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Ceq Wong and Mah Meri: the documentation of two Aslian languages of the Malay Peninsula


Language Ceq Wong (ISO639-3:cwg), Mah Meri (ISO639-3:mhe)
Depositor Nicole Kruspe
Affiliation Lund University, Sweden
Location Malaysia
Collection ID 0208
Grant ID IPF0052
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

  1.  The Ceq Wong collection contains audio recordings of traditional narratives and autobiographical stories with transcriptions and notes, video recordings, a draft trilingual dictionary, and photos.
  2.  The Mah Meri collection contains audio and video recordings of story-telling, rituals and daily life, photographs, a trilingual dictionary, and maps recording Mah Meri place names.


Group represented

This project documents Ceq Wong and Mah Meri, two Aslian (Austroasiatic) languages of the Malay Peninsula. Ceq Wong belongs to the Northern branch of Aslian, and Mah Meri belongs to the Southern branch. Both are considered ‘outliers’ within Aslian: Ceq Wong is notable as the only Northern Aslian language that is not spoken by hunter-gatherers and Mah Meri is the only Aslian language spoken in a coastal area. Neither language is written tradition, and there is no official support for language maintenance. Ceq Wong is spoken by around 400 people who live primarily in two resettlement villages in the state of Pahang. Research was conducted with the southeastern community. Traditionally, the Ceq Wong lived in the forest in small family groups, planting swiddens, foraging and hunting in the forests, and trading forest products. The small population and societal changes seriously threaten the language’s viability in the long term. Mah Meri is a highly endangered language spoken by approximately 3500 people along a stretch of the southwestern coast of the state of Selangor. The Mah Meri refer to themselves as hmaʔ hɛ ‘our people’. Traditionally they engaged in shoreline foraging along the mangrove-lined coast, hunted in the forests, and grew rice and other subsistence crops around their homesteads. The area has been dominated by rubber and palm oil plantations since the early 1900s. Resettlement villages of several hundred people were founded in the mid-20th century. Cash-cropping was introduced, first coffee then palm oil, but the scarcity of land has long caused people to seek external employment. This trend has increased in the last two decades due to urbanisation. The environmental and societal change, increased use of the national language, and negative attitudes towards there own language are all factors contributing to the steady demise of the language.


Language information

Ceq Wong (Cheq Wong) and Mah Meri are two Aslian languages of the Malay Peninsula. Ceq Wong and Mah Meri belong respectively to the Northern and Southern branches, grouped on the basis of lexical comparison. Geographically, both represent outliers of their subgroups. Data from languages like these are crucial to our understanding of Aslian from both typological and historical perspectives. Of equal importance is the contribution it will make to our understanding of the linguistic typology of a poorly documented area of mainland Southeast Asia.

Ceq Wong is spoken in central Pahang state. There are two groups with no intergroup contact (Kruspe fieldwork 2002-03), and the linguistic situation remains unclear. The total number of speakers is estimated to be 300 or less. The only published data are word lists. The depositor has analysed a small number of texts and compiled a lexical database of 2,400 entries on the former group.

Mah Meri is the last Aslian language spoken in a coastal area. Several dialects are known to have become extinct last century. There are 2,100 members of the community, but this is more than the actual number of speakers. The only published data is Skeat and Blagden (1906). The depositor has a dictionary of 3,500 entries (Kruspe in prep), a small collection of transcribed texts and phonological description of the Bukit Bangkong dialect.

The dislocation of the communities from their traditional environment and lifestyle, plus bilingualism in Malay is fast-tracking the demise of these languages. The active discrimination faced by indigenous communities in Malaysia allows little scope for language maintenance. These factors highlight the urgency of the documentation.


Collection contents

The Ceq Wong material includes audio recordings of traditional narratives, autobiographical stories, and word lists with handwritten transcriptions and notes. Video recordings capture natural conversation, traditional narrative telling, and traditional activities like the preparation of cassava. There is a draft trilingual dictionary with 4050 entries, as well as recordings of word lists. The Mah Meri material consists of videos of traditional cultural activities including weddings and preparation and performance of a thanksgiving to the durian trees. There are video recordings of life stories, traditional narratives, demonstrations of card games and handcrafts, daily activities like shoreline foraging, and conversation. Some recordings have glossed transcriptions in ELAN, others have handwritten transcriptions. There are also recorded word lists and elicitation tasks. Images include photos and illustrations for the published dictionary by community member Azman Zainal. There are also maps and geodata documenting traditional place names. There are two recordings and transcriptions of Swadesh lists of the undocumented language Jah Hut (ISO639-3:jah). Jah Hut, a distantly related Aslian language, is spoken in an area adjacent to that of the Ceq Wong. The two sessions were recorded with speakers living in the Ceq Wong settlement. The collection includes supplementary materials from Nicole’s previous research on Ceq Wong (2001-2004) and Mah Meri (1999-2001).


Collection history

This two-year project was financed by ELDP grant IPF0052, 2005–2007. The project continued Nicole’s previous research with the two communities. The collection is updated periodically. A Mah Meri dictionary was published in 2009, the Ceq Wong draft dictionary was updated with encyclopaedic and etymological notes in 2020, and glossed transcriptions in ELAN have been added for additional texts.


Other information

The geographical coordinates on the ELAR catalogue map show Ceq Wong. Mah Meri has the following geographical coordinates: latitude: 2.659710, longitude 101.673157.


Acknowledgement and citation

The use of any material from this collection should acknowledge Nicole Kruspe as the principal investigator. Materials collected during the period 2005-2007 should acknowledge Endangered Languages Documentation Project as the funding body.

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Kruspe, Nicole. 2016. Ceq Wong and Mah Meri: the documentation of two Aslian languages of the Malay Peninsula. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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