Convergence and Divergence: Malay and Indonesian by Prof James T. Collins
Date : 19 Feb 2018
Time : 16:00 - 17:30
Venue : Asia Research Institute, Seminar Room
AS8 Level 4, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
National University of Singapore @ KRC

Jointly organized by Centre for Language Studies, and the Indonesia and Malaysia Study Groups of Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore.


Assoc Prof Titima Suthiwan, Centre for Language Studies, National University of Singapore


Ninety years ago, in Jakarta the participants of the Second Youth Congress pledged—among other things—to hold in the highest respect the language of unity, Indonesian. According to Foulcher (2000:377), in contemporary Indonesia, indeed in international academic circles as well, this pledge is asserted to mean “that Indonesian was declared the national language”. This presentation is not about the translation of the 1928 Sumpah Pemuda but about the “identity” of bahasa persatuan (the language of unity).

1928 marked a name change for the language that unites the diverse communities of the archipelago. The language that had been known as Malay for hundreds of years was renamed Indonesian. This nomenclature has yielded many claims about the relationship of Malay and Indonesian. There are scholars who talk about the divergence of Indonesian from Malay. Some academics declared that dialects spoken for 400-500 years in Makassar or Ambon, for example, were dialects of Indonesian, not Malay.

In this brief presentation, we will look at historical differences in language use ninety years ago, changes that have taken place both in Malay (of Malaysia) and in Indonesian—whether divergences or convergences, levels of mutual intelligibility, societal attitudes, and parallel language ecologies elsewhere. The discussion leans heavily on the principles and practices of dialectology, historical comparative linguistics and fragments of the social history of language in the archipelago.


James T. Collins has been a Principal Fellow of the Institute for Ethnic Studies (KITA), National University of Malaysia, since 2013. In the United States, he served as the director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Hawai’I (1989-1991) and at Northern Illinois University (2008-2012). With an MA (1975) and PhD (1980) in Linguistics from University of Chicago, his principle interests are Austronesian historical linguistics, Malay dialectology, the minority languages of Maluku and Borneo/Kalimantan and the social history of Malay. He is the author of twenty-five books in Malay, Indonesian and English. His award-winning book, Wibawa Bahasa Melayu: Kepiawaian dan Kepelbagaian (1999) has been reprinted twice, the latest in 2016. The third expanded edition of Malay, World Language: A Short History, is expected in 2018. His most recent book, Bibliografi Dialek Melayu Semenanjung Tanah Melayu (2018), completes a series of five bibliographies covering Malay dialects throughout Southeast Asia. He continues to lead workshops in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei on language documentation and language mapping. His commitment to community outreach continues through his work on minority language revitalization with funding from the Toyota Foundation (Japan) and the Kone Foundation (Finland).


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Contact Person(s)
Minghua TAY