Indonesia is home to one of the world’s largest Chinese-descended populations. Their historical impact is often measured in economic terms but was equally important in the realm of language and literature. The majority of Chinese-Indonesians originally spoke Southern Min dialects, better known in Southeast Asia as “Hokkien”. They also quickly gained knowledge of Malay, the lingua franca of Indonesia and beyond. It was in Java’s vernacular Malay variety that most Chinese-Indonesians acquired literacy. Through their transregional connections and plurilingual competencies, they pioneered in the printing industry of romanized Malay newspapers and books. This foray into print capitalism served the group’s commercial and political interests, but also gave rise to fascinating expressions of a hybrid (Chinese-Indonesian-European) culture.
Dr Tom Hoogervorst spoke to Mr Jarrah Sastrawan about the Sino-Malay literary tradition in the late 19th
and early 20th centuries.
Tom Hoogervorst is a researcher at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV). One of his main interests is language contact in Southeast Asia, which can be reconstructed through a combination of historical linguistics, archival research, and philology. He has primarily worked on Malay and Javanese and their relation with other languages. At present, he focuses on the language history of Indonesia’s Chinese communities, including the unique variety of Malay in which they produced innumerable novels, newspapers, poems, and educational works from the 1870s.
For more information or to browse additional resources, visit the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre’s website: www.sydney.edu.au/sseac.