Chinese Loan~Word in Malay and Indonesian: A Background Study

RUSSELL JONES first arrived in Malaya as a young soldier in 1945. Being inspired to learn more about the Malay world, on returning to England he studied Malay at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, continuing subsequently at the University of Leiden. His doctoral thesis was focussed on the Malay legend of the Sufi, Ibrahim ibn Adham. His interest in Chinese arose during the period 1948-58, when he was serving in the Federation of Malaya Immigration Department. He took the government examinations in Hokkien after following private tuition in Singapore and Penang. His publications include editions of the Hikayat Raja Pasai, articles on Malay manuscripts, and a book on Chinese names.

Penerbit UM (First edition, 2009)
284 pages, including Index, Illustrations and Bibliography

This title is part of the Indonesian Etymological Project. The DVD is provided.


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Chinese Loan~Word in Malay and Indonesian: A Background Study is intended to throw light on the Chinese loan-words in Malay and Indonesian for scholars and general readers with an interest in South East Asia. It is not assumed that the reader will be either a professional Sinologist nor a professional linguist, any more than the writer claims to be.

To understand the practical problems of compiling such a list of loan-words it may be helpful to restate some general points about the nature of this study. Starting from the presumed loan-word in Malay or Indonesian, the author has sought to identify the Chinese word from which it was most likely to be derived, in the state of that word immediately before it passed into Malay or Indonesian. This implies for example that the tone of the Chinese word ought to be recorded, although that will be lost on passing into Malay or Indonesian.

In doing this, the author looks for the Chinese word which most closely resembles the resultant Malay or Indonesian loan-word; this would seem self-evident, but much work on Chinese loans has rested on identifying a Chinese donor which merely has a general similarity to the Indonesian word, leaving discrepancies which erroneously suggest that a sound-shift took place on passing into Malay or Indonesian. It can be disconcerting to find in the work of Sinologists versed in Mandarin such remarks as “liong, from the Chinese long“, when “liong, from the Hokkien liông” would be more apposite; or the word ‘kongsi’ glossed (in one of the best English dictionaries) “[Chin. gōngsi (Wade-Giles kungszu)…]” when the Hokkien standard romanization ‘kongsi’ could have been offered as the Chinese word from which it is derived.

The author admits that we are engaged in the science of conjecture. At best the researcher into loan-words can modestly claim to have identified the possible, or perhaps likely, source of a loan; rarely indeed can he prove the link. Accordingly, the present publication can only claim to list Indonesian words for which a similar word in Chinese has been found, and we can only form an opinion by taking into account the cultural and historical background of the languages involved.

Through the investigation of the sources of the loan-words which passed from Chinese into Indonesian, the author’s attention has been directed mainly towards certain of the Southern Chinese dialects. A look at the map of China will show how small is the area from which most of the Chinese loan-words have come. For as the study unfolds it will be found that the sources of most of the loan-words into Indonesian can be located in a small area which is only a fraction of the size of these two provinces.

The terminology has posed many problems in this study. The language of publication for the Indonesian Etymology series is English. There is accordingly some justification for using such English names as Amoy and Cantonese to describe dialects. The continued use of such forms as “Teochew” in current census reports of the Singapore and Malaysian governments has emboldened me to adopt the same Anglicised spelling. In some cases, the author has preferred to use the Anglicised spelling (e.g. Chiangchew) to refer to the prefecture and the transliteration (e.g. Chiangchiu) in a linguistic sense.

A further complication occurs in that the loan-words under investigation passed into Indonesian/Malay not in the 19903, but more probably in the 18903 or even the 17903, which must color one’s approach. These problems have not been resolved, and a variety of forms of names will be found in this study; to aid the reader, lists giving the Chinese characters and the different spellings for the names have been included.

The accompanying DVD with Chinese Loan~Word in Malay and Indonesian: A Background Study incorporates a facsimile of the rare Amoy and English dictionary of Carstairs Douglas published in 1899, furnished with Chinese characters written in by hand, together with the supplement to it published by Barclay in 1923. There is also an informative Introduction by the author in the DVD.

Weight0.469 kg
Dimensions22.8 × 15 × 1.6 cm




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