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FASS Newsletter

Indigenous Languages in Brunei


On Thursday, 25 July 2019, David Deterding presented a FASS seminar entitled 'Indigenous Languages and English in the Globalised Modern Era in Brunei Darussalam', in which he discussed the current status of the indigenous languages (as well as English) in Brunei; and then he presented the same talk as the keynote speaker at the 5th International Conference on Linguistics Literature and Culture (ICLLIC) orgianised by Univeristi Sains Malaysia and held in Penang from 29 till 30 July 2019.

Although the indigenous languages are rarely written (the sign on the right, attached to a tree on the Bukit Mentiri trail, being a rare exception), some effort has been made to label plants using their traditional names.

Plants that have been labelled in their traditional Brunei Malay, Kedayan and Dusun names in Tasek Merimbun

In addition, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Brunei has published a valuable list of about 2000 lexical items in the seven officially recognised indigenous languages of Brunei, which allows us to analyse the shared lexicon of these languages.

One pattern that is found is that for baik ('good') (p. 18). Note that Brunei Malay and Kedayan have the same word as Standard Malay, while Dusun and Bisaya also share the same word, and the word is very similar in Tutong and Belait, but Murut is different from all the rest.


However, a more common pattern that is found is the one for batuk ('cough') (p. 25). Once again, Brunei Malay and Kedayan have the same word as Standard Malay, and Dusun and Bisaya also share the same word, but in this case Tutong differs from Belait. Once again, Murut is different from all the rest.


Analysis of the first 255 words listed in this book confirms that Standard Malay, Brunei Malay and Kedayan share many cognates, and the level of shared cognates between Dusun and Bisaya is also high (76.6%). However, the percentage of shared cognates between Tutong and Belait is rather lower (49.6%). This analysis confirms that Murut is quite different from all the others, the highest rate of shared lexicon for Murut being 34.1% with Tutong.


Participants at the ICLLIC conference in Penang