Article published in:Endangered Languages and Languages in Danger: Issues of documentation, policy, and language rights
Edited by Luna Filipović and Martin Pütz
[IMPACT: Studies in Language, Culture and Society 42] 2016
► pp. 283–312
The art of losing
Beyond java, patois and postvernacular vitality – Repositioning the periphery in global Asian ecologies
This paper discusses issues in endangerment and postvernacularity in the context of Asia, a region with complex dynamics in multilingual ecologies that also includes the presence – dominance – of English, a language that entered the ecologies through colonisation. I use as illustration two minority communities with endangered vernaculars – the Malays of Sri Lanka, brought from various parts of the Malay archipelago by the Dutch and British colonial powers, and their vernacular Sri Lanka Malay, traditionally known as java, a mixed language of trilingual base (Malay, Sinhala, Tamil); and the Peranakans, descendants of southern Chinese merchants who settled in Malaya and intermarried with local women, and their vernacular Baba Malay, a restructured variety of Malay with southern Sinitic influences, usually referred to as patois. I query if linguistic and cultural loss is inevitable, or if such situations of shift – to a language of wider communication or an emergent variety – are in fact instances of empowerment and evolution in response to change, where a repositioning of the periphery in the new global economy brings greater accessibility to and participation in the Centre, and better adaptation for surviving and thriving.
Keywords: Asia, ecology, empowerment, patois, Peranakans, postvernacular, shift, Sri Lanka Malay
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Published online: 03 October 2016
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