Plurilingualism in Sino-Malay literature

by Tom Hoogervorst

Date & Time

Time: Feb 24, 2021 09:30 AM Prague Bratislava


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Indonesia’s vernacular printing industry has long featured writers, editors, and entrepreneurs of Chinese descent. In late-colonial times (1870s-1940s), their so-called “Sino-Malay” press reached a great popularity. This presentation aims to trace the linguistic practices of this plurilingual community. Most of their written material is in the colloquial Malay variety of Java. In addition, many authors had some knowledge of Dutch, English, Mandarin, and especially Hokkien, the Sinitic heritage language of most Chinese-Indonesians. As a result, the newspapers, novels, and poems they published were of a highly translingual character. Jokes, puns, swearwords, and other sensitive issues often abounded in Hokkienisms, making the texts difficult to understand for outsiders. Yet, since Sino-Malay publications provide unique insights into everyday life in late-colonial Indonesia, I argue that a better understanding of their translingual practices would benefit linguists and historians alike. 


Tom Hoogervorst is a historical linguist affiliated with the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV). His research interests include language history, lexical borrowing, Austronesian linguistics, and Indian Ocean studies. His forthcoming book (Cornell, 2021) adopts a linguistic approach to Sino-Malay printing. He is also currently co-editing a volume on Sinitic varieties in Southeast Asia.