False Cognates: The Case of Village Patrols in Indonesia and Peru

False cognates are words of two different languages with similar meaning that look like they share a common origin, but which actually do not. They are fun because they get us thinking about how languages develop and how they relate to one another, even when looks can be deceiving. Classic examples include arigato (Japanese) and obrigadu (Portuguese), both of which mean “thank you” but are entirely unrelated etymologically. Recently I stumbled across a pair of false cognates that are particularly interesting for political scientists: ronda kampung and ronda campesina, both of which refer to a local village security patrol.

The Spanish term ronda campesina comes from Peru. It translates literally as “peasant rounds,” and describes a form of local security patrol. They are most well-known as “peasant self-defense forces” that resisted the Shining Path insurgency, although to the best of my understanding the concept of the ronda campesina predated the insurgency movement, and they originally developed organically before being legalized and armed by the Peruvian state under Fujimori.

The word ronda shares an etymology with the English word round and means roughly the same thing, a “going around of” something. Campesino derives from the Spanish word campo, meaning field or countryside, so a campesino is literally someone who lives in the countryside. Campo derives from the Latin campus, the source of the word camp in English and champs in French.

The Indonesian term ronda kampung, by contrast, translates as “village rounds.” These are not as well documented in English as are ronda campesina,[*] but descriptions can be found in the literature on village organization and local security in the post-independence period, frequently appearing near the term siskamling (or sistem keamanan lingkungan [= system of environmental safety], which also refers to local security provision). Sometimes ronda kampung is translated as “neighborhood watch.” The settlement that a campesino would inhabit could be described, in Indonesian or Malay, as a kampung, although the proper word for peasant (see, e.g., the authoritative Echols and Shadily) is petani [= farmer] and the word desa in Indonesian connotes something more decidedly rural than kampung, which can be an urban settlement too.

The word ronda in Indonesian has no etymology that I can find. It is not listed as an Indonesian loanword on Wikipedia, but it almost certainly comes from Portuguese, as in Spanish above.

The word kampung is more interesting. It is the source of the English word compound, as in encampment, via Malay.[**] Its etymology seems to trace back to Old Cham, the predecessor of the Cham language spoken today in mostly in Cambodia and a relative of Malay/Indonesian that also happens to be the first attested written example of any Austronesian language. Variations of kampung also appear in regional languages unrelated to Cham or Malay/Indonesian, namely Khmer and Thai (there is even a province in Cambodia called Kampong Cham).

Here is where things get interesting. Observe that the meanings for Old Khmer kaṃveṅ are given as “enclosing wall, rampart.” And then observe that the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European source word from which the Latin campus derives is given as *kh2emp- (“to bend, curve”). Are these two more false cognates? I am aware of no historical linguistic work that documents borrowing between proto-IE and proto-Austronesian, in the way that we do have evidence of links between proto-IE and Old Sinitic. But it strikes me as entirely plausible that this parallel is not an accident.

Maybe a historical linguist can help set me straight. To clarify exactly what I’m asking: is there any evidence that Latin campus and Old Cham kampong are derived from a common root shared (through borrowing) by proto-IE and proto-Austronesian? If not, is that link at all plausible?


* A google search for ronda kampung returns mainly recordings of a moderately well-known Javanese gamelan song.
** Best Malay loanwords in English: amok, compound, cootie, gingham, ketchup, rattan.