The Wawonii language is spoken on the island of Wawonii in Southeast Sulawesi and on the smaller island of Menui just to its north, located in the province of Central Sulawesi. The name Wawonii means ‘coconut mountian.’
Wawonii comprises two dialects, one spoken on the island of Wawonii and the other spoken on the island of Menui. While these dialects are very similar in terms of word stock, a conspicuous difference is the bilabial fricative. On Wawonii this sound is always voiced [β ~ w] and spelled with a w (e.g. wuku ‘bone,’ owose ‘big’) but on Menui it is usually pronounced with a voiceless quality [ɸ] and written f (fuku ‘bone,’ ofose ‘big’)—a feature which Menui shares in common with certain Bungku dialects (Mead 1999).
Wawonii is the central member of a language chain which stretches from Bungku in the north to Kulisusu in the south. In a lexicostatistical study, Wawonii was calculated to be 75% similar in basic vocabulary wih both languages, while Bungku and Kulisusu—at the ends of the chain—scored only 65% lexically similar with each other (Mead 1999:45).
Andersen (2006:4) estimated 30,000 speakers of Wawonii or, broken down by dialect, 22,500 on the island of Wawonii and 7,500 on the island of Menui.
Andersen, T. David. 2006. Suku bahasa di Sulawesi Tenggara. Unpublished typescript, 11 pp.
Mead, David E. 1999. The Bungku-Tolaki languages of south-eastern Sulawesi, Indonesia. (Pacific Linguistics, D-91.) Canberra: Australian National University.