two villages where the children use both languages, parents in one of them use Suwawa for the most part when speaking to their children and the children reply in Suwawa. In the other village, parents and their children use both Suwawa and Indonesian to speak with each other. In the two villages where children use Indonesian, parents use Indonesian for the most part when addressing their children, and their children reply in Indonesian.
Kitada (In progress)
The vast majority of the population over 50 years of age is fluent in Suwawa. People who are 20 to 40 years of age have a limited command of Suwawa, though their fluency varies according to their social and educational backgrounds. People who have received degrees in higher education outside of Suwawa, or who are working in Gorontalo, Makassar, Jakarta or other major cities in Indonesia, tend to have less fluency in the language, while people who did not receive an education outside of Suwawa and who live (and work) there are more fluent. However, almost all people in this age group understand Suwawa, and code-switching between Suwawa and the local variety of Malay or Indonesian occurs very frequently. Most people under 20 years of age do not speak Suwawa, although some understand it only passively. Many children under 10 years of age do not even understand the language anymore; they speak only in the local variety of Malay or Indonesian both at home and at school.
The use of Suwawa also varies among the subdistricts. In general, people in Suwawa Subdistrict, which lies nearest to Gorontalo City, do not speak Suwawa anymore; there they speak the local variety of Malay or Indonesian in daily conversations. People in other subdistricts, which lie farther from Gorontalo City (i.e. Suwawa Tengah Subdistrict, Suwawa Timur Subdistrict and Suwawa Selatan Subdistrict) still speak Suwawa. Especially in the village of Pinogu in Suwawa Timur Subdistrict, which is located farthest away from Gorontalo City, even children are fluent in Suwawa.
Kitada (In progress)
Suwawa is not a regular subject in elementary schools: it is taught in a special period scheduled once per week, in which English, Islam and Suwawa are taught in turn. Pupils in the first year (around 7 years old) do not understand basic Suwawa phrases such as greetings. On the other hand, pupils in the sixth year (around 12 years old) have a moderate command of Suwawa, which seems to be the result of the Suwawa language education given irregularly and more or less by hearing daily conversations in Suwawa by older people. Children, however, do not communicate with each other or the adults available around them in Suwawa, but in the local variety of Malay at home, and in Indonesian, which is the national language, in school or at work.
Kitada, Yuko. In progress. Suwawa morphosyntax. PhD dissertation, University of Cologne.
Merrifield, Scott; and Martinus Salea. 1996. North Sulawesi language survey. (Summer Institute of Linguistics Publications in Sociolinguistics, 1.) Dallas: SIL.
Noorduyn, J. 1991a. A critical survey of studies on the languages of Sulawesi. (Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, Bibliographic Series 18.) Leiden: KITLV Press.
Sneddon, J. N.; and Hunggu Tadjuddin Usup. 1986. Shared sound changes in the Gorontalic language group: Implications for subgrouping. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 142:407–426.