24 October 2012

Pigafetta's Wordlist

An early European visitor to Brunei was Antonio Pigafetta, an Italian scholar who travelled on Ferdinand Magellan's voyage around the world from 1519 to 1522, calling in at Brunei Town in 1521. Pigafetta kept a journal of the voyage, and this is an important historical document describing the situation in this part of the world at that time.

One of the things Pigafetta included in his journal was a list of 'some words of those heathen peoples of Molucca', and this wordlist is a valuable source of information about Malay at that time. However, it is rather stunning to find how many errors there are in the wordlist. For example:

  • Land : Buchit (this is presumably bukit, which would be better translated as 'hill' rather than 'land')
  • Morning : Patan Patan (one assumes 'patan' is really petang, i.e. 'evening', not 'morning')
  • What is this man's name? : Apenamaito? (presumably this is actually apa nama itu, or 'what is its name')

(My thanks to my UBD colleague, Adrian Clynes, for showing me a copy of the journal.)