Journal of the International Phonetic Association

Illustrations of the IPA

Cocos Malay

Craig D. Soderberg

Foundation for Endangered Languages

Cocos Malay, hereafter called Cocos, is referred to in the Ethnologue with the ISO code of ‘coa’. The Ethnologue considers Cocos to be a Malay-based Creole along with several other Malay-based creoles (Lewis 2009). Cocos is spoken in Australia and in Malaysia. In Australia, it is spoken on the islands of Cocos and Christmas with a total combined population of about 700 speakers on those two islands. In Malaysia, Cocos speakers are found primarily in the eastern and southeastern coastal districts of Sabah (Kunak, Semporna, Lahad Datu and Tawau). In early 2013, the Ethnologue listed the population of Cocos speakers in Malaysia as 4,000 and decreasing. The Ethnologue also stated that the total number of Cocos speakers in all places around the world is 5,000. However, both of these statements in the Ethnologue are not correct. The Cocos population in Malaysia is increasing, not decreasing, and the total worldwide population of Cocos speakers is much larger than the Ethnologue estimate. The 1970 population estimate for Cocos speakers in Malaysia was 2,731 (Moody 1984: 93, 100). But the 2012 population estimate for Cocos speakers worldwide is 22,400, with most Cocos speakers living in Sabah, Malaysia. Our study focused exclusively on Cocos speakers in Malaysia. Some Cocos speakers interviewed in our study claimed that their ancestors originated from the island of Cocos (also known as Keeling), southwest of Sumatra in the Indian Ocean. Others claimed that their ancestors originally inhabited the Indonesian islands of the Malay Archipelaɡo and subsequently migrated to Cocos Island and then to Sabah. Two historical accounts of the Cocos can be found in Nanis (2011) and Subiah, Rabika & Kabul (1981).