Clay Eaton: Language Study and Kampung Time

Read about Clay Eaton’s summer experience in Malaysia…Language Study and Kampung Time

By: Clay Eaton, PhD Candidate Japanese History, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Wearing Traditional Malay Attire with Teacher Jamaliah Isnin and Two Japanese Students

Wearing Traditional Malay Attire with Teacher Jamaliah Isnin and Two Japanese Students

I spent this past summer studying Malay with the Institute of the Malay World and Civilization (ATMA) at the National University of Malaysia (UKM). I study the history of the Japanese occupation of Singapore, a project that requires I work with Japanese, Chinese, and Malay sources. While Columbia has provided all the resources I need to improve my Japanese and Chinese,Malay has required that I be a little more creative. I have taken excellent classes in Indonesian, a closely related language, at both Columbia and the University of Wisconsin—Madison. But to master Malay, and my sources, I needed to study the points where it diverges from Indonesian and also the Arabic script common in early twentieth century Malay documents.

Class Time

Class Time

The intensive Malay courses at ATMA were the answer to my problems. At UKM I, along with an assortment of undergraduate and graduate students from China and Japan, benefited from the attentions of a small group of talented and dedicated language teachers. Malay courses are offered at the National University of Singapore and the University of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, but both are located in heavily Anglophone cities. Only at UKM, located an hour and a half south of Kuala Lumpur in rural Selangor, could we find the immersive language experience that is needed to achieve fluency in Malay. Our teachers took our immersion one step further by organizing a homestay trip to a village in nearby Negeri Sembilan where we attended a traditional Malay wedding. And, on days when we did not have regular courses, my teacher put together a tutorial in the Arabic-based jawiscript that I needed for my research. We began the summer with elementary school primers, and ended reading handwritten letters from the nineteenth century.

Jawi Practice: The First Lines of a Syair

Jawi Practice: The First Lines of a Syair

            ATMA’s courses have been enormously helpful for my research this fall. I have been working in the National Archives in Malaysiaand soon  I will move to work with more Chinese sources in Singapore and with Japanese sources in Tokyo. I have already uncovered a wealth of sources in both jawi and the Romanized rumi script which will provide valuable perspective to my work on occupied Singapore.


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