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About the story
What’s with this “Wren” thing?
   The oldest extant version of the fable we are presenting here appeared in 1913 in the first volume of a two-volume anthology of Low Saxon folktales (Plattdeutsche Volksmärchen “Low German Folktales”) collected by Wilhelm Wisser (1843–1935). Read more ...

Bahasa Baba
Baba Malay, Straits Chinese Malay

To a considerable extent, the ancestors of the Peranakan have
linguistically and culturally adapted to their Malay-dominated
surroundings, but it is on special occasions, such as weddings and
other rites of passage, that their Southeast Chinese roots are most
apparent, as in this historical wedding photograph from Singapore.

Language information: “Baba Malay” is a general label for a group of Malay language varieties with Chinese substrates. The best known of these varieties are those of Singapore and of Malacca (Melaka) and also of Penang (Pinang) in Malaysia, as well as some of Jakarta and other parts of Java and of Makassar in Indonesia. The varieties of Indonesia are influenced by local languages, especially by Javanese, as well as by Dutch.
     The speakers of these varieties are referred to as “Peranakan” (Malay for “(native-born) descendants”), those of Malaysia and Singapore mostly as “Straits Chinese,” as “Baba Chinese”, and as “Baba and Nyonya.” These people are descendants of early immigrants from Southeastern China to the Malay-speaking region (Nusantera). In Malaysia and Singapore, male Baba Peranakan are usually called “Baba,” allegedly after a Chinese word for “dad” (cf. Mandarin bàba, while in Southern Min Chinese spoken by the ancestors of most Peranakan “dad” would have been a-pa, a-pah, , lāu-pē or tò-sàng). Female Baba Peranakan are referred to as “Nyonya” or “Nonya,” a name popularly believed to be derived from Portuguese dona ‘lady’. For this reason, Baba Peranakan in Malaysia and Singapore are mostly called “Baba and Nyonya.” The words Baba and Nyonya in Chinese scriptTheir language variety, for instance, is usually called “Baba Malay” (in Malay Bahasa Baba “Baba language”), their buildings “Baba houses,” and their cuisine and arts and crafts are labeled with the qualifier “Nyonya” or “Nonya.” Nyonya cuisine, which is a blend of Southern Chinese and Nusantera cuisines with some Western touches, is quite well known and highly acclaimed among lovers of Southeast Asian cooking.
     Another popular belief or assumption is that the earliest common ancestors of the Baba Peranakan were male Chinese immigrants and Malay women (since in the beginning only men emigrated from China). Some people doubt this because of Islamic prohibition of marriage between female Muslims and non-believers. Irrespective of this and of influx from later Chinese immigrants, by being partly acculturated to Malay society, today’s Baba Peranakan have become an ethnic group in its own right, or they may be regarded as constituting a subgroup among Nusantera Chinese, being destinctly separate from both Malays and from those ethnic Chinese whose ancestors immigrated in later times.

This “Baba house” in Malacca, Malaysia, exemplifies the traditional Peranakan architectural style of the region: a blend of Southern Chinese, Malay and Portuguese elements. The Baba Malay name for this sort of two-level terrace house is rumah kia ke, where rumah is Malay for ‘house’ and kia ke (pronounced jūjiā in Mandarin) is Fukienese for something like ‘(family) residence’.

          In Singapore and Malaysia, the Baba Peranakan are one of three distinct groups with mixed heritage. The others are the Chitty Peranakan who are mostly of Tamil origin and speak their own Malay variety, and the “Eurasians” who are of partly Portuguese, Dutch and British descent and these days speak mostly English, the Portuguese-Malay Kristang subgroup using a Portuguese-based creole known as Papiá Kristang, Cristão or Malacca Portuguese.
     The Baba Peranakan have developed their own specific culture with local variants. Most of them have remained faithful to the religions of their Chinese ancestors, and extended family connections and ancestor worship play fundamental roles in this. A good percentage have been converted to Christianity, some also to Islam. Peranakan arts and crafts as well as architecture are blends of Southeastern Chinese, Malay and Western styles. Traditional Peranakan clothing is fundamentally Malay but has distinctly Chinese touches.
     Baba Malay language has been variously described as a Malay-based creole and as a Malay variety with Fukienese Chinese influences. Its origin is believed to go back to the 15th century. According to popular belief, the varieties of Malaysia, especially that of Malacca, are more “refined” than that of Singapore. The varieties of Indonesia, which have undergone Javanese and other influences as well and have borrowed mostly from Mandarin Chinese and also have Dutch loanwords, are by many treated as separate and tend to be called “Peranakan Indonesian,” as opposed to “Baba Malay” or “Straits Malay” of Malaysia and Singapore. There are currently about 5,000 speakers of Baba Malay in Malaysia and 10,000 in Singapore (primarily in and around Katong, Geylang and Jao Chiat), and there are about 20,000 speakers of Peranakan Indonesian (mostly in Central and Eastern Java). These figures constitute merely fractions of the corresponding ethnic populations. Small communities of Peranakan can be found in other parts of the world, such as in other Southeast Asian countries, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Australia. However, data about the use of Baba Malay and Peranakan Indonesian in those communities do not appear to be available.
     There are few if any monolingual speakers of these varieties. Virtually all Peranakan are quite proficient in the national languages of the countries in which they live, many in predominant regional or local languages as well. Many of those in Malaysia and especially those in Singapore have been educated in English language schools, and some of them even use English in their homes some of the time. Many of those with non-Baba Chinese neighbors and those that visit Chinese schools tend to know Chinese as well, mostly Min (“Hokkien” or “Fukienese,” primarily Southern Min, sometimes Teochew as well) and in certain neighborhoods Cantonese or Hakka (Hak-kâ). Due to recent changes in education and the media, many Peranakan with Chinese education are now proficient in Mandarin Chinese.
     Generally speaking, Baba Malay retains Malay structure, though in a lower register (sometimes called “Low Malay”), resembling that of the morphologically simplified so-called “Bazaar Malay” lingua franca. Chinese influences primarily consist of loanwords, also of entire phrases imported from Southern Min Chinese. The first and second person singular personal pronouns are imported from Southern Min Chinese ( góa > gua ‘I’,  > lu ‘(familiar) you’) while the other personal pronouns are Malay. (This may well be because it avoids the somewhat complex, socially determined Malay first and second person pronouns choices.) The phonological structure of Baba Malay is basically Malay with casually spoken characteristics, such as deletion of and metathesis involving schwa in certain environments (e.g., belakang = blakang ‘back’, perempuan = prempoan ‘female’, kereta = kreta ‘vehicle’, terbang = trebang ‘to fly’). Clearly conditioned by Southern Min Chinese phonology is the “omission” of syllable-final /l/ and /r/ resulting in various vowel colorings. Vowel nasalization (usually indicated in writing by a superscript “n”) is a Min feature and occurs only in Chinese loans.
      Most literature written by Peranakan is in Malay or Indonesian, in Malaysia and Singapore also in English. Lately some writers have published Baba Malay literature, mostly poetry and short prose.

Genealogy: Austronesian > Malayo-Polynesian > Western > Sundic > Malay > Western + Sinitic substrates

Historical Lowlands language contacts: Dutch, English

     Click to open: [Translation]Click here for different versions. >

Author: Reinhard F. Hahn

© 2011, Lowlands-L · ISSN 189-5582 · LCSN 96-4226 · All international rights reserved.
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