Location and Classification
Tukang Besi is spoken in the Tukang Besi Archipelago, which lies southeast of Buton Island in the province of Southeast Sulawesi. Following Donohue’s 2000 dialect geography, linguists have recognized two languages: North Tukang Besi, spoken on the islands of Wanci and Kaledupa, and South Tukang Besi, spoken on the islands of Tomea and Binongko. Despite differences owing to historical sound change, and even low inherent intelligibility, local opinion strongly favors recognizing only a single language.
Esser (1938) included Tukang Besi within his “Moena-Boetoengsche groep” and—despite some questions in the intervening years—Van den Berg (2003) confirmed Tukang Besi's position as a primary branch within Muna-Buton.
Two dialects of South Tukang Besi are recognized, one spoken on the island of Tomea and one spoken on the island of Binongko. These two dialects are 87% lexically similar in basic vocabulary (Donohue 2000:57).
Binongko in turn is 85% lexically similar to Bonerate, a language spoken in South Sulawesi (Donohue 2000:57). If lexicostatistics alone were the only factor, then Bonerate could be considered a third dialect of South Tukang Besi.
Based on research conducted circa 1994, Donohue (1999:3) estimated there were 30,000 speakers on Wanci and Kaledupa islands, but noted that there were numerous other communities scattered throughout Indonesia. Andersen (2006:5) estimates 130,000 speakers (30,000 on the home islands, and 100,000 abroad).
Andersen, T. David. 2006. Suku bahasa di Sulawesi Tenggara. Unpublished typescript, 11 pp.
Berg, René van den. 2003. The place of Tukang Besi and the Muna-Buton languages. Issues in Austronesian historical phonology (Pacific Linguistics, 550), edited by John Lynch, 87–113. Canberra: Australian National University.
Donohue, Mark. 1999. A grammar of Tukang Besi. (Mouton Grammar Library, 20.) Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Donohue, Mark. 2000. Tukang Besi dialectology. Spices from the East: Papers in languages of eastern Indonesia (Pacific Linguistics, 503), edited by Charles E. Grimes, 55–72. Canberra: Australian National University.
Esser, S. J. 1938. Talen. Map, scale 1:10,000,000. Atlas van Tropisch Nederland, by Koninklijk Nederlandsch Aardrijkskundig Genootschap in cooperation with the Topografischen Dienst in Nederlandsch-Indië, sheet 9b. ’s-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff.