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A dictionary of Eastern Penan


Language Eastern Penan
Depositor Peter Sercombe
Affiliation Northumbria University
Location Malaysia
Collection ID 0250
Grant ID FTG0001
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

The Penan language documentation project focuses on Eastern Penan. The Eastern Penan inhabit northeastern Sarawak (in East Malaysia) and the south of Negara Brunei Darussalam (Brunei). They number around 10,000 (Sellato and Sercombe 2007) and constitute a demographic and political minority in both Brunei and Malaysia. Until the early part of the 20th century, Eastern Penan were mainly hunter-gatherers, but most have now settled and become rice farmers (not always with success). They share a small number of cultural features with Western Penan but can otherwise certainly be considered a distinct ethnic group. For further details of the classification of Penan groups see Sellato and Sercombe (2007). Documentation includes word lists, stories, articles relating to Eastern Penan circumstances (especially, but not only, regarding language and language education). Gratitude is extended to all Eastern Penan, in particular those in the small settlement of Sukang in the southern part of Brunei, especially Luyah Anak Kaling who was unfailingly helpful in the face of questioning.


Group represented

The collection contains contributions from Eastern Penan communities living in Sukang in the Southern part of Brunei and the village of Long Lamai in Sarawak.


Special characteristics

The aim of the word list is to meet the needs of Eastern Penan communities, especially school children, as well as academic researchers. Another aim is to create a database of EP folk stories, as both a resource and record for Penan, as these are rapidly disappearing from people’s repertoires, as more Eastern Penan convert to Christianity and their pre-Christian folklore is seen as outmoded.


Collection contents

The collection contains 13 resources. The majority of these are academic papers about aspects of Eastern Penan culture including information concerning cosmology, ethnomedicine, multilingualism, and education. A sketch grammar published in 2006 and a wordlist containing translations in English and Malay is included here. There are also two transcribed stories, one of which ‘Suket Tokong Murid’ contains an accompanying video. Maps of the areas historically inhabited by the Eastern Penan and various pictures of the community are also included in the collection.


Collection history

The materials contained within the collection were collected from 1996 to 2016. Peter has been working with Eastern Penan communities based in Brunei and Sarawak throughout this time


Other information

The Eastern Penan language variety is a member of the western branch of the Austronesian family of languages, the world’s largest language family. Its member languages occur in locations as far apart as Madagascar Island eastwards to the Central Pacific Ocean. Of the major or highest order sub-groups, Malayo-Polynesian comprises all the Austronesian languages spoken outside Taiwan. The origins and lineages of the Penan people and their language varieties remain unresolved issues, although the question of language affiliation is, it seems, less controversial. It is not intended to consider the origins of Eastern Penan in detail, but rather to present a range of the currently available arguments and evidence, as a means of eliciting the extent of current knowledge regarding Penan language varieties.


Acknowledgement and citation

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

Sercombe, Peter. 2018. A Dictionary of Eastern Penan. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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