Malay-Latin Dictionary

The Malay-Latin dictionary, Published in Rome by David Haex in 1631, came to the Cathedral Library as part of a library donation in 1663.  The book itself is 75 pages long and translates into Latin a sect number of Malay and Portuguese words then used in Malaya.

It is incredibly interesting not only as an individual copy but because of the relevance it still holds in our socio-political climate. Firstly, this book, in particular, came from a scholar of England’s ancient constitution and Jewish law named John Seldon, a man who was, rather fascinatingly, hailed by John Milton, the author of Paradise Lost, as ‘the chief of learned men reputed in this land’.  This copy also contains annotations in English,  presumably from someone much later on, with a substantial knowledge of Malay. 

The other interesting thing about this dictionary is how it still holds a place in more recent times, for it has recently been reprinted by the church in Malaya to support arguments about the historical impacts of Christianity on Malayan culture and language in an ongoing legal controversy about the use of the name ‘Allah’. Christians in Malaya are currently unable to use ‘Allah’ when referring to God and so this dictionary is being used as proof that the term was used well before the 20th Century. 

Many church leaders have also said that the dictionary is proof that the Christian tradition in Malaya played a large role in the exchange of knowledge and culture between Europe and the countries of South-East Asia 400 years ago. 

Article contributed by Rosie Cooke


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