Prof. Alexander Adelaar
Asia Institute, The University of Melbourne, Australia
A lexicographical glimpse of the Malay environmental past
The way of life and environmental outlook of the Malays have drastically changed since the beginning of last century, which saw the advent of industrialization, large-scale urbanization, expanded bureaucracy and other forms of modernity. This applies to all Malays in South East Asia, who live in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam, Singapore and South Thailand.
However, things were initially very different for the Malays. In this paper I show that the Malay lexicon still testifies of a very traditional environment in which transport, mobility, economical activity and contact with the outside world were largely determined by a life in the forest and a dependence on rivers and their tributaries.
This is also reflected in the Malay system of cardinal directions, which originally developed in Southeast Sumatra in (presumably) the 7th century AD. This system is essentially based on such an environment, although this is no longer transparent because of the replacement of some of its terms in order to adapt it to the topography of a new political centre on the Malay peninsula (15th century).
Dr. Alexander Adelaar is a Principal Fellow in the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne and a Fellow of the Academy of Humanities Australia. His research is on the structure and history of Austronesian languages, with emphasis on varieties of Malay and the languages of Borneo, Madagascar and Taiwan. He is currently involved in a study of the linguistic and migration history of Madagascar with a grant from the Australian Research Council. Since his retirement from the University of Melbourne in 2009, Dr. Adelaar has been a research fellow at Institutes of Advanced Studies in Belgium (2010) and the Netherlands (2013), the National Museum of Ethnography in Osaka (2011), Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (2014-2015) and the University of Cologne (2016).