I paid a visit to the Ethnography Museum in Warsaw today. The museum itself was closed, but it turned out that they had kicked out the ridiculous, kooky, New Agey, let-me-heal-your-soul bookstore (alas, it didn’t disappear just moved next door) they used to host and lent the space to a cafe-cum-bookstore thing obviously geared towards the English-speaking tourist (less than 10% books were in Polish). Very good, I say, as we have lamentably few such places.
What they sell is mostly heavy coffee table books with pretty pictures, focusing mostly on architecture and interior design. Oh well, let me just say they sell mostly Taschen and you’ll get the idea. There was very little in terms of ethnography/anthropology/history books you’d actually read, not look at plus a couple of Teach Yourself handbooks. Burrowing through these, I found a little gem (or maybe a semi-precious stone) called “a baba malay dictionary” by William Gwee Thian Hock.
The book itself is not terribly sophisticated (but at least it tells which lexical items are Malay and which Chinese, oddly giving only Mandarin cognates for the latter) and the ‘linguistic’ introduction made me smile more than once. Still, my joy is great as I have never expected to find anything on Baba Malay in Poland.
What’s so special about Baba Malay? To be frank, not that much. It’s the language spoken by so called ‘Straits Chinese’ (or ‘Peranakan Chinese’ or ‘Baba Chinese’), descendants of Malay women and Hokkien Chinese workers brought to Singapore, Malacca and Penang by the British. Baba Malay is a Malay-based contact language with generous amounts of Hokkien vocabulary. I wish people writing about contact languages (= the ‘mixed’ varieties arising in situation of contact between established language communities) wouldn’t focus that much on English or Romance-based pidgins and creoles, turning more attention to, for example, Baba Malay.