June 5, 2023

Borrowed words in Multiracial Malaysia


Malacca in the early colonial days…

Other than the multiracial aspect, Melaka historic colonial past makes Bahasa Malaysia colorful with borrowed words. Many of us don’t realize it is not actually Malay Origin like Kebaya and Satay. Some of the samples:

Duit – A Dutch Originated word for Money
Almari – A Portuguese ‘Kristang’ word for Cupboard
Bendera – Another Portuguese ‘Kristang’ word ‘Bandeira’ or Flag
Garpu – A Portuguese ‘Kristang’ word ‘Garfo’ or fork
Kebaya – From local Portuguese ‘Kristang’ word, ‘Cabaia’ which means a long sleeves blouse.
Loteng – A Chinese Hokkien-dialect word ‘Lau Teng’ which means ‘Upstairs’.
Satay – It’s a Hokkien dialect which means ‘three pieces’.

I think Arabic language got the most influence in Bahasa Malaysia words like :

Doa, hadis haji, koblat, murtad, rukuk, hisab, ilmu, sejarah, soal, tarikh, akal, faham, fakir, halal, haram, zalim, akad, fitnah hormat, kaum, kerabat, maaf, salam sedekah, tahniah,akhirat, alam, haiwan, dunia, wajah, wujud,roh.

From the history:

…”it was not until the 14th and 15th centuries that Islam first established itself on the Malay Peninsula. The adoption of Islam by the 15th century saw the rise of number sultanates, the most prominent of which was the Melaka (Malacca). Islamic culture has had a profound influence on the Malay people, but has also been influenced by them. The Portuguese were the first European colonial powers to establish themselves in Malaysia, capturing Malacca in 1511, followed by the Dutch. However, it was the British, who after initially establishing bases at Jesselton, Kuching, Penang, and Singapore, ultimately secured their hegemony across the territory that is now Malaysia. The Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 defined the boundaries between British Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies (which became Indonesia). A fourth phase of foreign influence was immigration of Chinese and Indian workers to meet the needs of the colonial economy created by the British in the Malay Peninsula and Borneo.”

But before that we got Hindu and Buddhist cultures which also influence our colorful words (Sanskrit) like :

Bahasa, bicara, guru,cinta duka, merdu, setia, bahu, kepala, lidah, senja, permata, emas, keranda,ayah,isteri ,janda, suami, menteri, dosa pahala,asmara, bahaya, rahsia, bumi, cahaya, suria, tanah, melor, seroja, hari, masa.

Ahah now we know where all this words originated :-)….


Hi, I'am Asmaliana, I work at Tourism Melaka. I love my state, Melaka, the world heritage city by UNESCO.

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