Plant names (Darma Laksana, 2010)

Plant names in Nusa Penida Dialect: A preliminary Study

Professor I Ketut Darma Laksana, during the Third International Seminar on Austronesian Languages and Literatures (PPS Ling. Udayana University), held in Bali 19-20 July 2010, concisely discussed the use of plant names in 'Nusa Penidian', the Bali Aga dialect on the island Nusa Penida. The English in the article below has been adapted to enhance readability, and additional remarks by the author are introduced in square brackets.

saab forest bananatrees01Image right: Saab forest & banana trees bordering agricultural land (FNPF, 2004)

Nusa Penida is located off the southeast coast of Bali island with a population of approximately 30,000 people. The name Nusa Penida has two meanings: firstly, the name of the island, and secondly the name of the district (Indonesian: kecamatan). Located to the west of Nusa Penida there are two smaller islands, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan, which both fall under Nusa Penida district government. Along the north coast there are coconut trees, while the middle area up to the border line on the south is terraced. In this area, people grow plants such as jackfruit (nangka) banana (biu), beans (kacang), manga (poh), oranges (jehuk), corn (jagung), etc.

Nusa Penida Dialect: Bali Aga

According to Jendra (1976), the local language is called 'Dialek Bali Aga'. Some linguistic characteristics that can be found in the dialect are: productivity of phoneme [h], a number of lexical items, and pronominal pronouns.

1. Productivity of phoneme [h]

on the front English on the middle English
has fall permanently behang give
he plenty behas rice
hot mixture of rice and bran behat heavy
hengken what happened tehing bamboo
hobek taken unsystematic(ally?) kahang rock
hebah fall down bohung cancel
2. Lexical items

Nusa Penidian English
babuan above
bering angry
kamel go to the garden
nyalan to go
ledok specific local food
palit penis

3. Pronominal pronouns

Pronouns Singular Plural English
first kola   I
second ede   you
second inclusive   ebe we
second exclusive   ebe honyangan we
third iya iya honyangan (s)he | they

'Iya' is generally understood by Balinese, but 'kola' and 'ede' are not, except by people of Klungkung, because people of both areas are so close. For the people of Klungkung, the pronouns are well-known and often used as a joke. When someone from Klungkung meets people from Nusa Penida he/she usually uses the pronouns in conversation.

Theoretical framework: three types of signs

There are three types of sign relationship, i.e. icon, index, and symbol. An icon sign resembles or depicts the object or action it refers to. For example: the picture of the sun on a weather forecast chart; an indexical sign is something that is closely associated with the object or action that it refers to. Example: smoke is an indexical representation of fire. A symbolic sign is something that stands for something else but otherwise bears no relationship to the object or action that it stands for. Example: a red traffic light means stop. Furthermore, language is symbolic unlike many other forms of communication. It is symbolic because the sign (we call words) are arbitrary. There is nothing inevitable that links the word poh 'mango' to a particular kind of plant nyambu 'rose apple'. It would not make any difference to the thing we are talking about.

Folk classification

Speakers can separate their world systematically into generic and specific categories. Generic can be understood as lexical items where meaning includes a number of items, for example: jagung 'corn' is a generic term which includes a number of items, such as jagung kuning (yellow corn), jagung putih or jagung jalli (white corn), and this is a specific classification in Nusa Penida dialect. ('Hal itu merupakan klasifikasi yang khas pada dialek Nusa Penida') [the last part of this sentence was clarified by Darma Laksana in personal correspondence August 2013].

List of plant names

Plant names, which are presented here are called 'cultured plants' because people planted them for daily consumption. These differ from the wild plants, which are not planted by people. An example is padang 'grass', belatung 'a kind of cactus'.

Generic English Specific English
geddang papaya geddang kuning yellow papaya (esp. bird food)
    geddang renteng papaya with a number of branches
    geddang talluh seedless papaya
jagung corn jagung kuning yellow corn
    jagung putih white corn
    jagung jalli white corn
jehuk orange jehuk penyerukan especially for culinary use
kacang bean kacang dawa string bean peanut
    kacang ijo green bean
    kacang rejig smallest seeds
kemalle pumpkin kemalle perang its fruits usually lie down on the rock or land
    kemalle gantung string of pumpkin(s)
nangka jackfruit nangka lawar for a special Balinese food
    nangka lolos seeds are easily released
nyambu rose apple nyambu rata brown rose apple
poh mango poh gaddang green mango
    poh lembongan yellow mango
sela cassava sele bum sweet potato
tabia chili tabia gede biggest of the chilis
    tabia krinyi smallest of the chilis
tehing bamboo tehing gadding yellow bamboo
    tehing petung biggest bamboo
    tehing tali common bamboo

The Iconicity of plant names

The examination of data shows that iconicity is commonly used by speakers in naming their cultured plants. According to how people classify the plant, we can see which are generic and which are specific. The way people name their plants can also be called descriptive (or motivated) that describes similarities according to their physical characteristics. For example: renteng means 'a number of branches'; so geddang renteng means 'papaya with a number of branches (especially its fruit)'; and talluh means 'egg'; so geddang talluh means papaya which looks like an egg (and without seeds)'. Here is where speakers make a comparison between gedang and something else like renteng or taluh. So we can see that there is a similarity between the two things. This is called iconicity.

A great number of plant names are compounds or lexical combinations and consists of a basic name, which is determined. In many cases determinants are only added to it to contrast with other similar plants. Here, speakers differentiate transparent from opaque. If a mother says, "fetch some nangka", the child may ask, "which kind of nangka," whereas the mother answers, "nangka lawar", of course, because its price is cheaper than the others.


The linguistic bases of naming plants is systematic in Nusa Penida dialect. All the specific plant names are based on the generic one. This means that for people who learn the language, especially plant names in Nusa Penida dialect, it will be easier to learn them


  • Darma-Laksana, IK. 1977. "Morforlogi Dialek Nusa Penida (skripsi). Denpasar: Fakultas Sastra Universitas Udayana
  • Gregory, H. 2000. Semantics: Language Workbooks, First publish. USA and Canada: Routledge
  • Jendra, IW. dkk. 1976. "Sekilas Tentang Latar Belakang Budaya dan Bahasa Bali". Jakarta: Proyek Pembinaan dan Pengembangan Bahasa
  • Ullman, S. 1977. Semantics: An introduction to The Science of Meaning. Oxford: Basil Blackwell
  • Verheijen, J.A.J. 1984. "Plkant Names in Austronesian Linguistic". Seri NUSA: Linguistic Studies of Indonesian and Other Languages in Indonesia. Volume 20. Jakarta: Badan Penyelenggara Seri NUSA, Universitas Katolik Indonesia Ata Jaya


  • Darma Laksana, I Ketut - Plant names in Nusa Penida dialect: A preliminary Study, in: "Perspektif Bahasa-bahasa Austronesia dan Non-Austronesia. Kajian Bahasa dan Sastra 2", Udayana University Press, ISBN 978.602.8566.797, 2010, p.257-260

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