Previously-unknown indigenous language discovered in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: 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 yesterday 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 Kelantan.

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

Niclas Burenhult, one of the researchers, said that anthropologists had studied the same hunter-gatherer community in the past but the linguists asked different questions, leading them to discover the language.

Jedek reflects a way of life where there was greater equality between men and women than in Western societies, almost no violence and children are 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 in a statement.

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

Colin Nicholas – from the Center for Orang Asli Concerns, which defends the rights of Malaysia’s indigenous peoples – said he hoped the discovery would persuade authorities to do more to protect tribespeople’s ancient ways of life. — AFP

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