Let’s Talk Bahasa Malaysia!

Let’s Talk Bahasa Malaysia!
Malaysia is an interesting, and also intricate, cornucopia of ethnic mix and hence linguistic cultures. Indeed, one cultural aspect that can be said unites all Malaysians is the official language called Bahasa Malaysia, or just Bahasa in short. Essentially, Bahasa Malaysia is Malay, a language with a history that stretches back 1000BC to the early Proto-Malay inhabitants in Borneo. Today, the Malay language has many forms and is spoken by over 300 million people across South East Asia.

English is widely used in the business communities, however almost every Malaysian young and old can communicate in Bahasa and understand each other one way or another. It is common to see a Chinese Malaysian communicating to a Malay and Indian Malaysian in fluent Bahasa as if their mother tongue.
Ready for a simple lesson in Malay? You can pick up some useful Malay words and phrases to help you understand multi-faceted Malaysia better.

For starters, familiarise yourself with the word 'selamat'. By definition it means 'safe'. When used in conjunction with other words it brings new meanings. A warm welcome is 'selamat datang'. Good morning is 'selamat pagi'. Good afternoon is 'selamat tengahari', 'tengahari' literally means mid-day. Good night is 'selamat malam'. Have a good trip is 'selamat jalan'.

Useful common Malay phrases are often short and easy to remember. Help is 'tolong'. Thank you is 'terima kasih', which means 'accept my appreciation'. The word for name is 'nama', almost of the same spelling except for the last alphabet. Remember that. Hence, what's your name is 'siapa nama awak?', or, my name is … 'nama saya…'.

When you are hungry, let your tongue do some exercise with simple descriptions. Meat is defined as 'daging'. So, chicken meat is 'daging ayam', beef is 'daging lembu'. While rice is 'nasi' and noodle is 'mee'. Don't be surprised that the food stall has a sign that says 'air'. It means water! It is pronounced as 'ah-yeah'. While you are at a petrol or gas station watch out for signs that say 'angin & air'. 'Angin' is air in Malay, as in air for tyres, while 'air' is water.

Malay words cloned from English are easy to recognise. For example, 'teknologi', which is literally technology. So is 'telekomunikasi', 'enjin', 'universiti', and the recent one that stands out most, 'kleptokrasi'.

On the lighter side, the Malay lingo, colloquial and slang are immensely popular and often colourful in context. Probably the most common is 'mat salleh', which is used to define or describe a Caucasian, just like the Thai word 'farang'. The often heard expression of 'makan angin' may sound weird when translated. It literally means 'eat wind'. However, in Malay it means taking a holiday or break, taking a breadth of fresh air more likely. Then there is the ordering of 'teh tarik' at 'mamak' shops. 'Teh tarik' literally means 'pulled tea', as the tea is prepared by long pours from one glass to another at Indian Muslim, or 'mamak', shops. Another colloquial word that's essential to know is 'jom'. It means 'let's go!'. 'Pukul' is another unusual Malay word that sounds odd when not used properly. By itself it means 'to strike'. When used with numbers, such as 'pukul satu' (which literally means the clock strikes one) it is an indication of time. Of all the interesting Bahasa words that comes to mind must be the classic 'gostan'. 'Gostan' means to reverse something, such as a vehicle. In fact, this Bahasa word came from the shipping term 'go astern'.

So now you know the intricacies of Bahasa Malaysia, often described by poets and writers as one of the most melodious modern languages around with words that are soft, rhythmic and full of visual imagination. Go on, say something in Bahasa Malaysia. You don't need to be a linguist to enjoy talking simple Malay to anyone in Malaysia!
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