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BASIC VOCABULARY LIST (500 words)
English->Malay | French->Malay | Spanish->Malay | Malay->English/French/Spanish
(A mastery of this selected list of the most commonly-used Malay words should help you to carry out a very simple conversation in Malay.)
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On Pronouns | On Prepositions | On Colours | On Days of the Week | Sentence-building | Vocabulary | Sentences to translate
Intricacies of the Malay pronounThe Malay language has a multiplicity of words for "you", among them, kamu, awak, anda, engkau and hang, the last two being classified as slang. As if all this is not enough in Kelantan they use the word demo (pronounced day-mo) for "you".
When addressing a sultan the word to use is tuanku.
Furthermore where we would use "you" when addressing the person in front of us, under the Malay culture "you" is often replaced by the person's name. Thus if you are Mr. Smith and I want to know when you arrived some Malays might, instead of asking "When did you arrive?" say "When did Mr. Smith arrive?" (Bilakah Encik Smith sampai?).
And along the same lines where the person's name is not known any of the following words could be used in the place of "you": tuan (sir) (eg. Bilakah tuan sampai?), puan (madam), encik (mister), cik (miss), saudara (male comrade), saudari (female comrade), adik (when addressing a child), mak cik ("auntie"), pak cik ("uncle"), datuk (when addressing an elderly man), etc.
A wife, when addressing her husband, could use the word abang which normally means an elder brother while you can address your friend's wife (especially if she is a little bit older than you) as Kak followed by her name. This word comes from kakak which normally means elder sister.
And if you know that the man to whom you are having a conversation is an Indonesian you could address him as bapa and not encik or tuan (yes, I know bapa in Malay means "father"). Similarly you should address an Indonesian woman as ibu (mother in Malay). But why am I saying all this? Simply because if you happen to visit Indonesia your Malay will come in just as handy as in Malaysia.
You can address a person older than you as pak cik or mak cik although in normal circumstances these words mean "uncle" and "auntie".
Also if you know that a person has performed his pilgrimage (you will know if you see Haji in front of his name) you should address him as Pak Haji (in which case you don't have to mention his name).
As you would have noticed the choice of the appropriate word to use depends on the sex of the person addressed to, the relationship between the two speakers, their social differences or the disparity of their ages.
An understanding of this is indispensable if you wish to integrate yourself in the Malaysian society. Titled persons have a right to be called by just their titles eg. Tengku, Yang Berhormat (means Honorable), Tun, Tan Sri, Puan Sri (wife of a Tan Sri), Datuk (originally this title was only for men but don't be surprised if you see a woman carrying this title in her own right). This is to distinguish her from the title of Datin which the wife of a Datuk is entitled to be called.
In view of the complexity in the use of the second person singular in the Malay language and for practical reasons we'll stick to anda throughout this course though among equals kamu and awak (this word is considered by some to be less polite than kamu) are among the most frequently used pronouns for "you".
When you are addressing more than one person you just add the word semua or sekalian which means "all" eg. kamu semua or anda sekalian meaning "all of you".
Please note that in advertisements and formal letter-writing anda is almost always used when you do not know the sex of the person to whom you are writing (compare surat anda to surat tuan or surat puan ).
Do you find the whole thing mind-boggling? I do too, I must admit, and for that reason many Malaysians sprinkle the English pronouns "I" and "you" all over their Malay sentences eg. I nak pergi ke rumahnya. You ikut tak? (I'm going to his house. Do you want to come along?)
As for the pronoun in the first person singular there are not that many in the Malay language. Apart from saya the others are aku and gua(slang). It's better to stick to saya as aku is usually used among friends and equals only. You don't use it when speaking to an elderly person who is not a member of your family, for example. When the King or Sultan speaks to his subjects he will refer to himself as beta while a subject speaking to the King or Sultan will refer to himself as patik or hamba.
The same word is used for "he" or "she" and that is dia or ia though in newspapers beliau is often used for the third person singular (but not for criminals though!). There is a touch of respect when beliau is used instead of dia and for that reason is usually used to refer to a dignitary or an elderly person.
Although you have one word less to learn the trouble is that as dia can stand for both "he" or "she" you can never know for sure if people are talking about a man or a woman when you come in the middle of a conversation!
There is only one word for "they" as already explained and that is mereka though in some States to the north (Perlis, Kedah, Pinang) you might hear depa (pronounced day-pa).
On the other hand there are two words for "we" in Bahasa Malaysia, the "we inclusive" (i.e. the person to whom you are addressing is included) and the "we exclusive" (i.e. the person to whom you are addressing is not included). When a Malaysian says Kami makan nasi tiap-tiap hari (We eat rice every day) he is implying that the person to whom he is addressing (probably an European) is not included in what he says. If a Malaysian addresses another Malaysian (all Malaysians eat rice every day!) he will say Kita makan nasi tiap-tiap hari. (We eat rice every day).
So please keep in mind this peculiarity about the Malay "we including you the interlocutor" (kita) and the "we excluding you the interlocutor" (kami)
Thus if you are talking about your holidays to someone ("We will be holidaying in Pulau Langkawi") (Kami akan bercuti di Pulau Langkawi) evidently you are not including the person to whom you are talking about your coming holiday, so in this case you have to use kami.
On the other hand if you are planning a dinner date with someone ("Where shall we meet?") then evidently the person to whom you are speaking is included in the "we". In this case you have to use kita. Thus you will ask in Malay Kita akan berjumpa di mana?
By the way may I point out that aku, kamu and engkau are sometimes shortened to ku, mu and kau respectively and tagged on to the end of a word (without a hyphen). Thus "your book" would be bukumu from buku kamu and untukmu comes from untuk kamu (meaning "for you").
Note: In the year 2000 the slogan Keranamu Malaysia (From Kerana Kamu Malaysia meaning literally "Because of You, Malaysia") was selected as the theme for the National Day. Since then it has continued to be widely used as a slogan for Malaysia.
Another popular slogan is "Malaysia Boleh!" (the can-do spirit of Malaysia or literally "Malaysia Can"), used in the spirit of "Anything you can do, I can do too!"
Are you ready to take an exercise on Malay pronouns? If so go here.