In 2006 an SIL survey team evaluated use of the local language in seven Tonsea villages. They concluded that Tonsea was not dominant in any domain of use, furthermore even in villages with relatively strong use of Tonsea few children were reported to be learning the language (Lee and Hertz 2006). For these reasons, we rate the Tonsea language as 3/Definitely Endangered.
What Others Have Written
The Tonsea language is not spoken very much anymore. Children and young people don't know the language. Tallei claims that no more than 10% of the people even use Tonsea in their homes. For the most part they learn Melayu Manado from their parents at a very young age and use it in the home, at school, and with the outsiders in the area. Women too typically have poor Tonsea speaking skills. Only the older adults know the language and even they are also equally as fluent in Melayu Manado. Even among the elderly, the use of Tonsea is quite restricted. It can be heard in nonformal, intimate situations only, such as in the home with old friends or in singing, also at traditional events.
Lee and Hertz (2006:23)
The language vitality of the Tonsea language can best be categorized as decreasing: “A shift toward a second language is clearly in progress. The clearest indicator is that children are neither learning nor using the language. Another indicator is that the language is used in few domains.”
This conclusion is based on clear trends seen in the selected Tonsea-speaking village sites through data reported by community members and gathered by researchers. Because these villages, reported to be the strongest areas of language use, universally and clearly reflected this decline, the researchers are confident that this trend exists across the entire Tonsea language area.
This trend is evidenced by the following: (a) Only a small number of children are reported to be learning the language fluently. (b) The reported percentage of people fluent in Tonsea below age 39 is low (under 50%). (c) Use of Tonsea across all researched domains is sparing and fails to be dominant in any domain.
Despite the clear language shift, language attitudes are generally positive. The Tonsea people express a love for their identity and a desire for their language not to die. However, a number of respondents stated that the need to maju (‘move ahead in life’) necessitates the use of Indonesian and Manado Malay, and that because Tonsea does not offer the same opportunities, it is less of a priority for younger speakers.
Anthony Jukes (2012:pers.comm.)
In a few villages such as Laikit in the west and Waleo in the east, Tonsea is still spoken quite extensively by middle-aged people and older, but not in Airmadidi nor any of the towns/villages on the main road between Manado and Bitung such as Treman and Kauditan. Nowhere have I have observed children speaking Tonsea. Even in Waleo children could not speak the language at all, not even count in Tonsea.
Theoretically many people are in favour of preserving the language, but I haven’t seen organized efforts to promote or preserve Tonsea. There are the usual speeches at kabupaten [regency] events, and even the Bupati [regent] of North Minahasa is very in favour of the language, but I don’t know if that has or will turn into anything effective.
All the Minahasan languages are endangered. The languages are still spoken by young people in rural areas, but the majority of the population, most especially the elite, has been switching to the Manado dialect of Malay. This process began more than a century ago, and has been proceeding with ever-increasing speed since.
Lee, Sandra; and Regina Hertz. 2006. Report of language survey on the Tonsea language. Unpublished typescript, 46 pp. SIL Indonesia Survey Team.
Merrifield, Judi. [1991.] Life in North Sulawesi. Unpublished typescript, vii, 107 pp.
Wolff, John U. 2010. Proto-Austronesian phonology with glossary. 2 vols. Ithaca: Southeast Asia Program Publications, Cornell University.