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  • Dictionary of Mah Meri as spoken at Bukit Bangkong by Nicole Kruspe
  • Paul Sidwell
Nicole Kruspe. 2010. Dictionary of Mah Meri as spoken at Bukit Bangkong. Oceanic Linguistics Special Publication no. 36; Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press. xiv + 410 pp. ISBN: 978-082-48-3493-7. $40.00, paper.

Kruspe’s Mah Meri dictionary is a welcome addition to the rather limited documentation of Aslian languages that is available in print and prepared to contemporary linguistic standards. The Aslian branch of Austroasiatic has been known to western scholars since the late 1800s, and one of the great landmarks of early Austroasiatic scholarship was a huge comparative Aslian lexicon by Skeat and Blagden (1906), which was used for comparative-analytical work into the 1970s. However, war, decolonization, Malay nationalism, and related factors have contributed to linguists paying less attention to Aslian through the twentieth century, and Malaysian academics have tended to neglect the languages in favor of national development priorities, or have conducted documentation and analytical work at a rather low level. At the same time, since the late 1960s, there has been a core of Western scholars who have beavered away doing excellent linguistic work, but with a somewhat low profile and slow pace of publication, and this writer knows of substantial data collections that remain unpublished and inaccessible. Scholars in the wider world wanting to work with Aslian lexicon generally have to make do with glossaries tucked away in book appendices (for example, Burenhult [2003] for Jahai, Kruspe [2004] for Semelai), in data papers (for example, Bishop and Peterson [1994] for Kensiw, Phaiboon [2006] for various northern Aslian dialects), and in dictionaries presented with linguistically naïve Roman orthographies (for example, Means and Means [1987] for Senoi, Means [1999] for Temiar). All of these resources are useful, but one is frustrated with their various limitations and inconsistencies in standards.

Given these circumstances, Kruspe’s (2010) dictionary is a delight. It is compiled on the basis of field research and consultation with members of the community over a decade. The 19-page introduction provides background information about the Mah Meri people and language: there is a brief phonology, typological profile, description of the structure of entries, and two pages of references. Strikingly, most of the references relate to languages other than Mah Meri, which has been dealt with only cursorily in previous literature. There are also English–Mah Meri and Malay–Mah Meri finderlists. It is not clear exactly how many entries are given, but the page length suggests that around 4,000 are provided. The extensive coverage of faunal and floral terms is especially welcome, as are the additions of encyclopedic information scattered throughout the volume.

Entries are rich and include the following: orthographic form; close phonetic transcription; word class; English and Malay senses; scientific label (where appropriate); usage; restrictions; derivations and compounds; loanword identification; and some limited encyclopedic information. The latter includes some line drawings depicting various animals, plants, anatomical, and cultural items; while these are certainly welcome from an aesthetic point of view, the illustrations are actually not especially informative (still, one appreciates the effort Kruspe has gone to in order to include these, as they make using the text much more appealing). [End Page 619]

I do, though, have some quibbles. On p. 12, under Phonetic representation, Kruspe states, “word stress is not marked,” yet throughout the dictionary the vertical stroke (superior), defined by the IPA as marking primary stress of the following syllable, is used in the phonetic transcription. For example, the very first entry on p. 23 opens as follows: “ neg. not …” and all subsequent entries follow this pattern.

While the author’s orthography is a phonemic representation that employs IPA symbols, it departs from the specified international standard with the annoying use of a y glyph for the palatal glide and j for [ʥ]. This is frankly baffling; other non-ASCII symbols, such as ɛ, ɔ, and ɰ are used, so there can be none of the typical rationale of needing to cater to linguistically naïve users who are accustomed to Romanization. Also, various digraphs and trigraphs are used for devoiced sonorants (for example, hn and hnd for []), yet digraphs are avoided for...


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