Thursday, June 23, 2005

Malay pronouns

And as long as I'm comparing pronouns, it seems only fair to note that not all languages have nice stable uncomplicated pronouns like Beja. Japanese is an obvious counterexample, but Prentiss Riddle and Macvaysia point out an egregious case in Malay... (noticed thanks to Language Hat.) I was especially struck by the "distinct set reserved just for addressing ethnic Chinese" - if I'm not mistaken, those are clear borrowings from Hokkien Chinese (where "I" is goá, "you" is .)

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

The pronouns said to be reserved for chinese are actually, yes, chinese words which, due to the malay language tolerance of absorbing external elements. It's not only chinese pronouns, in some other cases, even arabic (ana, enta in certain areas and among arabic educated ) and lately, english has crept in to usage.


http://kedahfm.com/wordpress

Prentiss Riddle said...

Thanks for the followup, and for pointing out the Hokkien connection.

I suppose I had assumed that the category reserved for addressing ethnic Chinese represented a formalization of their rank in the colonial Malay social hierarchy; perhaps it really represented their position outside it, much as English I and you have a neutralizing role today.

I have a friend who is a Hokkien-speaking Malay. I guess I should print out that little chart and after she has a laugh over it she can tell me a bit about current usage. (She hates the adoption of I and you, by the way.)

Lameen Souag said...

I'll be interested to hear what she says! If you had told me before this that a language existed which simultaneously used Austronesian, Chinese, Arabic, and English pronouns, I never would have believed it. I think that pretty much vindicates Waruno Mahdi's point (just discussed on language hat), which I think applies equally well to Japanese - "one cannot actually speak of 'pronouns' as a word class in Indonesian."

Ben Zimmer said...

In the case of Indonesian, the Chinese-derived pronouns (1st person: gua or gue; 2nd person: lu, lo, or elu) are no longer restricted to address to/by ethnic Chinese. They're commonly used in Jakarta and other major urban centers, particularly in the colloquial speech of young speakers. You can see the prevalence of these pronouns in this conference handout for a paper by Uri Tadmor ("The Acquisition of Pronouns in Jakarta Indonesian").

Anonymous said...

an enlightment this morning- discovered this blog and discovered that /gua/, /guwe/, and possibly the weak form of these two ---/wa/ are possibly from a hokkien word. a close malay friend has been using /wa/, eversince. don't think he knows that it is possibly a hokkien word; kindda agree with the wht anonymous said--the malay language tolerance to absorb external elements. for that matter, it could also be that generally the Malays are quite tolerant in absorbing a lot of external elements.