Borrowed and then lost – the story of Malay loanwords in Hokkien

INALCO - Salle 131  -  2, rue de Lille  -  75007 Paris
This paper traces the life cycle of Malay loanwords in Singapore, a linguistically heterogeneous  community. The study focuses on the adoption of Malay loanwords in Hokkien and Teochew and tracks the typology and semantic fields of the words borrowed. It also examines the motivations behind the
adoption and the eventual loss of some of these loanwords. A survey was conducted with 60 Hokkien and 60 Teochew speakers from four different age groups ranging from 20-80 years to track the use and disuse of a list of 100 Malay loanwords. The aim is to examine how deeply entrenched these Malay
borrowings are in these two Chinese languages.

The findings indicate a directcorrelation between age and disuse of Malay loanwords with the younger generation retaining no more than 30-50% of the words tested. At its most advanced stage of assimilation, the Malay loanword completely dislodged the Hokkienand Teochew native words for the same item in the speaker’s lexicon. The pattern of usage of these loanwords is indicative of the dynamic and evolving nature of bilingualism in present day Singapore. The loss of the loanwords is explained in terms of the ethnolinguistic vitality of the Hokkien and Teochew speech communities and the rising influence of English and Mandarin Chinese which not only provided a more available source of lexical influences, they also left permanent imprints on the variety of Hokkien and Teochew spoken by younger Singaporeans.

In addition, we will make observations about the fluidity of the lexicon in a pluralistic language contact situation and propose a functional explanation which is based on competing relevance of languages in the lives of multilingual speakers. The extensive incorporation of Malay loanwords in various semantic and cultural fields suggests a close Hokkien-Malay and Teochew-Malay interaction, though the extent and nature of this interaction remains largely undocumented. The findings in this study highlight the relevance of language contact research in reconstructing social and historical connections in society.

  • Les séminaires du CRLAO, organisés par Hilary Chappell
    (CRLAO-EHESS), ont lieu les mercredis  de16h à 18h jusqu’à la fin juin, à
    l’INALCO, 2 rue de Lille,  salle 131, 75007  Paris.

  • Page web des séminaires :

  • le mercredi 9 avril 2014 à 16h
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