Language history and culture groups among Austroasiatic-speaking foragers of the Malay Peninsula

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapter


The Malay Peninsula is a crossroads for people, languages and cultural influences, apparent in today's vibrant mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Thai and European. Yet this modern state of affairs all but conceals signals of much older situations of diversity. Thus, some 140,000 people grouped together under the label Orang Asli (Malay for 'aboriginal people') represent a range of cultural and biological adaptations and linguistic diversifications with roots far back in prehistory. These 20-plus ethnolinguistic groups represent a unique and vanishing window on the history of human diversity in the region, and they offer intriguing examples relevant to more general issues of the dynamics of human societies.
By synthesising the current ethnographic, linguistic and genetic body of knowledge about these groups with our own quantitative analyses of new lexical data from 27 language varieties, we explore the local historical relationships and interaction between languages and cultures. Specifically, we look at the relationship between a particular subsistence mode, namely nomadic foraging, and the Aslian branch of the Austroasiatic language stock. While foraging has been considered in many previous accounts to have a historically close connection to one particular sub branch of Aslian (Northern Aslian), we highlight several mismatches in this correlation and take a step toward disentangling a complex picture of linguistic history and contact.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDynamics of human diversity: the case of Mainland Southeast Asia
EditorsNick Enfield
PublisherPacific Linguistics
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015. The record was previously connected to the following departments: Linguistics and Phonetics (015010003)