Socio-cultural hierarchy in the palace language of Brunei Darussalam

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Chuchu, Fatimah binti Hj Awg ; Saxena, Mukul (2009)
  • Publisher: Universiti Brunei Darrussalam
  • Subject: P1 | HM | DS

Brunei Darussalam is a tiny Sultanate located on the north-western coast of the island of Borneo, wedged in between the Sarawak state of Malaysia. Brunei's national philosophy, Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB, 'Malay Islamic Monarchy') reconstructs Brunei‟s history and invokes Islamic values to support the Malay Sultanate and monarchy, creating an inextricable link between Malay ethnic identity, Malay language (the official language), the nation and Islam. The adoption of the Islamic faith by the monarchs of Brunei in the 13th century created a superstructure to the institution of kingship, organization of the state and structure of society, on the foundation laid in the previous era by Hindu-Buddhist Bruneian monarchies. The continuity of the Muslim monarchy legitimizes Brunei's social hierarchy. This hierarchical relationship constructs a diglossic relationship between the official language, Malay, and the other indigenous languages of the country. This sociolinguistic hierarchy further manifests itself among the dialects of Malay, viz., Kampong Ayer, Brunei Malay, Kedayan and Standard Malay and Bahasa Dalam (the Palace Language). Although the speakers of all five varieties are unified by their adherence to Islam, these varieties are indexical of the hierarchical social identities in the Malay society. The Palace Language is characterized by its highly metaphorical expressions and a specialized form of address, highly marked by both verbal and non-verbal communicative characteristics. It is primarily associated with the royal family. As the ancient social hierarchical structure still persists, the commoners are also expected to use it as a mark of respect when addressing the Sultan, ranking members of the royal family and high officials. The forms of address in this language are shaped by both Arabic and Sanskrit influences, the former symbolizing more recent history of Islamic socio-cultural roots, and the latter constituting remnants of a distant Hindu socio-cultural history. This paper will focus on the Palace Language in order to describe and explain the socio-cultural and the historical characteristics of Bruneian society.
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