The table of contents is fascinating. Nowadays, a book on colloquial Malay or Indonesian would include the same things as a book on the colloquial side of any language - buying things in a shop, asking for recommendations in a restaurant, watching television programmes, that kind of thing. Not this one. Winstedt helpfully offers his readers a 44-page grammar of Malay, a 5-page section on proverbs, and then a series of conversations:
(a) WITH A RULER
(b) WITH A CHIEF
(c) WITH A MALAY HOUSE-BOY
(d) LADY WITH MALAY NURSE
(f) ORDERING CLOTHES
(g) A POLICE INQUIRY
(j) HUNTING BIG GAME
(l) DOCTOR WITH PATIENT
The language of the conversations certainly isn't court or classical Malay - it's definitely dialect and pasar Malay, and in that sense it's 'colloquial'. But it's pretty clear even from the contents that Winstedt's Malay is intended for one purpose: talking down to the natives.
This impression is borne out by the text. It's hard to believe anyone, at any time, found this stuff useful, but I suppose they must have. Some choice phrases:
With a Chief:
'Everyone knows the white man is very strong-minded.'
'I am tired of telling you to water the maidenhair ferns in the evenings.'
'I too am sick of your laziness. Here take your wages and leave my service.'
A Police Inquiry:
'Last night a Chinaman waylaid a young Malay woman, stole her jewellery and murdered her.'
'What sort was the murdered woman, of good or bad repute.' [sic]
'Probably she led an immoral life on the sly.'
'Have you ever heard of a Malay woman wandering alone at night wearing gold ornaments?'
'Bring me a six-chambered revolver and 20 cartridges.'
'I don't want coolies who work intermittently.'
'Where pray does this Sakai track come out? If you don't know, don't pretend you do. I'm not anxious to get lost.'
'There is no need to be frightened. The magistrate is not an ogre. You won't be devoured.'
'Look at that Chinaman stealing fishing-stakes. Chase him. Cut him off from the village.'
Hunting Big Game:
'Why! what a fine pair of tusks! Tuan, you are very lucky; they are quite three cubits out of his head.'(Both of these said, of course, by the Malay tracker to the incredible white tuan.)
'Wah! The Tuan is very clever; only two shots and this huge elephant is dead; it would have taken a Malay at least ten shots to kill him, if not more.'
'I know the Malay trick. Get advances and then complain you have headache or your child is sick and you want an extension of time.'It's amazing to think that the world has changed so much in such little time. I'm not saying that white supremacy and the assumption of European brilliance have totally gone away - they haven't - but obviously this book couldn't be published now, and not only because most of its content is useless for any modern student of Malay.
Winstedt's other books are generally informative and useful. His The Malays: a cultural history (1947) is surprisingly interesting, although naturally it still reveals some of the man's colonial biases, and the prehistory side of things is totally wrong, assuming as it does a migration of Malayo-Polynesian speakers from Yunnan down through the Malay Peninsula. Winstedt also distinguishes racially between 'Proto-Malays' and 'Deutero-Malays', meaning poor hinterland Malayic speakers and rich coastal Malayic speakers respectively. Nobody really believes in such a distinction anymore.
I'm not sure what the message is here, but I suppose it's that intelligent and well-meaning people who invest time and energy in trying to understand the language and history of another group of human beings can still end up harbouring silly prejudices about them.