Three readers have sent me three different links about the discovery of a new language, so I’d better post about it! I’ll lead with the most scholarly source, the Lund University website’s “Unknown language discovered in Southeast Asia“:

A previously unknown language has been found in the Malay Peninsula by linguists from Lund University in Sweden. The language has been given the name Jedek. […]

“Jedek is not a language spoken by an unknown tribe in the jungle, as you would perhaps imagine, but in a village previously studied by anthropologists. As linguists, we had a different set of questions and found something that the anthropologists missed”, says Niclas Burenhult, Associate Professor of General Linguistics at Lund University, who collected the first linguistic material from Jedek speakers.

The language is an Aslian variety within the Austroasiatic language family and is spoken by 280 people who are settled hunter-gatherers in northern Peninsular Malaysia.

The researchers discovered the language during a language documentation project, Tongues of the Semang, in which they visited several villages to collect language data from different groups who speak Aslian languages.

The discovery of Jedek was made while they were studying the Jahai language in the same area.

“We realised that a large part of the village spoke a different language. 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”, says Joanne Yager.

There’s a brief video clip if you want to hear a few sentences in the language. The other links are from NPR and IBT, both basically reprinting the press release; there’s a link to the article in Linguistic Typology, but it is, alas, behind a paywall. Thanks, Trevor, Kobi, and Christopher!


  1. David Marjanović says:

    This sounds like there might be several more languages hiding close to plain sight.

  2. Exactly!

  3. I’ve now read part of the article and will read the rest this weekend. It is careful to call Jedek a new variety rather than a new language.

  4. Lars (the original one) says:

    What has the Hattery come to, heaping no scorn on this?

    There are no indigenous words for occupations or for courts of law, and no indigenous verbs to denote ownership such as borrow, steal, buy or sell, but there is a rich vocabulary of words to describe exchanging and sharing

    Call me a cynic, but that seems very doubtful. Unless they mean that they borrowed all of those words from Jahai.

  5. Well, you notice I didn’t quote that bit. Dubious indeed.

  6. Jahai is the language where the “basic smell terms” were discovered, as discussed last month right here, and Burenhult was one of the authors who published about that. A good example of fieldwork paying off with surprises.

  7. David Marjanović says:

    Unless they mean that they borrowed all of those words from Jahai.

    Which could be the case. It’s not like English has indigenous terms for courts of law.

  8. We do have a few indigenous legal terms: king, queen, law, dock (not in AmE), right, deem, burden (of proof), and moot. Of course, most of these are used in non-legal contexts as well.

  9. Lars (the original one) says:

    But it would be wrongheaded to suggest that English culture has no basic need for such terms so it borrows them from French. That is however what the phrasing on the website tries to do for the Jedek, which is at best disingenious.


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