Indigenous Communities and Languages of Sarawak, Malaysia informs readers of the intricate tapestry of multiethnic and multilingual indigenous communities of Sarawak by navigating the historical and contemporary dimensions, examining key domains such as migration history, population dynamics, lexicostatistic subgrouping, and the typology of systems and structures. All these domains make use of contemporary data, most which are products of the authors’ field research. Sarawak indigenous landscape has changed from single ethnolinguistic communities of the past to regions with a number of ethnolinguistic groups living together, a situation brought about by the opening of new regions with industries that offer jobs. Lexicostatistic subgrouping of these indigenous languages results in nine major subfamilies, and a number of sub-subfamilies being branches of the major ones. Most of these languages are still unwritten and their morphology is of the simple agglutinative type. The few that have been put to writing have shown an increase in the use of agglutination for the derivation of new expressions. Hence, this book is meant not only for linguists but also for a wider circle of readers whose field of study or whose general interest is knowledge of the indigenous peoples of Sarawak and their languages.
Most of the Sarawak indigenous languages are still at the stage of being ‘languages of memory’, a term first used by sociologist Abram de Swaan for languages which do not have written texts. This situation means that the data used in this volume mostly consist of language materials recorded orally from informants in the field. The first three chapters were written with general readers in mind, not just for the benefit of linguists and researchers in other vocations who are interested in the indigenous peoples of Sarawak, but also as general knowledge of the composition of these peoples and their histories in the formation of ethnolinguistic communities in various parts of Sarawak. While earlier chapter gives a general introduction to the book, the greater part of consequence chapter is a compilation of narratives of the migration of the peoples from their ancestral homeland in the Kapuas region of Kalimantan, present-day Indonesia, to Sarawak. These narratives are those which were related to us as told by the peoples themselves as well as those re-told by others as found in various texts. Language endangerment has for some years now been a topic much discussed by linguists. From the population-cum-language use study, the authors have identified a number of Sarawak languages that are now in the ‘endangered list’. It means that if there is no intervention given by the community and the government, these languages will by-and-by become extinct.