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Jakarta Field Station > Projects > Language Description > Kenyah

Classification of Kenyah Languages

Researcher: Antonia Soriente

Kenyah is the language used by one of the ethnic groups inhabiting the highlands between Sarawak in Malaysia and East Kalimantan in Indonesia, and is traditionally considered related to Kayan. They are both included in the macro-group called Dayak, an exonym referring to all the populations living in the interior of Borneo whose religion is not Muslim (in opposition to most of the populations living along the coast who are mainly of Malay origin and of Muslim religion). In other words Dayak is a very loose term, which includes tens of different ethnic groups whose origin, languages and habits may be very diverse.

The ethnonym Kenyah refers to several groups, which ethnically and culturally, as well as according to their origins, are quite different; linguistically it includes variants of Kayan, Punan and other subgroups that are therefore often mixed together both ethnically and linguistically.

Extensive fieldwork undertaken both in Kalimantan and Sarawak has contributed to the classification and subgrouping of some of the Borneo languages within the Austronesian language family, applying the methods of historical linguistics. The study of Kenyah languages and their classification is necessary to overcome the difficulty in delimiting language units for description and analysis and to separate languages from concepts such as ethnicity, race, tribe, culture unit and so on.

Future research will aim to relate the Kenyah languages to other language groups in the area.

Some maps of the region can be viewed here.

You can read and listen to some sample text.

Take a look at Antonia's photo galleries of the region.

Last modified: 2002
Location: kenyah.php.html