Malay Words You Probably Didn't Know Came From Other Languages

It's International Mother Language Day and we just learned that it's a thing.

  • Thursday, 21 February 2019
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Malay Words You Probably Didn't Know Came From Other Languages

A Portuguese teaching BM.

It's International Mother Language Day today (21 February), declared by the United Nations to encourage the protection of  mother languages. 

According to the UN, 43 per cent of the 6,000 languages in the world are endangered due to globalisation, threatening diversity that makes the world as rich as it is today. 

Languages say a lot about a culture - from it's history and social integration, to heritage and development.

Just look at the Malay language. New words are added every year, and the old ones often tells its own stories. 

Today, we look at some of the Malay words that were loaned from other languages from all over the world: a legacy from the times the country had one of the major ports in the world. 

1) Portuguese

It may have been about 600 years since the Portuguese colonisers left, but our national language still has words borrowed from their language. 

The word 'almari' comes from the word armariowhich means cupboard in both the languages. 

'Limau', a favourite ingredient in drinks and food here, comes from the word limao

Limao Soda from Portugal
'Keju' is another Portuguese word we adopted, which is pronounced almost the same way. The only difference is that the pronounciation of the word that's spelled queijo has to come from the epiglottis. 

Even the terms for some buildings, such as 'sekolah' and 'gereja', come from the words escola and igreja

There are many more and it'll be good to learn them if you're planning on going to Portugal anytime soon. 

2) Sanskrit

As a language, Sanskrit may be almost extinct, but it has influenced many other languages in the world, including Malay.

Words such as 'desa', 'guru' and 'durjana' retains the original spelling and mostly the meaning as well.

Other words, such as 'bumi' (spelt Bhumi literally means ground or land in Sanskrit), 'denda' (spelt Danda and carries the same meaning as the Malay word) and 'kepala' (comes from the Sanskrit word Kapala, which is a term to describe a cup made from human skullcap used in rituals) varies in spelling or meaning. 

'Kapala' or human skullcap
With so many Malay words having Sanskrit origins, perhaps it won't be that hard to learn it.

Imagine: a secret-ish language only you and your friends know! 

3) Arabic

Considering that Islam is the official religion of the country, it's no wonder that Bahasa Malaysia is very much influenced by the Arabic language. 

Some of the most common words we use on daily basis comes from the Middle eastern language. 

For example, both the Malay words for 'impossible' and 'possible' is derived from Arabic, where the words are pronounced more like mustaheel and mumkin

Conscious healthy Mama
Words like 'nasihat' (advice), 'niat' (intention) and 'nikah' (marriage) also come from Arabic terms Naseehah, niyyah and Nikaah.

Most terms used in the Islamic courts are also originally from Arabic. In fact, the word Syariah itself comes from Arabic sharee'ah

4) Chinese

As we all know, there are many Chinese dialects used in Malaysia and some of the words from these dialects have been adapted to the national language. 

One word that blew our minds was 'teh', not because the word originates from the Hokkien word te

That's the tea
It was because we learnt that tea in almost all languages in the world are called a variation of either 'cha' or 'ta', depending on whether the tea was exported through land or sea. You can read more about it here

Some of the other Malay words with Chinese origins are 'beca' and 'kuih' - Hokkien be-tshia which means horse-cart and kue which means erm...snacks (the closest translation we could find) respectively, and 'pisau' derived from pis-shao for knife in Cantonese.

5) Dutch

Dutch influnce in Malaysia is not as strong as in Indonesia, but some of our words still have a wiff of the language. 

Words such as 'risiko' (risk), 'rokok' (cigarettes) and 'buku' (book) comes from the Dutch words words risico, roken (to smoke) and boek

You'd find a lot more Indonesian Malay words that comes from the Dutch language due to trade relations and colonisation that lasted hundred of years. Can you guess some of them? 

Practice ensures continuity

It's quite easy to forget our own mother languages in this era of globalisation, just like it is easy to lose our culture and heritage living in a multi-cultural country like Malaysia. 

It is our responsibility to evolve without losing our various heritage that makes up the beautiful tapestry of our country. 

Free Malaysia Today

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