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Jakarta Field Station > Collaborative Projects > Documentation of Kenyah

Documentation of Kenyah

Collaborating Institution:
Culture Sector, UNESCO Jakarta Office [external link]

MPI Scientist:
Antonia Soriente

Documentation and description of Kenyah and Penan languages in East Kalimantan

The objective of this project, is to document, describe and preserve two endangered Kenyah languages, Lebu' Kulit and Òma Lóngh and two Punan/Penan languages, Punan Tubu and Penan Benalui all spoken in the Provinces of East and North Kalimantan in Indonesia. Previous fieldwork has consisted almost exclusively of wordlists. Yet a comprehensive description of Kenyah and Punan/Penan languages can only be achieved once textual data has been collected in at least some isolects, so an analysis can be made of its morphology and syntax. Recording Kenyah and Punan/Penan isolects in electronic form, transcribing the recordings, and describing their structure will not only be a boon to Austronesian studies and to general linguistics, but may also instill a pride of the language among its speakers, and encourage them to preserve their cultural and linguistic heritage. This, in turn, will be a small addition to international efforts to preserve the world's cultural and linguistic diversity.

One of the projects was co-funded by the Culture Unit of UNESCO office, Jakarta, in 2004/2005, and another is currently in progress. They entail of recording various types of texts, including oral literature and oral history; transcribing texts with the assistance of native consultants; analyzing the texts to produce linguistic studies; and last but not least, making texts available to members of the community on audio cassettes as well as in written form. Poems, songs, music, and dances performed by members of Lebu' Kulit Òma Lóngh, Penan Benalui and Punan Tubu communities have been video recorded. Finally, automatically generated glossaries of Lebu' Kulit, Òma Lóngh, Penan Benalui and Punan Tubu have been produced, with a view to producing dictionaries of the isolects in the future.


Bernard Sellato and Antonia Soriente, 2015. “The Languages and Peoples of the Müller Mountains: A Contribution to the Study of the Origins of Borneo’s Nomads and their Languages” Wacana vol. 16, (2015) n. 1: 371-386.

Antonia Soriente, 2014. “Notes on the morphology of Òma Lóngh.” in Sercombe PG, Boutin M, Clynes A (eds.) Advances in Linguistic and Cultural Research in Borneo (Memorial volume in honour of Peter Martin) 2014. Borneo Research Council.

Antonia Soriente, 2014. “Studying Linguistic and Cultural Contact in Borneo. Prospects and Challenges.” Antropologia, Milano, 1, 1: 59-81.

Antonia Soriente, 2013. “Variation in aspect and modality in some languages of North-eastern Borneo”. In John Bowden in Tense, aspect, mood and evidentiality in languages of Indonesia NUSA 55: 193-218.

Antonia Soriente, 2013. “Endangered oral literature genres in Punan Tubu (East Kalimantan)”. In Proceedings of the International workshop on ‘Special genres’ in and around Indonesia 2013: 151-166. Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa. Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

Antonia Soriente, 2013. “Undergoer Voice in Borneo: Penan, Punan, Kenyah and Kayan languages” In NUSA: Linguistic studies of languages in and around Indonesia vol 54. Voice variation in Austronesian languages of Indonesia: 175-203.

Antonia Soriente, 2008. “A classification of Kenyah languages: a preliminary assessment”. in Proceedings of South East Asia Linguistic Society (SEALS) 14 – Bangkok- May 2004.

Antonia Soriente, (ed.) 2006. Mencalèny & Usung Bayung Marang. A collection of Kenyah stories in the Òma Lóngh and Lebu’ Kulit languages. Jakarta: Atma Jaya University Press.

Antonia Soriente, 2006. “Introduction” in Soriente A. Mencalèny & Usung Bayung Marang. A collection of Kenyah stories in the Òma Lóngh and Lebu’ Kulit languages. Jakarta: Atma Jaya University Press: xiv-xliii

Antonia Soriente, 2006. “Uma’ Kulit: a Kenyah or Kayan language?” in Linguistik Indonesia 24,1:71-81.

Antonia Soriente, 2006 “Mencalèny & Usung Bayung Marang: A Kenyah Language Documentation Project in East Kalimantan.” in Reflections in Borneo Rivers. Essays in honour of Prof. J.T. Collins. Pontianak: Stain Press: 65-96.

Antonia Soriente, In press. "Hunter Gatherers in Borneo and The Case Study of the Penan Benalui" Güldemann, Tom, Patrick McConvell and Richard Rhodes (eds.). Hunter-gatherers and linguistic history: a global perspective. Cambridge University Press.

Antonia Soriente, Dollop Mamung, Nicolas Cesard & Antonio Guerreiro (eds) In preparation. Petualangan Unjung dan cerita lain. Cerita Punan Tubu’ dengan kamus dan tata bahasa dasar. The adventures of Unjung and other stories in Punan Tubu’ with a dictionary and a sketch description). Jakarta: EFEO dan Gramedia.

Antonia Soriente, In preparation “Deictics in Borneo” in Da Milano Federica and Zublena Paolo (eds.) Space and language: on deixis. John Benjamin.

Antonia Soriente, In preparation “Subordination, coordination, juxtaposition and lexical borrowing in clause combining in the Oma Longh and Lebu’ Kulit Kenyah languages of Kalimantan” in Shiohara Asako and Yanti (eds.) Clause combining in/around Indonesian languages. NUSA.


The first output of this documentation project is the publication of a book containing 15 stories in the two languages titled Mencalèny & Usung Bayung Marang. A collection of Kenyah stories in the Òma Lóngh and Lebu' Kulit languages mainly meant for the use of the community. The next step will be the detailed analysis of the linguistic data to be displayed in a reference grammar of the two languages.

Last modified: 26 April 2015, Melbourne