Volume 2 1893 > Volume 2, No.3, September 1893 > Relationship of Malayan languages; an inquiry, by T. L. Stevens, p 152-155
                                                                                             Previous | Next   

- 152

THAT most of the languages of the Malay Archipelago are closely related to each other, is evident to every one who investigates the matter without prejudice. Malay and Javanese, the most widely spoken, and the best known to Europeans, bear a remarkably close relation to each other, but neither seems to help towards the discovery of the root-words composing the languages.

Malay, as the most widely used has given its name to the family, but it is probably one of the least primitive of them; most of its primitive words are of two syllables, bearing little or no analogy to the roots of the Aryan languages. There are, however, in Malay some pairs, and classes of words which, with a very close resemblance in pronunciation have also as close a relationship in their meanings. As these resemblances are not of grammatical origin, so far as Malay is concerned, they must be supposed to point to a common origin in the far past, when the Malayan family of languages was still in embryo as village dialects, or family peculiarities of some primitive language now lost.

From this original there would be elder and younger offshoots, and derivatives from these again in great variety, as the present wide diffusion of distinctly Malayan vocables plainly shows. But it is impossible to trace the affinity of the various members of a family of languages of which even the names of many are unknown to philology. This is a vast ethnological field almost unexplored—a comprehensive comparison of this family would throw a flood of light upon the diffusion and movements of the Malayan and Polynesian peoples.

The necessary material is however wanting; for where vocabularies have been collected the spelling is of the most uncertain character, no two collectors adhering to the same system, most of them having no system, and comparison of such vocabularies, while showing a general relation, is utterly useless for scientific classification.

So far as can be judged by materials at present available, it would appear that the languages of the Philippines (Tagala, Bisaya, Yloco, and Pampagna) are more primitive than Malay or Javanese; and the languages of the aborigines of Borneo are certainly more primitive than Malay.

As a distinct system of spelling is absolutely necessary to enable anyone to compare words, the following alphabetical system, in which all Malayan words will be written, is here presented.

- 153
    VOWELS, &c.
  • a, long as in father, short as in barn.
  • e, long as ay in day, short as in remnant.
  • i, long as in marine, short as in pin.
  • u, long as in rule, short as in full.
  • â, as u in murmur.1
  • o, as in sober.
  • ai, as uy in buy.
  • au, as ou in bough.
  • oi, ui, io, iu, as the sound of their components.
  • ô, as aw in awe, occurs in some dialects long and short as in drawl, dog.
  • k, as in king, kick.
  • g, as in gay, get.
  • ng, as in king, long.
  • r, as in ray, parry.
  • ch, as in church.
  • j, as in jay, John.
  • ny, as nie in convenient = Spanish ñ in cañon or canyon.
  • y, as in yet, Bayard.
  • t, as in tom-tit.
  • d, as in do, day.
  • n, as in noon.
  • l, as in lane, till.
  • p, as in pap.
  • b, as in baby.
  • m, as in mimic, Sam.
  • w, as in way, forward.
  • s, as in sister.
  • h, aspirate, in Malay, final only and light. Stronger in other dialects. In some strong. 'denotes the Chinese re-entering tone (jip shang), a sudden stopping of the voice and breath in the throat when on the point of pronouncing a final k. Sometimes may be interchanged with k; with h never.

When the accent is NOT on the penultimate syllable, or where there may be doubt by reason of final dipthongs or some affixes, the accented vowel is marked with the acute accent.

In the following groups the Malay words resemble each other in sound and in meaning, but are not grammatically connected.

A group of words having a common idea of rotation, rolling or roundness, is:—

  • giling, to grind on a flat stone with a stone rolling pin.
  • gilir, to take in turns, to rotate.
  • galir, to wobble in rotating (as a wheel).
  • galang, a roller (for hauling boats, logs, &c., on).
  • gâlang, a bracelet.
  • gâlong, a roll, a coil (as of rope or cane).
  • golong, to roll up, a roll (of cloth, paper, &c.).
  • goling, to roll about, roll down.
  • gole' and golek, to stagger and fall (as a spinning top).

Another group with a somewhat similar idea running through them is—

  • putar, to revolve, to turn round.
  • pusar, a whirlpool, the centre (of an eddy).
  • pusat, the navel, nave of a wheel, centre.
  • pusing, spinning round.

The following appear to be connected with some of these—

  • idar, to change (as the wind), to veer round.
  • kitar, to turn about.
  • kisar, to turn about.
- 154

The first three of the following group are very closely related, the fourth may or may not be connected with them—

  • juling, to squint.
  • kârling, to leer.
  • eling, squint-eyed.
  • paling, to turn the head to look round.

A very peculiar pair of words are ngilu, aching, applied to the teeth; and ngâlu, aching, applied to the head and bones. They are never interchangeable.

Speaking of the teeth leads to another pair, gigi, the teeth; and gigit, to bite—a resemblance quite unexplainable by any rules of Malay grammar or derivation.

Some light may, however, be shed on this pair by referring to the Mâlano, or Mâlánau, an aboriginal language of the North West coast of Borneo, with many cognate dialects.

In Mâlano (Rajang Dialect) the equivalent of gigit, to bite, is, in its several forms; imperative gât, bite; active gugât, to bite; passive gigât, bit, bitten; present participle pâgât, biting. The root in Mâlano is evidently gât; but as the Malays are averse to the use of this vowel â in the last syllable, they always replace it with another; and in this particular case they have a true reflex of the Mâlano word in pagut, to peck. Patok or patuk, a bird's beak, and to peck, is another Malay word in this connection, which is an example of the transposition of letters so common with people whose words and ideas are transmitted orally.

The Mâlano word for the teeth (nyipan) is quite distinct from the Malay; it is the same word as the Maori niho. The connection may be shown thus:—Mâlano, nyipan; Kayan, nyipa; Sarawak Dayak, jipon and jípoi; Tongan and Samoan, nifo; Maori, niho.

Kâras, hard; târas, the heart of timber, and bâras, rice, seed, kernel; appear to be allied to each other. These words are often pronounced kras, tras, and bras: but the former is the most correct pronunciation; i.e., kâr-as, târ-as, bàr-as, with the accent on the first syllable of course.

Pádar, rancid; pádas, pungent; and pâdeh, smarting; have a relationship similar to that of the last example.

A peculiar group of words is the following:—

  • timbang, to weigh with a balance, to weigh mentally.
  • tembang, to balance (a boat heeling over), to counter balance.
  • tambang, to ferry, a ferry boat, (oscillating from bank to bank).
  • tumbang, falling, overbalanced; kayu tumbang, a falling, or fallen tree.
  • tâbang, to fell trees; tâbang kayu, to fell trees.

One more example of these peculiar resemblances is:—

  • dalam (prep.) in; dalam, deep; malam, night; kâlam, dark; gálap, dark.

The foregoing examples can only be explained.

  • 1.—By derivation through various channels.
  • 2.—By a grammatical connection in the primitive language from which the various words have come.

The former hypothesis is probably the true one, for it is well known that words come to have a different meaning in different dialects, at the same time that the pronunciation gets changed more or less according to the local habits of speech. We have analogues - 155 to these changes in English, in real, royal and regal; leal, loyal and legal, and innumerable others—these words having come to us through different channels. The difference between the English examples and the Malay, being, that in English we know the history and derivation of the words, and in Malay we do not.

There are, without doubt, residents in various parts of the Malayan Archipelago both able and willing to work in this field of philological research, but the first requisite to systematic comparison of dialects is absent. A common alphabet, to be used with regularity, is absolutely indispensable, and we have nothing of the sort.

The system given in this paper is, in some respects, arbitrary and local, for there are other vowels and consonants than these to be represented in comparing a number of languages like the Malayan family. F and V, for instance, occurring in the language of the Miri people on the north-west coast of Borneo, besides other peculiarities, too many to be enumerated here.

1  â is a peculiar vowel, it occurs in all positions, but is most commonly followed by a consonant in the same syllable.