The Historical Place of Acehnese: The Known and the Unknown
Graham Thurgood
California State University
The linguistic evidence has established Acehnese as one of the Chamic languages, a
group including the mainland Chamic languages Phan Rang Cham, Haroi, Jarai, Rade,
Chru and Roglai found in central Vietnam, Hainan Cham found near Sanya on southern
Hainan Island, and Western Cham found in parts of Cambodia and Thailand. Its closest
non-Chamic relatives are the Malayic languages Malay and Mingangkabau (Awak Jamee
or Anuek Jamee) and the Malay dialect Tamiang (Basa Teumieng); more distantly related
are the Batak languages, Karo Batak, Alas, and Kluet. Many of the frequently noticed
widespread similarities in vocabulary with Malay are now recognized as the result of longterm
The linguistic record also shows that Acehnese speakers migrated from central Vietnam
coast to the tip of Sumatra, in anticipation of the Vietnamese conquest of the southern
capital of Champa in 1471 --- an analysis that matches our non-linguistic historical
material closely. In addition, it is clear that some time was spent in Kelantan, although
the dating of this is unclear.
And, while it is clear that the spread of Acehnese involved absorption and replacement of
other languages, major work on Acehnese dialects and their interaction with other
languages in the immediate vicinity is needed to clarify our understanding of this

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