As far as I know the Malay of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands is also spoken in the Cocos Malay diaspora, that is, in Christmas Island, Perth, Katanning, Port Hedland, Bunbury and in Tawau, Malaysia. It might be that the differences of the Malay spoken in this diverse locations outweigh the similarities. But for the meantime it's probably safe to say it's the same language spoken in all these locations. As far as numbers; there are probably a little over 5000 speakers. They comprise about 4000 native speakers in Malaysia; 400 on Cocos (Keeling) Islands; 400 on Christmas Island, and a similar number on the Australian mainland.
What language family does Cocos Malay belong to? I should first warn you, I'm a socio-cultural anthropologist, not a linguist! With that caveat in mind, there are different ways of categorising and bracketing the languages of the world. I think this is one way of doing it for Cocos Malay.
First, Cocos-Malay is an Austronesian language. We think that around four thousand years ago, one of the great migrations of human history occurred. The Austronesians began their grand journey. They probably started from Taiwan. First they sailed to (maybe on their outriggers) and inhabited the islands of Southeast Asia. Then they head further east (to the Pacific) and a lot further west (to Madagascar). Such a widespread migration of a single people in pre-modern times is probably hard to match. I think the spread of the indigenous people through the Americas would come a close second.
2. Malayo-PolynesianSecond, among the Austronesian languages there are two major kinds:
- Malayo-Polynesian. From Hawaii to New Zealand, the Philippines to Malaysia you can find Malayo-Polynesian languages, spoken by indigenous populations. Excluding Australia and Papua, Malayo-Polynesian languages predominated in the Pacific and island Southeast Asia.
- Non-Malayo-Polynesian. Basically, these are the indigenous languages of Taiwan otherwise known as Formosan.
3. Western Malayo-Polynesian
- Eastern Malayo-Polynesian. This incorporates the Pacific Ocean or Oceania; Polynesia, Micronesia, and parts of Melanesia. It is the yellow part, "Oc", on the map below
- Western Malayo-Polynesian, the 'Malayo' part. This incorporates Madagascar, Malaysia, Indonesia. It is indicated as "WMP" on map below.
- Central Malayo-Polynesian. These languages are spoken in Eastern Indonesia, the small area just to the north of Australia. See "CMP" on the map below.
- South Halmahera West New Guinea. See the small area SHWNG squashed between the other three.
|This map shows the Austronesian world, but divides it into 4 language areas.|
In the above map, the huge yellow area to the right incorporates Oceanic languages or EMP. The smaller WMP area is to the left. And squashed in between are SHWNG and CMP. Note that in the areas with stars the indigenous peoples do not speak Austronesian language, but rather the 1,000 or so Papuan languages.
Several languages in the WMP have been influenced by, for example, Arabic, Sanskrit, Chinese languages, and subsequently colonial languages.
As Aronof & Rees-Miller write, the WMP languages include the Austronesian languages with huge numbers of speakers (numbering in the millions). With only around 5000 speakers, Cocos Malay is not one of the largest WMP languages.
4. Malayic /Malay-IndonesianFourth, within the Western Malayo-Polynesian languages, one of the large branches is the Malayic (also known as Malay-Indonesian) languages. Cocos Malay is similar to modern Indonesian, Malaysian, and other varieties of Malay (such as spoken in Kupang and Bangka in Indonesia; Pattani in Southern Thailand). They all derive from a similar language Malayic or Malay-Indonesian language. Most probably this was spoken by the Melayu (Malay) people of Sumatra and peninsular Malaysia.
SummarySo there you have it. Cocos Malay is a Malayic language. Malayic languages belong to the Western branch of Malayo-Polynesian languages. The Malayo-Polynesian languages themselves belong Austronesian family. The next question is what distinguishes Cocos Malay from other forms of Malay, including modern Malaysian and Indonesian? I will take a more detailed look in a later blog.
That was at least until about 1500, when societies on the Western seaboard of Europe (Portugal, Spain, and later England, Holland, and then France) started colonising the world. As a result the majority of people in Hawaii and New Zealand now speak English and in several Oceanic nations French is spoken. In other places, 'creoles' or 'pidgin' languages prevail. Nevertheless, the Austronesian language survive and flourish.
The Austronesians brought with them the technologies of pottery, outrigger canoes, and bows and arrows, as well as domestic pigs, fowl and dogs, and they cultivated rice and millet, along with other crops. Rice and millet at this stage were crops suited to temperate and sub-tropical climates, and they apparently did not become established in [in the tropical climate of] Indonesia until somewhat later; their place in the Austronesian diet was [initially] taken by taro, breadfruit, bananas, yams, sago and coconuts.
The context in which I learned anthropology was sceptical about considering a culture as a cohesive and unique single entity; and even more wary of the idea of larger cultural complex.