Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Some Old Javanese/Old Sundanese Resources

Halo semua! It's been a while. Things have been a bit hectic.

    I got married in Gibraltar last August and moved to the Netherlands with my wife, who now has a residence permit and a job (and who recently passed her DPhil at Oxford!). Moving took time, but we're all set up here in Leiden in a nice apartment very close to the main train station. We're fifteen minutes from Schiphol, about half an hour from Amsterdam, ten minutes from The Hague, and three minutes' walk from the centre of Leiden. The Netherlands' national anthropology museum, Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde, is literally just across the canal, and it's free for Leiden students. It's a pretty good set-up. We even have a little garden with a bird feeder. There are parakeets all over town. People are a little brusque and the beer has far too much alcohol in it (starts at 6%!), but we're happy.
Leiden in the snow - on the Beestenmarkt, a few minutes from our flat.
    I've been working pretty hard on my courses so I haven't had the time or inclination to blog about anything. I'm taking the MA in Asian Studies; it's supposed to be an MA in Southeast Asian Studies, but that's just a branch of Asian Studies and, frankly, there aren't enough Southeast Asia-related courses to justify calling it that. Quite a step down from the Leiden of old, where there used to be a dedicated Indonesian Studies course complete with classes in Indonesian, Javanese, and Old Javanese. No sense in complaining, though.

   I would say I'm doing fairly well; I topped the class in the core module at the start of the year (Introduction to Asian Studies) and again in the thesis proposal, and I even managed to get a couple of 10/10s along the way (marks are out of 10 here; they said 10 is impossible to get, but, well, apparently not). I expect I'll graduate cum laude, but you never know with these things, and I'm not really motivated by grades. It's also a little easier for me as a native English speaker on a course full of Dutch people and Italians.

   I wrote a paper back in January on kinship terminologies in Timor-Alor-Pantar languages based on raw data from the field, and Marian Klamer liked it enough to help me polish it up for publication, so we'll see how that goes. The gist of the paper is that there is no support in TAP kinship terminologies for the hypothesis that prescriptive marriage alliance is native to eastern Indonesia, and that's an important thing to bear in mind when coming up with hypotheses for the prehistory of the region. I'm working on a paper on so-called 'Kadiri quadratic' script - a set of interesting decorative writing systems from the East Javanese period (10thc. onwards) - for another class, and that's fairly interesting too. My thesis is all lined up: I'm analysing Bujangga Manik, one of the most famous pieces of literature from pre-Islamic West Java, in its Austronesian/Malayo-Polynesian context.

    I'm also indulging another interest, in plant domestication in Amazonia, by taking a course in Amerindian Foodways run by the archaeology department. I'm presenting on the Tupian language family next week. I'm doing it mostly because there weren't enough Southeast Asia courses but also because it's interesting and fits with the number of credits I need. So: I'm pretty busy.

    Anyway, I've been learning Old Sundanese to work on the poem for my thesis, and that has also necessitated learning Old Javanese as well (a lot of Old Sundanese literature makes use of Old Javanese vocabulary and syntax, although they're very different languages). Old Javanese is quite complicated but rewarding. If you know Malay/Indonesian then Old Sundanese isn't too tricky. They're mostly difficult to learn because learning resources are hard to find, so I've decided to help remedy that by posting some links here:

1) An Introduction to Old Javanese - a free textbook by Willem van der Molen. I completed it in the autumn and I've been working through the vocabulary and primer since then. It's simple and easy to use, although the language is quite complex. It's not really hard to learn compared to, say, Sanskrit, but compared to Indonesian it's not easy. You will need a dictionary when working with the textbook because not all the vocabulary is supplied. That's okay, though, because there's:

2) Old Javanese-English dictionary, based on P. J. Zoetmulder's 1982 dictionary, free and searchable online. It's very easy to use once you get used to it. Check the FAQ to make sure you enter the inputs correctly and you're good to go.

3) I also made a course on Memrise to teach Old Javanese vocabulary, but it's really only useful if you've already studied the language with the textbook. It's useful for me, though, and it should help long-term if you're learning the language properly. The words are in a bit of a random order - I had assumed it would be easy to adjust the order once the words were in the system, but that's not how Memrise works.

4) I also made a Memrise course to teach Old Sundanese vocabulary, and because Old Sundanese is much simpler morphologically than Old Javanese I'm fairly confident you could learn to read it just by working through the course. I also structured it a little better by putting more fundamental vocabulary in the earlier lessons. If this had existed back in November I would have had a much easier time learning the text, but studies of Old Sundanese are very much in their infancy, so... Anyway, if you have an interest in this area do give it a go and let me know what you think.

    That's all for now. I probably won't be posting much until the summer, but I thought somebody out there might benefit from these things, and some feedback on the Memrise courses would be good.


  1. Dear West I simply have no words to say thanks to you for these really beneficial resources for those who are interested in Old Javanese and Sundanese languages. I lived in Indonesia as a foreign student studying financial management from 2010 till 2013. However once I left the country I really felt that I had lost a beautiful treasure and I must study it more deeply. I started reading Geertz and purchased a dictionary of Javanese to explore the extremely beautiful culture of this paradise. I was disappointed when I knew that Leiden has abandoned its MA in Javanese, it was really heart breaking. I currently applied for another MA in South East Asian Studies at SOAS to be commenced from Fall 2017. I do hope that you will continue this amazing journey of making available the contents on Old Javanese to students and lovers of this great tradition. I also applied today for Third Intensive Course on Old Javanese which will held in July at East Java. However I am not sure if they accept me for this course or not.

    1. Glad you appreciate the links! I've thought about doing the OJv intensive course, but it's not such a difficult language to study with the available materials so it might not be worth it. Maybe one day. Good luck with OJv and SOAS! Sounds like an excellent plan.

  2. Thank you very much for these encouraging words. My initial plan was to get into MA Javanese at Leiden. Unfortunately that is no longer available.
    I am really sorry for disturbing you.. However I feel so excited that I can not stop myself from asking you one more question about learning Old Javanese Scripts. As most of the books used Roman/Latin Scripts. I got a copy of Avenis Teselkin Old Javanese Kawi but it also used Latin Script.

    1. No need to apologise! The Teselkin book is okay but not particularly useful - the van der Molen introduction is so much better. Teselkin provides a sample script but I don't recall ever having seen it in an inscription.

      If you want to learn the scripts then you need to put in quite a lot of work. There is/was no standard script for writing it, so it's really a case of getting to know what the shapes look like. De Casparis (1975) is the best introduction I know of but it's not comprehensive and it classifies nearly every variety as "Kawi", which is really unhelpful. I'd suggest googling photos of the inscriptions and working through them with the OJv-English dictionary, ideally with a transcription. The de Casparis book is good because it gives a selection of photos of inscriptions with accompanying transcriptions, but a lot of interesting inscriptions aren't included (including especially the really weird script found at Candi Sukuh).

      I suspect you could do quite a lot of work just using the internet. Tikus Prasasti has some helpful resources. There's also an early Kawi-style script that you can practise on Memrise - I've worked through the course and it's helpful to get some of the shapes, so I recommend that. But don't expect actual inscriptions to look like that, that's all! Just search for "Old Javanese script" or "Kawi script" or something like that and it should come up.

  3. Thank you very much for taking your precious time for helping me. I will look for De Casparis book and I am already enjoying the links which you shared. I also found your previous posts extremely helpful for students and researchers interested in Indonesia and its history., You are no doubt doing a great job.. And one final request that whenever you conduct an OJs course please share the details on your blog. Many like me want to attend it. I think you can also arrange some courses on Indonesian History. By the way I also enrolled into your course on Ojs at Memrise.


You can post anonymously if you really want to, but I would appreciate it if you could provide some means of identifying who you are, if only for the purpose of knowing who has written what.