THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

03 April 2015

Early vocabularies of Malay

Among the Malay manuscripts in the British Library which have just been digitised are a number of vocabulary lists and dictionaries in Malay, compiled by visitors to the region as aids to learning the language. The study of Malay in Europe dates back to the very first voyages to Southeast Asia in the 16th century, for Malay functioned as the lingua franca for the whole of the archipelago, and was an essential business tool for both merchants in search of spices and missionaries in search of souls.  

68.c.12, Bowrey map, 1701
Map showing the lands where the Malay language was used, from Thomas Bowrey, A dictionary English and Malayo, Malayo and English (London, 1701). British Library, 68.c.12  noc

The earliest Malay book printed in Europe is a Malay-Dutch vocabulary by Frederick de Houtman, published in Amsterdam in 1603, and an English version of this Dutch work became the first Malay book printed in Britain in 1614. However it was only in 1701 that the first original Malay-English dictionary was printed in London, the work of Thomas Bowrey (ca. 1650-1713), an East India Company sea captain, who explained in the Preface the urgent need for such a publication: “… I finding so very few English Men that have attained any tollerable Knowledge of the Malayo Tongue, so absolutely necessary to trade in those Southern Seas, and that there is no Book of this kind published in English to help the attaining of that Language; These Considerations, I say, has imboldened me to Publish the insuing Dictionary …” (Bowrey 1701). A draft manuscript version of Bowrey’s dictionary (MSS Eur A33), in his own hand and probably dating from the late 17th century, has just been digitised. It is probably the very volume which Bowrey mentions in the dedication of his publication, “To the Honourable the Directors of the English East-India Company”: “The following Work was undertaken Chiefly for the Promotion of Trade in the many Countries where the Malayo Language is Spoke, which your Honours having perused in Manuscript, were pleased to approve of; and to Incourage the Publishing of it …”

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Thomas Bowrey’s autograph draft of his Malay-English dictionary. British Library, MSS Eur A33, pp. 6-7  noc

After Bowrey’s pioneering work, it was not until the late 18th century that British studies of Malay developed in earnest, through the efforts of the ‘Enlightenment group’ of colonial scholar-administrators such as William Marsden, John Leyden, John Crawfurd and Thomas Stamford Raffles. The polyglot Leyden gathered together a vast array of linguistic materials, some compiled in his own hand (Or. 15936) and others acquired from different sources (MSS Malay F.2). Raffles too collected vocabularies from all over the archipelago, including a Malay wordlist (MSS Eur E110) which appears to be in the hand of his Penang scribe Ibrahim; this volume is especially valuable for also containing an early register of inhabitants of Penang, listed by street name, with details of origin, occupation, and family members. Raffles also obtained manuscripts as gifts, including a Malay-Javanese-Madurese vocabulary (MSS Malay A.3) from his good friend Pangeran Suta Adiningrat of Madura.  Finally, an English-Malay vocabulary (MSS Eur B37) is of unknown origin but includes at the end hospital lists of treatment with many Indian names such as 'Singh', suggesting the owner might have been a medical officer in the Indian army or of an Indian regiment in Southeast Asia.

Mss_malay_f_2_f004r-det
A vocabulary of Dutch, English, Malay (Jawi script) and Malay (romanised script), provisionally dated to the 18th century on the basis of the Dutch and Romanised Malay handwriting. British Library, MSS Malay F 2, p. 4 (detail)  noc

Or_15936_f069v-det
Vocabulary of Thai and Malay, compiled by John Leyden, early 19th c. British Library, Or. 15936, f.69v (detail)  noc

Mss_malay_a_3_f113v-det
Final page of a Malay-Javanese-Madurese vocabulary, early 19th c. British Library, MSS Malay A 3, f.113v (detail)  noc

Mss_eur_e110_ff002r-003r
Opening pages of a Malay-English vocabulary, with on the left-hand page the variant forms (isolated, initial, medial and final) of the Jawi alphabet, early 19th c., Raffles collection. British Library, MSS Eur E110, pp.2-3  noc

Mss_eur_e110_f147r
Early 19th-century register of the inhabitants in Love Lane, Penang, including a Portuguese fisherman and his family of ten from ‘Junk Ceylon’ (Ujung Salang, or Phuket), who ‘came to the island with Mr Light’, i.e. Francis Light, in 1786. British Library, MSS Eur E110, f.147r (detail)  noc

Mss_eur_b37_f001v-det
English-Malay vocabulary, 19th century. MSS Eur B37, f. 1v (detail)  noc

These manuscripts join three other Malay vocabularies digitised last year, and are listed below in approximate chronological order.  Many other Malay manuscript vocabulary lists are held in the British Library, often comprising only a few pages within larger volumes, but all are detailed in a recently-published catalogue (Ricklefs, Voorhoeve & Gallop 2014).

Digitised Malay manuscript vocabularies in the British Library:

Add. 7043, Malay grammar and vocabulary by William Mainstone, 1682, copied by John Hindley, early 19th c.

MSS Eur A33, Malay-English dictionary, by Thomas Bowrey, late 17th c.

Egerton 933, Two Malay vocabularies, 1731 and early 19th c.

MSS Malay F.2, Dutch-English-Malay vocabulary, ca. 18th c., Leyden collection.

Or. 15936, Various Malay vocabularies, early 19th c., Leyden collection.

MSS Eur E110, Malay-English vocabulary, early 19th c., Raffles collection.

MSS Malay A.3, Malay-Javanese-Madurese vocabulary, early 19th c., Raffles collection.

Or. 4575, French-Malay vocabulary, early 19th c. 

MSS Eur B37, English-Malay vocabulary, 19th c.

Further reading

Frederick de Houtman, Spraek ende Woord-boek in de Malaysche ende Madagaskarsche Talen (Amsterdam, 1603). British Library, C.71.a.32
Augustus Spalding, Dialogues in the English and Malaiane languages (London, 1614). British Library, C.33.b.41
Thomas Bowrey, A dictionary English and Malayo, Malayo and English (London, 1701). British Library, 68.c.12. Digitised version from the National Library of Singapore.
Annabel Teh Gallop, Early Malay printing 1603-1900. An exhibition in the British Library 20 January to 4 June 1989.
M.C.Ricklefs, P.Voorhoeve† and Annabel Teh Gallop, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: a catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections. New Edition with Addenda et Corrigenda. Jakarta: Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia, Yayasan Pustaka Obor Indonesia, 2014.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

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