This article considers European cross-cultural exchanges with Islamic Southeast Asia from the perspective of language. Earlier assumptions of the superiority of European languages over non-European ones are unwarranted. In the early modern period English was a peripheral language, and the English and other Europeans used various languages to communicate in trading relations with the East. In Southeast Asia (the “East Indies”), Malay was a significant early modern lingua franca. This study examines the circumstances under which the Dutch explorer Frederick de Houtman came to write a handbook on Malay, later translated into Latin, English, and other languages, when he joined a 1598–99 Dutch East Indies voyage to Aceh. Imprisoned by the sultan, he also wrote an account of his experience. The textual materials produced by this encounter include, aside from Houtman's own Dutch account, an account by the expedition's English pilot and an Acehnese chronicle, Hikayat Aceh, mentioning the European visitors. Using these varied materials—in English, Dutch, and Malay—this study analyzes Houtman's role as translator and interpreter to rethink early modern transnational communication.

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