William Marsden, The Scholar Behind The History of Sumatra

Diana Carroll

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    William Marsden, author of The History of Sumatra was above all, a philologist and his linguistic theses were the lynchpin of all his work, including the History. In his 1782 'Remarks on Sumatran and cognate Languages' paper Marsden made the first scholarly identification of the Malayo-Polynesian language family based on sound linguistic principles. It was the first correct identification of any language family still recognised today. Yet, from the mid19th century Marsden's linguistic achievements have been ignored, underrated, or misappropriated. This is largely because of discontinuities in the transmission of the history of linguistics. Many advances in the field of philology have been misattributed and while Schlegel, Grimm and Bopp have been seen as the 'fathers of the new philology', knowledge of British linguistic scholars, especially Marsden, slipped from the West's communal memory. Despite moves in recent years to reinstate Britain in the received history of philological knowledge, Marsden is still overlooked or damned with faint praise.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)66-89
    JournalIndonesia and the Malay World
    Issue number137
    Publication statusPublished - 2019


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