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A basic course in the Malaysian and Indonesian languages in 64 lessons  ©pgoh13.com
These lessons are copyrighted and their publication in any form is strictly prohibited.

  Lesson 49 Sebutan (Pronunciation - Part 1)  


If you have been following the lessons till now you would have noticed that Malay pronunciation is not much different from English pronunciation (it's even closer to Spanish for the vowel sounds) and that the consonants do not pose any problem at all for English-speaking people except for the sound c which needs some explaining.
When Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to standardize their spelling in 1972 Malaysia discarded its "ch" for "c" so chari and chuchi became cari and cuci. Indonesia, in its turn, discarded its "tj" for "c" so tjari and tjutji became cari and cuci, "tj" being the older Dutch spelling of "ch" that Indonesia adopted from its Dutch masters and both Malaysia and Indonesia compromised on using just c for the "ch" sound. Thus "c" has not at all the sound of "c" in English as in "catch" but is equivalent to the sound of "ch" in "cheese". If you are wondering how the palate-enticing but "killing" curry so typical of Malaysian and Indonesian gastronomy is spelt just spell it phonetically, so kari. If it helps think of the "c" sound in Malay as the equivalent of the "c" sound in such Italian words as arrivederci or cappuccino (the 3rd syllable, not the first!) and you should be able to pronounce cuci (to wash) correctly. You will now understand why the word "sandwich", which is pronounced the same way in Malay, is spelt sandwic (yes, without the h at the end since the "c" alone has the sound of "ch").
This table on the Malay alphabet comes from the official Malay language agency (Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka):

Note: Huruf=Letter and Sebutan=Pronunciation

However if the Malay pronunciation is relatively phonetic in nature there are two sounds (ng and ny) which are a different kettle of fish altogether. For many of you these sounds are not found in your native languages so be prepared for some hard phonetical exercises (try to get a Malay friend to correct you). For a few other sounds (like c and sy), it's just a question of finding their equivalences. Thus if you speak English just remember that c is pronounced like ch (as in "chair") and sy is pronounced like sh (as in "shut") and you will be all right. Come to think of it the words "fashion", "tuition" and "fiction" are used in Malay too with the same pronunciation but spelt fesyen, tuisyen and fiksyen. That should help you a bit with getting the sy sound right!
Since pictures speak louder than words (or rather since hearing them spoken speaks louder than explanations in this case) please listen to the pronunciation of these illustrative words:
Click to listen  

A second reading (by Muhammad Nor Ismat, a native speaker)
Sound of "c"
cantik
cari
cakap
kunci
kecil

Sound of "ng"
bunga
jangan
tangan
tengah
ingin
menangis .
Sound of "ny"
nyanyi
banyak
punya
minyak
bertanya
kenyang .
Sound of "sy"
mesyuarat
syarat
syarikat
syukur
fesyen
fiksyen
masyarakat
Syllabification
can-tik
ca-ri
ca-kap
kun-ci
ke-cil
Syllabification
bu-nga
ja-ngan
ta-ngan
te-ngah
i-ngin
me-na-ngis
Syllabification
nya-nyi
ba-nyak
pu-nya
mi-nyak
ber-ta-nya
ke-nyang
Syllabification
me-syu-a-rat
sya-rat
sya-ri-kat
syu-kur
fe-syen
fik-syen
ma-sya-ra-kat

Tidak sengaja = Not purposely, unintentionally
Can you try to pronounce this very common word sengaja (= purposely, intentionally) on your own? How do you break up the syllables?
The answer: se-nga-ja. Practise the "ng" sound above (as in bunga) and try to pronounce it by yourself. I know it's going to be a real challenge!
And once you are able to pronounce it try to learn this sentence off by heart as it could come in handy one day when you find yourself in an "explosive" situation! Maafkan saya, itu tidak sengaja. (= Please excuse me, that was not done on purpose.)

The "h" sound:
If you are used to a language where "h" is not pronounced (such as French) please note that "h" is almost always pronounced in Malay. Thus bahu meaning "shoulder" is pronounced "ba-hoo". If you should pronounce it as "ba-oo" it would be a totally different word (the word bau meaning "smell"). (The exceptions are found in words such as tahu and mahu which are also written as tau and mau and therefore can be pronounced without the "h" sound.)
Note: This lesson is just on getting the pronunciation right so I have not given the meanings of the words in the above table (all of which are words in common use). If you are really keen to know what they mean Click here!



The Malaysian government imposed bahasa baku (standard pronunciation of Malay) some years ago but met with tough resistance and had to discard it due to lack of popular support (for example, it's almost impossible to make Malays in certain states pronounce apa as "apah" and not as "apeu" as they have been used to pronouncing for generations.)

SOME OBSERVATIONS: Apart from the sounds of particular letters the following points should also be noted:
1. As I have mentioned in the very first lesson the final "a" in words like apa, pada, ada, nama, siapa, saya, mana, etc. is often pronounced as "er" (as in the final vowel in "butter") in quite a number of states. There was an effort by the Malaysian government to stardardize Malay pronunciation (through bahasa baku) but since old habits die hard this system was eventually scrapped. In this course for foreigners I have pronounced the final "a" as "ah" which is also what is being taught in schools.
2. In words like masuk, umur, tidur, telur, dapur, buruk, cukup, datuk, gemuk, untuk, duduk, puluh, penuh, campur, tunjuk, etc the "u" in the second vowel has not got the sound of "oo" as in buka or baju but has rather the sound of "oh" (or the oa in "coat"). In fact before the common spelling system with Indonesia was implemented the "u" in the second syllable of the above words was replaced with an "o" (which is closer to the actual pronunciation). Thus the old spelling for those words was: masok, umor, tidor, telor, dapor, burok, cukop,datok, gemok, untok, dudok, puloh, penoh, campor, tunjok.
3. In the same way the letter "i" in the second vowel of the following words do not have the "ee" sound: masih, pilih, tarik, balik, fasih, lebih, bilik. This again came about with the implementation of the common spelling with Indonesian. In fact the pronunciation of the above words is closer to that of their previous spelling, namely, maseh, pileh, tarek, balek, faseh, lebeh, bilek.
4. The letter "r" (unless when it is the first letter of a word) is hardly pronounced in Malaysia eg. kotor is often pronounced like "koto" and telur is often pronounced like "telo". This is not the case in Indonesia - the Indonesians always roll their r's.




ENGLISH INDONESIAN MALAY
sandwich roti lapis sandwic
With the common spelling between Malaysia and Indonesia that came into being in 1972, pronunciation has become the least important aspect for someone who has studied Malay to speak Indonesian. This does not mean that there are no differences of course. But a student of Malay will not really need to re-adapt his pronunciation when he speaks Indonesian. Just speak the Malay you have learnt and your Indonesian interlocutor will most likely be able to understand you. But then even for Malay itself there is no ONE standard pronunciation, for the Malay spoken in East Malaysia is slightly different from the Malay spoken in West Malaysia while even the Malay spoken in Penang is slightly different from the Malay spoken in Kelantan - and yet both of these States are in West Malaysia.
Note what is mentioned in para 4 above though. The Indonesians always roll their r's.

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