Indography pp 85-104 | Cite as

Translation and Identity in the Dialogues in the English and Malaiane Languages

  • Melissa Walter
Part of the Signs of Race book series (SOR)


In 1614, in London, Sir Thomas Smith, the “Governour of the East-India, Muscouia, Northwest Passages, Sommer Ilands Companies, and Treasurer for the first Colonie in Virginia,” “caused” the Dialogues in the English and Malaiane Languages, a language learning aid made up of side-by-side translations, “to be set forth in our English tongue.”1 Set primarily in Aceh, an important trading center and Islamic court in northern Sumatra, the Dialogues features conversations including “A German,” “An Indian,” and others, in side-by-side translation between English and Malay, with three additional dialogues at the end in English and “the Madagascar language.” “Indian” refers here to local people involved with the spice trade, whether in the Southeast Asian islands or in Madagascar. As a practical text for the learning of Malay, the Dialogues apparently portrays translation as a straightforward process of phrase-for-phrase substitution, one that makes Southeast Asia approachable and accessible to the English. But the implications of travel to Southeast Asia and translation between English and Malay are more complicated than simple appropriation, as they have the potential to decenter English meaning-making. In addition, the presence in the text of Dutch traders and Dutch language, as well as characters including a French-speaking family and Gujarati and Southeast Asian traders, complicate the construction of Indian and English identities in the Dialogues, undercutting the binary structure implied by the text’s two columns.


English Reader East India Company Material Flame Malay Language Dravidian Language 
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  1. 2.
    The Dialogues builds on an established history of published vocabularies and word books facilitating translation between Malay and European languages, including a Chinese/Malay dictionary and the vocabulary of Antonio Pigafetta, the latter published in French in 1525 and later reprinted in Samuel Purchas’s Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas his pilgrimes (1625); see Donald Lach, Asia in the Making of Europe, vol. 3 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965), 493. At present, closely related variants of Malay exist as official languages in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Singapore. Malay, an Austronesian language, is not to be confused with Malayalam, a Dravidian language of Southern India that is the official language of the state of Kerala. Although they are from separate language groups, both Malay and Malayalam have incorporated words from Sanskrit, and Malay has also been influenced by (among other languages) Tamil, a Dravidian language that is closely related to Malayalam. On connections between Tamil and Malay,Google Scholar
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© Jonathan Gil Harris 2012

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  • Melissa Walter

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