Kadazan vs Dusun: Evidence of Language Relation amid Rejection of Standard Kadazandusun (Sabah, Malaysia)

Authors: Trixie Tangit (Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Malaysia)
Speakers: Trixie Tangit
Strand: Language Ideologies
Session Type: General Session


In 2019, the Kadazan Society of Sabah (KSS) sought to contest the 1997 conjoining of the ethnic terms, “Kadazan” and “Dusun”, a move seen by the KSS to expunge the Kadazan people from history. The Malaysian government through the Ministry of Education responded by embarking on linguistic research of the cultural groups associated with the Kadazandusun grouping from 2019-2022 to reveal sheer similarities between the Kadazan and Dusun languages. This paper presents the findings of a lexicostatistics survey led by the author and discusses them against the identity politics of the Kadazandusun groups. Based on a 100-word Swadesh list, more than 350 lists were gathered from 22 districts throughout Sabah during an extensive fieldwork spanning the COVID19 pandemic hit years. When compared for percentage of shared cognates, the data showed varying and high degree of relations amid a shift to the more dominant Malay language. The prolific use of shared vocabularies appearing as synonyms, particularly indicate that while language is changing, there is an openness among adjacent communities (whether Kadazan or Dusun) to uphold the ideology that “we are more similar than we are different”. While this outlook may serve to ameliorate tension surrounding the amalgamation of the plethora of Kadazandusun groups and despite the language relation, convincing stakeholders has not been easy: the ideology that “no one is really a Kadazandusun” still abounds and the KSS rejects the continuation of the Kadazandusun language taught in Sabahan schools, a standard seen to favour Dusun vocabularies. The author also draws upon the findings from ongoing research exploring the dynamics of Indigenous-Malay relations in Sabah.

Keywords: Language ideology, Kadazandusun, Identity politics, Lexicostatistics, Sabah, Borneo, Indigenous