Tom Hoogervorst is a researcher at KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies.
In 2013, he was a Gonda Fellow at IIAS.
Linguistic evidence for cultural contact across the Bay of Bengal
While there is a longstanding and well-established tradition of scholarship on the elite elements of Indian culture in Southeast Asia (i.e. Hinduism, Buddhism, art, literature, architecture, state organisation, etc.), much less is known about the Indian influence on everyday life in this part of the world. My research at IIAS forms an attempt to restore this imbalance. It focuses on the more mundane aspects of “Indianisation” and cultural contact between India and Southeast Asia, including trade, knowledge of metals, minerals and technology, biological translocations, and the dispersal of cultural items from South to Southeast Asia during various stages of interethnic contact. My work adopts an interdisciplinary approach and brings together data from the fields of linguistics, archaeology and history. Lexical borrowing, i.e. the presence of Indian loanwords in the languages of Southeast Asia, is one of the best indicators of cultural contact. It reveals not only the donor and intermediate speech communities involved, but also the lexico-cultural domains in which interethnic contact took place. A focus on the non-Sanskritic lexical element in insular Southeast Asian languages, in other words, can cast a new light on the channels through which people became acquainted with new plants, animals, spices, trade items and other cultural commodities.
My research examines the lexical influence of Indian languages other than Sanskrit and Pali on the speech communities of insular Southeast Asia. On the Southeast Asian side, particular attention is given to Malay and Javanese, the best documented languages in terms of epigraphy and lexicography. Historically, the first so-called “Indianised” states of insular Southeast Asia, i.e. kingdoms that adopted Hinduism or Buddhism and often used Indian names, are located in Java and in the Malay-speaking regions of Sumatra, Borneo and the Thai-Malay Peninsula. The first written texts in these languages are heavily Sanskritised and employ Indic-derived scripts. The extent will be examined to which vernacular Indian languages or “Prakrits” – including Middle Indo-Aryan but also Dravidian languages – have influenced the literary and colloquial domains of Javanese and Malay. Further, a mounting quantity of historical and linguistic research reveals that other insular Southeast Asian speech communities – inhabiting an area as large as the Philippines in the north, New Guinea in the east and Madagascar in the west – were incorporated into the influence sphere of the Javanese and especially the Malay-speaking kingdoms, through which they became acquainted with the products and cultures of India and – later – the Middle East. Thereupon, my research interests also include such languages as Tagalog, Cebuano, Makassarese and Malagasy, which were influenced by vernacular Indian languages through Malay and Javanese.
In addition to offering a much needed synthesis, assessment and thorough enhancement of the vernacular Indian loanwords in the insular Southeast Asian languages, I am interested in the socio-historical implications of these lexical transmission. Foremost, linguists have largely remained silent on the ongoing debate of “Indianisation” in Southeast Asia. Most contributions to problems regarding the agents in the transmission of South Asian culture across Southeast Asia have hitherto been made by archaeologists and historians. Linguistically, the debate has satisfied itself by stating that the main language – the medium par excellence to reconstruct the agency of different speech communities involved in cultural contact – in this process was Sanskrit, while the role of vernacular languages is believed to have been rather limited. I take issue with the latter notion. A thorough examination of the contributions of Middle Indo-Aryan languages, Bengali, Hindustani, Sinhala, Dhivehi, and Dravidian languages such as Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam to the linguistic landscape of insular Southeast Asia has hitherto never been conducted in a systematic way. The outcome of such an enterprise will considerably enhance our understanding of the exciting history of cultural and commercial interactions across the Bay of Bengal.