Malaysian church republishes 17th century Latin-Malay dictionary

A 1631 Latin-Malay dictionary from the Vatican has been republished from by the Catholic Church in Malaysia and is available for sale. The backdrop to this story is an ongoing tussle between the government of Malaysia and the Catholic Church over who can use the word ‘Allah’ to refer to God. The High Court ruled in the church’s favour, but is being appealed by the federal government and currently awaiting to be heard.

A year on, a silent war over ‘Allah’ between church and state
The Malaysian Insider, 17 January 2011

The “Dictionarium Malaico-Latin and Latino-Malaicum” was first published in 1631 by the Vatican Press in Rome. Church officials say it is historical proof that its missionaries had played a key role in the exchange of knowledge and culture between Europe and Southeast Asia some 400 years ago.

Reverend Lawrence Andrew, who had worked for the past 11 years to reprint the dictionary, told The Malaysian Insider it was crucial to counter the mistaken belief that the spread of Christianity through local languages in Malaysia was a recent 20th-century phenomenon.

“It’s to say it’s been here for a long time… 400 years,” said the editor of the Catholic Church’s local newspaper, The Herald Weekly.


Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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