The transregional and inter-Asian turns in Asian studies have overtaken Indonesian studies’ earlier preoccupation with the question of Java's modernization and the nation-state. Departing from its Java-centricity, and casting their frame more widely across the region, scholars have turned creatively to genealogies, laws, and religious texts to reveal radically different modalities of sovereignty, piety, and cosmopolitanisms. The nimble juxtaposition of Sanskritic, Arabic, and Pali texts with their Javanese, Malay, and Tamil counterparts has allowed scholars to make important breakthroughs in the historiography of transregional Asia over the long duration.1 If the potential interpretative payoff for such translingual historiographical work is clear, the linguistic hurdle is nevertheless just as daunting.

Tom Hoogervorst's Language Ungoverned is the latest addition to this expanding corpus of linguistically inflected transregional and interdisciplinary histories, and the first with a Sinitic focus. Although ostensibly an ethnolinguistic history of an Indonesian minority group, the author situates his...

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