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A new language has been discovered in Malaysia

Tree of Asli languages

As of 2009, the scientists knew 6909 languages ​​on Earth. It would seem that the list is exhaustive, and nothing new can be found. At least among living languages, which someone still uses. But this does not stop anthropologists and linguists from continuing their search. And their efforts were rewarded. Researchers from Lund University (Sweden) managed to find a completely new language in the village in the northern part of the Malay Peninsula (Malacca), at the southern tip of the Indochina Peninsula. The peninsula is politically divided between Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia, and this particular village is located on the territory of Malaysia. In an unknown language, about 280 people speak.

As stated in the press release , the discovery was made during the expedition in the framework of the project “Tongues of the Semang”. Semangi – people inhabiting the internal parts of the Malay Peninsula. They lead a nomadic way of life and preserve the identity of primitive culture. They are divided into 6 groups: Jahai, Batek, Mendrik, Lanoch, Kentak and Kenshu.

Scientists traveled through the villages of ethnic semangs and documented ethno-folklore data, collecting information about Asli languages ​​that belong to the Austro-Asian language family. Aslian languages ​​include about 20 languages ​​of tribes that live in this territory.


The discovery was made accidentally. The researchers studied one of the Asli languages ​​in the village called Jahai – and they suddenly found out that not all villagers speak it. “We noticed that most of the village speaks a different language. They used words, phonemes and grammatical structures that are not in Jahaya, “says Joanne Yager, the lead author of the scientific work . “Some words indicated a connection with other Asli languages, spoken of far away in other parts of the Malay Peninsula.” The new language was called the Jedek, because the residents themselves did not have a specific name for it.

Jedek language spread map (Jedek)
Jedek language spread map (Jedek)

According to linguists, a cluster of native speakers of the Jedek language is part of a community of hunter-gatherers who once lived along the Pergawu River, but later moved to northern Malaysia.

In one of the interviews Joan Jager says that the most interesting thing about this discovery is that no one planned to do it. Moreover, in this same village, where the Jedek was found, researchers had already come before – and they did not notice and did not write a new language. “We did not even know that it exists. There are many languages ​​that are not described and documented, but we know about their existence, “Jager said. There was not even a thought about the possibility of the existence of an unknown language.

One of the reasons why scientists did not know about the existence of this language is that it has no name. The language was named according to the most frequently used words of the language.

As linguists write, the language of the Jedek reflects the cultural characteristics of the community of its bearers. There are no words corresponding to property rights, such words as “theft”, “purchase”, “sale”, etc. On the other hand, there is a very developed lexicon in the language, connected with the exchange and sharing of things.

This is due to the fact that there is practically no violence in the village, competition between children is not encouraged, there are no laws, courts and professions – all residents have about the same set of skills necessary for hunter-gatherers.

Jedek is not the first new language discovered in recent years. In 2013, linguists found 800 people in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, who speak an unknown Tibetan Burmese language called Kor . Then in 2013, linguists in Astralia discovered about 350 people in a separate city in Lajamanu, speaking the strange language of Light Warlpiri – a mix of English and two local dialects. According to scientists, the language has been formed in the last few decades, when local residents were increasingly exposed to the English language.

The scientific article was published on December 7, 2017 in the journal Linguistic Typology (doi: 10.1515 / lingty-2017-0012, pdf ).

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