The Loss of Jawi

The General Guide to Jawi Spelling issued by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Brunei
Sometimes too much knowledge is a scary thing. I was asked to launch the National Workshop on Jawi Spelling System organised by the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) on Monday 30 April 2012. I stayed for the first paper.

My knowledge on jawi especially how it is used here in Brunei suddenly trebled. I have always been curious as I do know that there are several ways of spelling in jawi and you are still correct. The one that got me was when TAP was formed in January 1993. In November 1992, I asked for the jawi for Tabung Amanah Pekerja to be written so that we can print our letterheads. It was done by someone in the Religious Affairs. The spelling for Pekerja was "pa-kap-ra-jim". That ran out sometimes towards the end of 1993 and I asked for a reprint. This time we changed the jawi slightly and I think one of my staff asked DBP and the spelling for Pekerja was "pa-kap-ra-jim-alif" and I asked why was the alif added. My staff said that that's the way it should be spelt, without the alif is old spelling.

Anyway, fast forward to nineteen years later, I heard more interesting things. Jawi is not perfect. The Malays in the past (like a thousand years ago) used the very stick like ancient writings, first Rencong, then Pallava and lastly Kawi. When Islam came to the region around the 15th century, it was found that it was too difficult to read Arabic with the older writings, so the Arabic script was borrowed and modified. It was not just the writing but the Malay language itself changed radically with infusion of Arabic, Persian and Hindi vocabulary, introduction of Arabic rhetorical style and changes in grammar based on oral speech. However there were many words in the Malay language which can't be spelt using the original Arabic letters. So over time, several new characters were added which are sa, ga, pa, nga and cha. Apparently even these were not enough, as the 'vi' sound is not there. The 'vi' sound as in volvo is not there originally because there was no Malay word but with infusion of words like volvo, there was a need for the 'vi' character. In the 1990s, the 'wau' with a little dot at the top was used.

What is the major problem with Jawi and why the need to have the workshop to look into this matter?

First of all, there are issues with the current system. The letter 'wau' is used for w, o and u. So when you try to spell borong which is 'ba-wau-ra-wau-nga' but burung is also spelled 'ba-wau-ra-wau-nga'. Other words like koko and kuku, biru and biro, gulung and golong etc. In fact in some words like terowong, the wau became predominant as 'ta-ra-wau-wau-wau-nga'. We have the problems with 'ya' with spelling of words like pin and pen, bila and bela etc. There are also issues with spellings like lima is spelled 'lam-ya-mim' but 'Lim' is also spelled the same way. Muka is spelled 'mim-wau-kaf' and so is 'Mok'. A real life example was a company called Lim Mok Sen but in Jawi, it was read Muka Lima Sen. There are issues too. I leave it to the experts.

Why bother? Jawi is not surprisingly in a decline. Brunei is about the only country practising it widely together with one or two states in Malaysia and probably one or two in Sumatra. If we lose Jawi, we lose the most important symbol of our identity.


Funnyguy said…
Salam, Interesting post. I started wondering what will be next for the "evolution of jawi"especially with the modern words that you have mentioned above. I always thought that lima was spelled "Lam-Ya-Mim-Alif" is it not? or maybe i am just thinking of Arabic script instead of the Jawi script. i would assume that the huruf Alif was not popular back then ;)

Anyways,interesting read.
Anonymous said…
Salam Tuan BR,

I am a Jawi enthusiast myself. I enrolled for the Jawi module while i was doing my undergrad in UBD (though the module wasn't relevant to my field). Alhamdulillah, the course was fruitful and I learnt a lot especially those concerning with 'kata pinjam', 'suku kata terbuka & tertutup' etc.

One of all things that I learnt was the function/s of the letter 'Alif'. Besides functioning as a vowel (besides Ya, Wau), alif can be huruf 'Pembeza' as well.

E.g: Kg Pandan. We would spell Pandan "Kaf Mim Pa Wau Nga ; Pa Nun Dal Nun". Yes they Llook perfectly correct - back in the 90s.

Currently, we are using sistem ejaan jawi mutakhir (though i am still not convinced how updated the system is).

So kg Pandan is now spelled "Kaf alif mim pa wau nga ; Pa alif nun dal nun" - although, according to hukum Alif, this is wrong'.

The reason behind this is Alif acts as the pembeza because in the Malay Vocabulary, the word 'Pendan' (Pa Nun Dal Nun) and 'Kempung' (Kaf Mim Pa wau Ngam) exist. Therefore, the new spelling for Kg Pandan is valid.

With regards to huruf 'Va', we shall see that the UBD Jawi spelling still uses 'Ba' instead of 'Va' (Unibersiti). I once inquired about this issue and I was told that the spelling will stay as it is forever because the spelling has been gazetted. (telah digazettekan)

I hope our children will be educated properly esp with regards to the Jawi education because I have seen an awful LOT of spelling errors in the JPI textbooks for sekolah-sekolah ugama. We are particularly worried about misconceptions of the spelling structure, techniques, phonics etc and the system as a whole.

Semoga bermanfaat & saya mohon dimaafkan :)

Acquaria Varese said…
Good Day, Jawi Blogger!

My best guess on the so far mysterious arab looking script under a rock painting in West Australia is that it is Jawi, from about 100 years ago. Could someone with a good Jawi reading capacity contact me? It appears under a ship, and may be related to local workers imported fro a plantation, of foreign origin and Jawi language origin.

Prof. Marco Vigano,

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