Previously Undocumented Language Discovered Spoken In Tiny Area In Malaysia


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockFeb 8 2018, 13:01 UTC

Jedek is an Austroasiatic language spoken by 280 people in northern Peninsular Malaysia. Niclas Burenhult

Among the far-flung villages of Malay Peninsula in southeast Asia, linguists have discovered a language previously unknown to them and the wider world.

The language, called Jedek, is only spoken by about 280 people living along the Pergau River in Sungai Rual. Outside of the local area, the language is believed to be totally undocumented.


Their society is considerably more gender-equal than Western societies. There’s also next to no interpersonal violence and competition between children is discouraged. In turn, this is reflected in their language. For example, there are no indigenous verbs to denote ownership – whether its to borrow, steal, buy or sell – but they are plenty of words to describe acts that involve exchanging, cooperating, and sharing.

You can listen to the Jedek language for yourself in the video below.

Niclas Burenhult and Joanne Yager, both linguists at Lund University in Sweden, discovered the language while they were studying the Jahai language in the same area. Plenty of people had previously visited and studied this society before, this is not an uncontacted tribe, yet the different language had not previously been noted. Their study of the language is published in the journal Linguistic Typology.

"We realised that a large part of the village spoke a different language,” Yager explained in a statement. “They used words, phonemes, and grammatical structures that are not used in Jahai. Some of these words suggested a link with other Aslian languages spoken far away in other parts of the Malay Peninsula."


As globalization continues to creep across the world, lesser-known languages such as Jedek are dying fast. There are over 6,000 languages currently spoken across the globe, over 40 percent of the which are at risk of extinction, according to the Endangered Languages Project. In fact, within 100 years, it's likely that over half of these languages will be dead. Through documenting and appreciating these minority languages, linguistics hope it can help preserve some of these lesser-known cultures, as well providing further insights into human cognition, history, and culture.

"There are so many ways to be human, but all too often our own modern and mainly urban societies are used as the yardstick for what is universally human. We have so much to learn, not least about ourselves, from the largely undocumented and endangered linguistic and cultural riches that are out there," added Burenhult.

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