Research Articles

The Aslian languages of Malaysia and Thailand: an assessment

  • Geoffrey Benjamin


The term ‘Aslian’ refers to a distinctive group of approximately 20 Mon-Khmer languages spoken in Peninsular Malaysia and the isthmian parts of southern Thailand. This paper is concerned only with ‘Aslian languages’ in the narrow sense (genetically Mon-Khmer) and not ‘Orang Asli languages’ in general (a sociolinguistic term covering both Aslian and Aboriginal-Malay languages). Relatively little was known about the Aslian languages until the 1990s, when intensive field-research on them was taken up again after some thirty years of relative inattention. However, misinformation still attends much of the public discussion of the status, history, relationships and characteristics of these languages. This paper is aimed at redressing the situation by surveying what is currently known about their circumstances, coupled with an assessment of the scholarly research on which that information is based. The question of endangerment will also be discussed: some Aslian languages are in imminent danger of extinction while the survival of others is by no means assured, even if they may seem to be currently viable.

Keywords: Aslian languages, Malaysia, Thailand, endangered languages, cultural context, sociolinguistic research

How to Cite:

Benjamin, G., (2012) “The Aslian languages of Malaysia and Thailand: an assessment”, Language Documentation and Description 11, 136-230. doi:

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Published on
31 Jul 2012
Peer Reviewed