New Language Found In Southeast Asia (VIDEO)

Researchers have discovered a new language spoken by about 280 people in a small village in northern peninsula Malaysia.

AsianScientist (Feb. 16, 2018) – Researchers have discovered a previously unknown language in the Malay Peninsula. They published their findings in Linguistic Typology.

An estimated 6,000 languages are currently spoken in the world. About 80 percent of the world’s population speak one of the major world languages, while approximately 20 percent speak one of the 3,600 smaller languages. Researchers believe that about half of the world’s languages will be extinct 100 years from now.

In this study, a team of researchers led by Associate Professor Niclas Burenhult and Ms. Joanne Yager of Lund University, Sweden, has discovered a minority language used in a village located in the northern Malay Peninsula. The language is an Aslian variety within the Austroasiatic language family and is spoken by 280 people who are settled hunter-gatherers. The researchers called the new language Jedek.

“Documentation of endangered minority languages such as Jedek is important, as it provides new insights into human cognition and culture,” said Yager, doctoral student at Lund University.

The researchers discovered the language during a language documentation project, Tongues of the Semang, in which they visited several villages to collect language data from different groups who speak Aslian languages. The discovery of Jedek was made while they were studying the Jahai language in the same area.

“We realized that a large part of the village spoke a different language. They used words, phonemes and grammatical structures that are not used in Jahai. Some of these words suggested a link with other Aslian languages spoken far away in other parts of the Malay Peninsula,” said Yager.

The community in which Jedek is spoken is more gender-equal than Western societies. There is almost no interpersonal violence, they consciously encourage their children not to compete, and there are no laws or courts. There are no professions either. Rather, everyone has the skills that are required in a hunter-gatherer community.

This way of life is reflected in the language. There are no indigenous words for occupations or for courts of law, and no indigenous verbs to denote ownership such as borrow, steal, buy or sell. There is, however, a rich vocabulary of words to describe exchanging and sharing.

“Jedek is not a language spoken by an unknown tribe in the jungle, as you would perhaps imagine, but in a village previously studied by anthropologists. As linguists, we had a different set of questions and found something that the anthropologists missed,” said Burenhult, who collected the first linguistic material from Jedek speakers.

“There are so many ways to be human, but all too often our own modern and mainly urban societies are used as the yardstick for what is universally human. We have so much to learn, not least about ourselves, from the largely undocumented and endangered linguistic and cultural riches that are out there,” he added.

The article can be found at: Yager & Burenhult (2017) Jedek: A Newly Discovered Aslian Variety of Malaysia.


Source: Lund University; Photo: Niclas Burenhult.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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