Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

On Sex, Drugs and Good Manners: Raja Ali Haji as Lexicographer

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

On Sex, Drugs and Good Manners: Raja Ali Haji as Lexicographer

Article excerpt

Dictionaries are odd phenomena. (1) They are outdated by the time they are compiled, and they are never complete. Rarely do they live up to the expectations of their users, who would like them to contain all the words of the lexicon of a certain language and who want either concise and precise definitions of words in a monolingual lexicon or exact equivalents in bilingual dictionaries. In other instances, we might look for the cultural context of a word or would like to have clear examples of that particular word in sentences, so that we can use the word in the right sense and proper context. Lexicographers implement certain kinds of strategies to compile words and choose those which will be incorporated in their dictionaries. These lexicographic strategies can be seen as 'reflecting the attitudes of a society toward the dominant problems of the ever-changing here and now. (2) The choice of a certain strategy by a compiler to explain the words selected from the language is predominantly determined by that per son's intellectual milieu and thus provides us with a picture of his or her ideas and environment and of the period when the work was compiled.

The word list compiled in the Moluccas in 1522 by Antonio1 Pigafetta, the Italian traveller who accompanied Magellan on his circumnavigation of the world, is traditionally considered as a starting point in the history of Malay bilingual lexicography. Since then, of course, many word lists and dictionaries have been published, recording different kinds of Malay regionally and chronologically. Each of them tells us something about the Malay used in a certain region at a certain time, while also reflecting the intellectual outlook of the compilers. In this context the brief discussion of bilingual Anglo-Malay lexicography by the late Jack Prentice may be taken as an illustration. According to Prentice, serious Anglo-Malay lexicography started in 1701 with Thomas Bowrey's English--Malay and Malay--English dictionary, which was 'expressly intended as an aid to communication between English and Malay-speaking traders, merchants and entrepreneurs'. (3) It may well be the best, and perhaps even the only, tool for rea ding and understanding Malay texts from the mid-seventeenth century, because it represents Malay as it was spoken in the ports of the archipelago in that era. (4) William Marsden, who published a dictionary and a grammar of Malay in 1812 from the materials he had collected during his time in Bengkulu in the late eighteenth century, can be characterised as a product of the Enlightenment whose main aim was 'to explain Malay language and culture to the uninitiated Briton'. (5)

However, Marsden's dictionary might also have had its advantages for British subjects who went to the Malay world to struggle for economic profits with rivals from other nations. Later lexicographers such as Richard Wilkinson -- whose Malay--English Dictionary (1901) is still an invaluable lexical resource -- and Richard Winstedt were characterised by Prentice as operating in the same style as Marsden, but with more emphasis on colonial than on mercantile activities. Moreover, their definitions were often encyclopaedic in nature, providing 'information on the linguistic, cultural, literary, historical and ecological background of the Malay-speaking world'. (6) This shift in lexicographic strategies from producing practical word lists for merchants towards publishing encyclopaedic dictionaries reflects the change in political strategies deployed by the imperialist powers.

Prentice found that in the history of Malay lexicography at least one area in the vocabulary had been neglected in the dictionaries, namely words dealing with sex and bodily functions. If these words were included in a dictionary, they were often labelled as 'obscene' or 'vulgar' and very concisely explained. In other cases they were provided with an explanation that was clothed in a Latin disguise, such as pudendum muliebre ('female genitals') for puki ('cunt'). …

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