Conceptualizing the Language and Cultural Ideologies of the Kadazandusun in Borneo, Malaysia

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


“The so-called Kadazandusun ethnic grouping in Sabah, Malaysia, a political network of at least 40 cultural groups with Bornean roots and animistic traditions, continues to grapple with identity issues and threats of internal splitting. At the crux of the matter is the fundamental question of whether these groups are so dissimilar that they should reject the term “Kadazandusun”, a conjoining of two previously used ethnic categories in census, Kadazan and Dusun, which are not without past controversy of their own. Group leaders have always held on to the idea that their identities are contradistinctive and so too are their languages, and yet, the fear of homogenisation under the Malayanising state causes the Kadazandusun identity to become elevated as the symbol of Bornean Indigeneity irrespective of religion. While policymakers attempt newer and hopefully less controversial ways of ethnic classification, communities demand that mother tongue education be conducted and exclusively in their predominant dialect or language. This threatens to destabilise the standard Kadazandusun language already taught in public schools since the late 1990s. The struggle to maintain one’s own identity—and language—thus clashes heavily with the modern-day convention of Kadazandusun suggesting that the work of decolonisation for the Sabahan Indigenes is far from over. In this paper, I argue how the entwining and entangled relationship between language and cultural ideas for the Kadazandusuns need to be properly unpacked and studied, if we want to truly understand what it means to be Kadazandusun today.”

Keywords: Language and cultural ideology, Kadazandusun, Identity politics, Sabah, Borneo, Indigenous