Linguists Discover A Language In Kelantan That Has Only 280 Speakers And Here’s What It Sounds Like

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Pic: Niclas BurenhultPic: Niclas Burenhult

Did you know that a pair of linguists recently discovered a new minority language in Malaysia?

As reported by the National Public Radio (NPR), the new-found language known as ‘Jedek’ is spoken by a small group of villagers hailing from a resettlement area in Sungai Rual, Jeli, Kelantan.

But it turns out that the pair of Swedish linguists, Joanne Yager and Niclas Burenhult, discovered the minority language by accident, as the pair initially went to Kelantan to conduct a research on the ‘Jahai’ language for their project entitled, ‘Tongues of the Semang.’

Intrigued by the discovery, the pair, who hails from Lund University, decided to conduct an impromptu research on the language and subsequently shared their findings through the university’s news portal.

“Jedek is not a language spoken by an unknown tribe in the jungle, as you would perhaps imagine, but in a village previously studied by anthropologists,” said Burenhult, who is an Associate Professor of General Linguistics and the first researcher to have recorded the language.

Upon realising that other anthropologists have conducted their own research at the village, both Burenhult and Yager decided to produce different set of questions – subsequently discovering a significant finding that prior anthropologists have missed that led to the discovery of the ‘Jedek’ language.

Pic: Lund UniversityPic: Lund University

Meanwhile, doctoral student Yager opined that the language may have gone unnoticed for a long period of time due to the fact that the researchers did not have a specific name for it.

“One possible reason the language went undetected for so long is that the formerly nomadic people who spoke it didn’t have a single consistent name for it,” the woman who studied the language for four years told NPR.

Their pivotal research, which has been published in the latest issue of Linguistic Typology, evidently highlights that the language is in fact unique, due to the following criteria:

  • It has around 280 speakers only;
  • It belongs to the Aslian languages, which are a group of languages from the Austroasiatic languages that consists of mixed-group of languages containing ‘Malay’ borrowings;
  • It has no similarities in terms of words, phonemes, and grammatical structure to its sister language, ‘Jahai,’ as their words and structures have connections with other Aslian languages in other parts of the Malay Peninsula;
  • It is gender neutral;
  • It promotes peace, as the language has limited words to describe ownership or professional occupations – focusing more on exchanging and sharing as their children are taught to avoid competition

And although the language is spoken by an immensely small group of people, the ‘Jedek’ language is not on the brink of extinction as their children are still being taught the language – which gives the villages a sense of hope that the language will be carried to future generations.

With such a unique language being discovered in our homeland, it makes one wonder how many languages – throughout the globe – are waiting to be discovered.

Listen to the ‘Jedek’ language in the clip below:

- Malaysian Digest