The Malay Language on Mainland Asia

Author: Asmah Haji Omar (University of Malaya)
Speaker: Asmah Haji Omar
Topic: Ethnographical language work
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


Linguistic landscape study—the analysis of how written language is used in public domains—has developed as an independent area of inquiry in sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology over the past two decades (Landry & Bourhis 1997, Gorter 2006, Blommaert 2013), with some studies, notably Backhaus (2007), specifically addressing Japan. In this session, the presenter will describe his use of linguistic landscape as a tool for introducing ethnographically oriented research methodology to Japanese undergraduate students in three university courses, as a part of their preparation for conducting senior-thesis research. The presentation is part of a growing body of academic work addressing pedagogical uses of linguistic landscape (e.g., Sayer 2010, Wang 2015, Li and Marshall 2017).

This paper discusses the presence of Malay on the Asian mainland, specifically in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Its present-day distribution in these countries can be attributed to it being (i) an original feature of the Asian mainland, and (ii) a product of migration. Hence, areas of its diffusion in these countries have different historical narratives. In (i), these areas are a reflection of a historical past which is explicable in terms of the theory of migration of the Austronesian languages (of which Malay is a member), from the north through the land area where these countries belong, to the south, east and west, across the Pacific and the Indian Oceans.
The Malay language as part of this historical process had landed on firm ground in the Malay Peninsula and Sumatera, and from there it spread all over the eponymous Malay Archipelago. In (ii), ‘new’ areas of spread on the mainland are formed through migration of Malay language speakers from country to country, as well as through a reverse migration from the Malay Peninsula to mainland Asia.
Discussion in this paper centres on the following factors: (a) Historical processes of migration, and the communities formed; (b) Factors that contribute to the spread and recession of the language in these countries; and (iii) Use of the language in the different communities.

Keywords: Keywords: Malay, Language, Austronesia, Narratives