The Tolaki language is vulnerable or shifting in cities and towns, as well as in villages with a significant proportion of outsiders. Conversely, the language remains vigorous in villages with few immigrants, although this could change as more outsiders enter the Tolaki area. Edwards (2011:pers.comm.) also reports anecdotal evidence that suggests smaller dialects may be disappearing, owing to shift to the more prestigious Konawe and Mekongga dialects in the younger generation. On the positive side, many Tolakinese have awoken to the fact that their language is threatened, and are taking (or want to take) steps to promote Tolaki language and culture. For the present we rate Tolaki as 4/Vulnerable.
What Others Have Written
The Tolaki area is broad and diverse. But we can make a few general comments about language use among the Tolaki.
In the Konawe region, the use of Tolaki remains strong in all rural areas. Only among those who had settled in Kendari [the provincial capital] did we find children who knew only Indonesian.
In the west, Mekongga speakers are a minority in their own native area, outnumbered four-to-one by immigrants, mostly from South Sulawesi. In some villages, primarily those with mixed populations, Bugis and/or Indonesian may be the dominant language, even in the home.
The To Asera and the To Laiwui have each established their own community, albeit outside the motherland. They continue to use their own speech variety in homes, in fields and at festivals. Our impression of Wiwirano, though, was that it may be disappearing. However it was reported to us that even a few children among twenty or so Wiwirano households in Mapute village speak their distinctive dialect.
Scott Youngman (2011:pers.comm.)
The Tolaki situation is not uniform. In villages with few outsiders, the language is vigorous and all generations may use Tolaki. In cities and towns, language use is vulnerable or even shifting; and children are more likely not to learn Tolaki as a first language. On a smaller scale, this same pattern is reproduced in villages where many outsiders have settled. As people from other ethnic groups spread further throughout the province, I expect the use of Tolaki to come under pressure in more villages. Concerned Tolaki educators and leaders have expressed a need to boost or rejuvenate language use in some way. These people live in towns and cities, so they are probably responding to the language conditions there. Significantly, Tolaki people themselves are the ones expressing concern.
Tolaki has high community esteem. It is taught as an elective in local primary schools, there is a radio station that has some Tolaki language content and there is also a Facebook group, Saya Cinta Bahasa Tolaki (Indonesian: I love the Tolaki language), dedicated to the language.
Somewhat contradictorily though, despite this high esteem, Tolaki is not often the language of choice among Tolaki speakers. This is particularly true of urban speakers. Thus young ethnic Tolaki will often choose to speak Indonesian among themselves, even in the home, and at the 2011 meeting of the Lembaga Adat Tolaki Konawe Mekongga (Institute of the Culture of Tolaki Konawe-Mekongga) all business was conducted in Indonesian. Tolaki is most strongly maintained in rural areas, where many immigrants learn Tolaki as a second language.
Nearly all speakers of Tolaki are minimally bilingual in Tolaki and Indonesian. Monolingualism in Tolaki, though still occasionally reported, is rare.
Owen Edwards (2011:pers.comm.)
It seems that dialect shift is underway in Alaaha. In kampung Alaaha Tolaki is strongly maintained, the children use it among themselves. However, it seems that the unique dialect [=Laiwui] spoken in Alaaha may not be being transmitted to the younger generation. The children here spoke Konawe/Mekongga. Additionally, … only the oldest generation provided me information about the Alaaha dialect. The eldest generation still use the unique dialect amongst themselves, however all are also fluent in the Konawe/Mekongga dialect of Tolaki.
Owen Edwards (2011:pers.comm.)
Tolaki is extremely strongly maintained [in Wiwirano village]. This was the first time I encountered teenagers who regularly used Tolaki amongst themselves, rather than Indonesian. … Additionally, one friend of mine, the English teacher at the senior high school (who doesn’t speak Tolaki) reported that many of the students cannot speak “good Indonesian,” and when she first started her job she wanted to go back to Kendari because everyone was speaking Tolaki all the time. … The uncle and father of one of the students also spoke another ‘dialect’ of Tolaki, though I don’t know which one (Asera/Wiwirano/Waru), though the student certainly didn’t use it amongst members of his own generation.
Edwards, Owen. 2012. Grammatical functions in Tolaki. BA honours thesis, Australian National University. [Online. URL: http://hdl.handle.net/1885/9388 (accessed January 30, 2014).]
Mead, David E. 1999. The Bungku-Tolaki languages of south-eastern Sulawesi, Indonesia. (Pacific Linguistics, D-91.) Canberra: Australian National University.