The Malay lexical element in Tetum

Geoffrey Hull

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The status of the Malay lexical element in Tetum is contextually parallel to that of the Portuguese lexical element in Malay itself: a superstratum transformed into an adstratum by the advent of a new imperialism and a new superstratum (Dutch for Malay and Portuguese for Tetum). What principally distinguishes Malay and Tetum is the fact that the former, given its more westerly situation on the fringe of the Asian continent, had already been exposed to two potent linguistic influences: Sanskrit, the medium of Hinduism, and Arabic, the language of Islam. Before the fifteenth century the vocabulary of Tetum was entirely indigenous except for an infusion of Old Ambonese words. Whereas the Portuguese influence on Malay was merely one in a series of substrata (Sanskirt and Arabic elements always remaining numerically more important than the Portuguese component), the impact of the Malay superstratum in Tetum was great, reflecting as it did the introduction of a technologically more advanced culture into the island. Moreover, all the historic influences on Malay were condensed in this body of loanwords (apart from the last layer, that of English), with the result that before the mid-nineteenth century whatever there was of Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Hindi, Tamil, Chinese and Dutch in the vocabulary of Tetum had entered through the single door of Malay.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)84-124
Number of pages41
JournalStudies in languages and cultures of East Timor
Publication statusPublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes


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