Semelai (ISO639-3: SZA) is an Aslian language spoken in the Malay Peninsula by c.4,500 people. Aslian languages belong to the Austroasiatic language family. The Aslian languages are divided into Northern, Central and Southern clades, and Semelai belongs to the latter along with Semaq Beri, Mah Meri and Temoq. Semelai has a rich phonemic inventory, complex derivational morphology, and an elaborate lexicon with fine-grained semantic distinctions in basic monolexemic forms, evident in the domain of sensory language. Argument ellipsis is commonplace, and constituent order is predominantly VSO.
The Semelai traditionally lived in small family groups growing rice in isolated swiddens scattered deep in the forest around Tasek Bera and the Bera and Serting Rivers in southwestern Pahang. This alternated with camping in the forest to collect forest products like rattan and resins for trade. They were interned in government run villages in the late 1950s during the Malayan Emergency, (a communist insurgency) where they have largely remained until today. Swiddening and collecting and trading forest products resumed to some extent after the Emergency, but have gradually been abandoned since the 1970s, due to decreasing demand for forest products, deforestation and the introduction of cash-cropping. Most people are now small-holding rubber tappers. All Semelai are bilingual in Malay (Austronesian).
Selected Publications and Corpora
- Kruspe, Nicole. 2004a. A Grammar of Semelai. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Kruspe, Nicole. 2004b. Adjectives in Semelai. In Dixon and Aikhenvald (eds.), Adjective Classes: A Cross-linguistic Typology, 283-305. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Kruspe, Nicole. 2016. Semelai, from The Language Archive: https://hdl.handle.net/1839/00-0000-0000-0015-EFB8-5@view
- Kruspe, Nicole. 2016. Semelai: Perceptual Modalities, from The Language Archive: http://hdl.handle.net/10050/00-0000-0000-0003-A6B7-9@view