The Herald (South Africa)

Malaysian tribal language finding


A PREVIOUSLY undiscover­ed indigenous language in Malaysia reflects a way of life where the sexes enjoy great equality and there is little violence, researcher­s have found, prompting activists to demand better protection for tribespeop­le.

Linguists discovered Jedek, which is spoken by only 280 people, during a project which saw them visit remote villages to collect data from different groups in the northern state of Kelantan.

The team from Sweden’s Lund University were studying the previously-known language of Jahai in a remote village surrounded by forest when they realised a large number of people were speaking something different.

Jedek reflects a way of life where there was greater equality between men and women than in Western societies, almost no violence and children were encouraged not to compete, according to Lund University.

“There are no indigenous words for occupation­s or for courts of law, and no indigenous verbs to denote ownership such as borrow, steal, buy or sell,” the university said.

But there was a “rich vocabulary of words to describe exchanging and sharing”.

Jedek is among a kaleidesco­pe of indigenous languages spoken in Malaysia. They are disappeari­ng as small indigenous communitie­s are assimilate­d into wider society.

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