A Vocabulary of the English and Malay Languages, Containing Upwards of 2000 Words

A Vocabulary of the English and Malay Languages, Containing Upwards of 2000 Words was published in 1820 with the purpose of introducing a collection of common words to those whom knowledge of the language is necessary to communicate with the local people. As its name suggests, it contains a vocabulary of 2000 commonly used words in English with their Malay equivalents.

The book was authored by Claudius Henry Thomsen and Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir. The former was a Danish missionary under the auspices of London Missionary Society and a student of Abdullah, who was popularly known as the father of modern Malay literature. Abdullah, in his eponymous Hikayat Abdullah, described how he was instructed by Thomsen to compile the Vocabulary, and if his memory is correct, it would seem that the Vocabulary was compiled between September 1815 and November 1816. Abdullah took great pains with the word-book as he was keen to learn English. He finished the list of Malay words in a month, to which Thomsen added the English equivalents.

The Vocabulary was printed in Malacca by the Mission Press, the first printing press in the Straits Settlement started by London Missionary Society. The 96-paged book was priced at one sicca rupee, the equivalent to 0.1 sterling pound in those days. A second edition, published in Singapore by the Mission Press in 1827, is the first Malay dictionary or word-list printed in Singapore. This edition is extremely rare with the only known copy found in the National Library of Malaysia.

John Bastin, an eminent expert on Sir Stamford Raffles, notes the considerable linguistic importance of the Vocabulary “since it records Malay usage in Malacca and Singapore during the early decades of the nineteenth century, and, more obviously, Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir’s own working vocabulary”.

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