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Southeast Asian Programs

The Department of Asian Languages and Cultures offers instruction in Filipino, Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese.

 Why Study Filipino?

Tagalog is an Austronesian language originally spoken in the vicinity of the capital of the Philippines, Manila. Among the approximately one hundred languages of the country, it has the oldest and most extensive literature, dating from the sixteenth century. It eventually was taken as the basis of the national language, Filipino, in 1937. Today, if one includes second language speakers and speakers outside the Philippines (including substantial populations in the US), there are almost 60 million people who speak Filipino. Filipino has long been written with alphabets making use of Roman letters and due to the US involvement in the Philippines, English has had a pervasive influence on Filipino, which contains many loan words.

 Why Study Indonesian?

Indonesian, or “Bahasa Indonesia” is the sixth most widely spoken language in the world. It is spoken by over 240 million inhabitants of Indonesia and over 22 million Malaysians and southern Thais. Indonesian has incorporated many words and terms from other languages, including Sanskrit, Arabic, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, and English, and it is spoken by substantial populations in Netherlands, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and the US.  In comparison to European languages, Indonesian grammar is fairly simple, with no conjugations, no tenses, and no declensions.  Bahasa Indonesia uses the Roman alphabet (except for some religious texts, which are written in an Arabic script). Indonesia is home both to the largest Muslim population in the world and to a vast array of vibrant literary, artistic, and cultural traditions.

 Why Study Thai?

Thai is spoken by approximately 63 million people in Thailand and another 20 million people in the countries neighboring Thailand. Thai is both the official and standard language for Thailand.  Fluent speakers and users of English number fewer than one million.  Historically, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country to escape Western colonization, but there is a long and strong history of trade as well as military and cultural contacts with the U.S.  There is also a tourist industry that brings hundreds of thousands of Americans to Thailand each year.  The University of Michigan was the first American university to offer regular instruction in Thai.  The University has a large population of Thai students and the University library has a large collection of books either written in Thai or about Thailand.

 Why Study Vietnamese?

Vietnamese has been strongly influenced by its neighbor, China. The general form of Chinese characters was adapted to transcribe native Vietnamese words until it was abandoned for a Romanized system originally developed by the French. This makes Vietnamese one of the few Asian languages whose present orthography is based on the Latin alphabet.  Even though Chinese characters are no longer central to the language, Chinese words still make up as much as 60% of Vietnamese vocabulary. Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam, where most of the 70 million speakers of the language live. There are substantial Vietnamese speaking populations in the neighboring countries of Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos. Because of the Vietnam War, many Vietnamese now live in the US.