Manglish Spoken in Malaysia Language familyEnglish Creole
Language codes ISO 639-3 – This page contains IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.
The vocabulary of Manglish consists of words originating from English, Malay, Hokkien, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tamil, and to a lesser extent various other European languages, while Manglish syntax resembles southern varieties of Chinese. Also, elements of American and Australian slang have come through from imported television series.
The Malaysian Manglish is sometimes known as Rojak or Bahasa Rojak, but it differs from the Rojak language by the usage of English as the base language. The East Coast versions (Kelantan and Terengganu) of Manglish may differ greatly, as their accent of Malay and the jargon are particularly alien to regular Malaysian (West Coast) speakers. Such is shown evidently in the film 'Baik Punya Cilok' where a character spoke in an authentic Terengganu Manglish.
Manglish in the West coast of West Malaysia is very similar (and often identical) to Singlish.
Initially, "Singlish" and "Manglish" were essentially the same language, when Singapore and Malaysia were a single geographic entity: Malaya. In old Malaya, English was the language of the British administration whilst Malay was spoken as the lingua franca of the street. Thus, even the Chinese would revert to Malay when speaking to Chinese people who did not speak the same Chinese dialect.
Theoretically, English as spoken in Malaysia is based on British English and called Malaysian English. British spelling is generally followed. However, the influence of American English modes of expression and slang is strong, particularly among Malaysian youth.
Since 1968, Malay, or Bahasa Melayu, has been the country's sole official language. While English is widely used, many Malay words have become part of common usage in informal English or Manglish. An example is suffixing sentences with lah, as in, "Don't be so worried-lah", which is usually used to present a sentence as rather light-going and not so serious, the suffix has no specific meaning. However, Chinese dialects also make abundant use of the suffix lah and there is some disagreement as to which language it was originally borrowed from. There is also a strong influence from Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, and Tamil, which are other major dialects and languages spoken in Malaysia. Manglish also uses some archaic British terms from the era of British colonisation (see "gostan" and "outstation" below).
Definition: Officially and On-the-streets
On the streets, Manglish is short for Malaysian English, a unique dialect of English spoken in Malaysia.
Due to the multi-language environment, the English language in Malaysia has evolved into a creole with her own phonology, lexicon and grammar. There is no reference to the English being used in Malaysia, as Malaysian English, even from the English daily newspapers. Naturally, there are some differences of contemporary words used between Malaysia and the United Kingdom as they are continents apart and each has their own media. However, they are not so distinctly apart and established that English in Malaysia needs to be recognised as Malaysian English. Malaysia continually strives to refer to authorities of British English but also accepts that American English influence is becoming increasingly apparent. Hence, Malaysia has no intention of formulating its own English or coming up with its own dictionary, unlike some English-speaking Commonwealth states like Australia.
There is no such term as Malaysian English in any official context except for the ever-changing school curriculum modules in attempts to improve the command of English but without going into advanced lessons. Call it English 112, English for Primary Students, Malaysian English, Conversational English etc. but "Malaysian English" is not an official dialect of English. On the streets, Manglish is just "Malaysian English" just as Singlish is Singaporean English.
"Manglish" was coined after "Singlish" was coined in Singapore's attempt to stop such language being accepted on public media. For some reason however, it has turned out to be a quirky and amusing language to foreigners and some write about it to help foreigners adapt instead.
What is common between the two is the way local language terms, intonations, exclamations and grammar are fused with English. Manglish however is fused more with Malay nouns and verbs as all Malaysians learned Malay in school whereas Singlish is more fused with Chinese terms as most Singaporeans do not learn Malay in school and the island republic has an overwhelming majority of Chinese speakers.
It is however, possible to speak Manglish/Singlish without substituting English words with that from another language.
- Wat la yu? (What lah you?) spoken in a rising disappointing tone means How could you? or How stupid can you get?
- Wat la yu.. (What lah you) spoken in lowering sheepish softening comforting tone means You shouldn't have or You should have been more careful but I still like you
- Got or not? spoken is rising tone means Did that happen? or Do you have it?
- Where got? spoken in rising exclamation means No such thing or I don't believe you
- Sure ah? spoken in rising question tone means Are you sure?
- O.K. wat? (OK what?) spoken in rising questioning OK and lowering assuring tone means Isn't this good enough? (with intent to assure that it is good enough) or This should be acceptable, shouldn't it?
- Like dat cannot la! (Like that cannot lah!) spoken with serious expression means I cannot accept it this way or in this condition
- How can? spoken in rising exclamation means How could this happen or How can this happen
- Die lah! spoken in somber or exclamation means I'm in deep shit or I would be in deep shit, both figuratively speaking
- ..is it? end any sentence with this question ignoring the grammar will mean Is this/that correct? or Is the statement true?
- When ah? Who ah? How ah? Why ah? Where ah? in rising ahs mean When? Who? How? Why? Where? respectively
- Eh hello! (hey hello!) or just hello! spoken in the middle of a conversation means That does not sound right or you don't seem alright. You are not paying attention, please stay alert!
Of course there needs to be some inclusion of common simple words in Malay or Chinese like Alamak! or Aiyo! (both mean Oh no!!) but by no means would the list of non-English verbs and nouns take pages. Many writers who teach Manglish and Singlish do so with reference to earlier light-hearted books that would have needed to be at least 20 to 50 pages long. Anything less might not sell. In truth, they have less to do with imported words but more with style.
Word Meaning Example lah Used to affirm a statement (similar to "of course"). Frequently used at the end of sentences and usually ends with an exclamation mark (!). It is derived from and has the same meaning as the Cantonese expression "啦". Don't be an idiot lah! eh Used to call a person or to get attention from target audience. May seem rude if used on superiors or clients. "Eh"! You listening or not? nah Used when giving something to another person, often in a rude or impolite way. Derived from the Cantonese expression "拿". Nah, take this! meh Used when asking questions, especially when a person is skeptical of/confused about something. Derived from the Cantonese expression "咩". Really meh?
liao Means "already" Derived from the Chinese expression "了". No stock liao. ah Derived from the Cantonese expression "啊". Used at the end of sentences, unlike meh the question is rhetorical. Also used when asking a genuine question. Besides that, some people use it when referring to a subject before making a (usually negative) comment. Why is he like that ah?
Is that true ah?
My brother ah, always disturbs me!
lor Used when explaining something. Derived from the Cantonese expression "囉". Like that lor! d/dy/ady/edy/ridy/oledi Derived from the word "already". Often used in online chatroom by the youth in Malaysia, although in speech, speakers will often pronounce as 'ridy' I eat 'd' 'loh', I eat 'ridy', I eat 'oledi' jor Meaning already. Used at the end of a sentence. Word originates from Cantonese. I eat "jor". leh Used to soften an order, thus making it less harsh. Derived from the Chinese expression "了". Give me that leh. one/wan Used as an emphasis at the end of a sentence. It is believed to derive from the Chinese way of suffixing "的" at sentences. Why is he so naughty one ah? what Unlike British/American English, the word 'what' is often used as an exclamation mark to reaffirm the statement, not just to ask a question. What! How could you do that?
I didn't take it what.
got/have Used as a literal translation from the Malay word 'ada'. The arrangement of words is often also literally translated. The use of this particular particle is widespread in Manglish, where 'got' is substituted for every tense of the verb 'to have'. You got/have anything to do? (Kamu ada apa-apa untuk buat?)
I got already/got/will get my car from the garage. Got or not? (Really?) Where got? (To deny something, as in Malay "Mana ada?", and also in Chinese "Nali you?" as spoken in Malaysia)
Manglish can be divided into two: 1)Manglish 1=refers to the English of the English-medium educated where English is still a true second language; being used by its speakers in everyday conversation. 2)Manglish 2=refers to the English of the Malay-medium educated where English has a definite foreign/second language appearances. For some its speakers, it appears to be a foreign language, rarely used in oral communication and even less in writing and reading.
Manglish 1 can be standard ME -with the exception of a minority of Malaysian speakers who have been educated abroad and have achieved near-native speaker proficiency generally speaking.
Manglish 2 can be sub-standard ME /local dialect -it has all the features of the first variety of Manglish. besides, at the lexical level, limited lexis is used and consequently , a number of words serve a variety of functions, giving extended meanings not normally accepted in standard British English.
Speakers of Manglish from the country's different ethnic groups tend to intersperse varying amounts of expressions or interjections from their mother tongue - be it Malay, Chinese or Indian - which, in some cases, qualifies as a form of code-switching.
Verbs or adjectives from other languages often have English affixes, and conversely sentences may be constructed using English words in another language's syntax. People tend to translate phrases directly from their first languages into English, for instance, "on the light" instead of "turn on the light". Or sometimes, "open the light", translated directly from Chinese.
Due to exposure to other languages and dialects, particularly within the national school system, members of a particular ethnic group may be familiar with phrases or expressions originating from languages other than their mother tongue and may, in fact, apply them in their daily speech, regardless of the ethnicity of their audience. This is especially true in the case of interjections and vulgar slang.
Of late, Malaysians have been more creative and more Malay and Chinese words have been converging with English words. It's very simple, just find a Malay or Chinese verb, and add the word "-ing", "-fied", "-able" etc. e.g. "beraking" or defecating from the word Malay word "berak" which means faeces.
Words and grammar
- "barsket" - derived from 'bastard', general derogatory term. May also be derived from 'basket case'.
- "bladibarsket" - derived from 'bloody bastard', profane derogatory term.
- "chow cibai" - stinky cunt, profane derogative term.
- "cibai" - cunt, profane derogative term.
- "dablardigarmen" - i.e. 'the bloody government', a catchall phrase for the malevolent powers that be.
- "diu" - fuck, profane derogative term.
- "kapster" - a nosy or talkative person; can also be used as an adjective, e.g., "I hate them because they are so kapster." Contraction of the Malay verb "cakap", to speak, plus -ster (probably from analogy with English words such as "trickster").
- "lan jiao" - dick, profane derogative term.
- "maluation" - embarrassment, from Malay "malu" + English "-ation".
- "ni ahma" - your mother, profane derogative term. Used by itself or used with diu added in front or cibai added behind. E.g. Ni ahma, you simply go and delete my things for what??; Diu ni ahma cibai, you wanna die ar?
- "outstation" - out of town (e.g., going outstation).
- "terrer" - (pronounced as the English "terror") Refers to someone or something being awesomely amazing or good (e.g., "Bloody hell, that guy is terrer!").
- "mempersiasuikan" - disgraceful, derived from hokkien "siasui" + malay.(e.g. "Sungguh mempersiasuikan" or "Very mempersiasuikan" which means very disgraceful/humiliating/embarrassing)
- "action/askyen/eksyen" - show-offy (due to confusion of the usage of the Malay word "berlagak", which can either mean "show off" or "to act")
- "aiksy/lan si" - arrogant, overconfident. 'Aiksy' possibly derived from 'acting up'; 'lan si' is of Cantonese origin.
- "blur" - confused, out-of-it. Roughly equivalent to "spacey" in American slang.
- "slumber" - relaxed, laid-back; possibly a conflation of the Malay "selamba", meaning nonchalant, and the English "slumber".
- "pai-seh" - ashamed, embarrassed/embarrassing. 'pai she' is of Hokkien origin [E.g.: I kena punish lah... very pai-seh eh!].
- "chop" - stamp (of approval). (Due to confusion of the usage of the Malay word "cop". [E.g. I got the chop for my letter from the office lah.])
- "sophisticashun wan" - as in "you so sophisticashun wan lah" i.e. 'you are so sophisticated'; an example of Manglish's tendency to use a noun as an adjective.
- "la-la" - flashy, gaudy appearance. "La-la" replaces the older derogatory term "ah lien" that is used to describe girls who wear heavy make-up and outstanding clothes and accessories, which usually end up being rather bad taste instead of looking sophisticated or in fashion. They also usually sport brightly coloured hair. "La-la" can also be used to describe the things these girls are known to wear. E.g. "That salegirl was very la-la"/"The clothes are so la la" These days, the term is also used to describe guys who sports outstanding/bizarre hairstyle and wear outstanding clothes and accessories resulting in bad taste as well. "la la zai" and "la la mui" is commonly used to make distinctions between the genders, with the former referring to guys and the later referring to girls. the "la-las" also feature rather punkish attitudes.
- "Noob" - useless, lousy or incompetent. It is usable in every situation or noun, even for non-living object. [E.g. Your car is so noob, so slow wan.] It contrast with its original slang term noob, which means novice or newcomer, or somebody inexperienced in any profession or activity.
- "business" - a euphemism for bodily functions conducted in the toilet. One can do big business or small business. (In Malay, "qada hajat")
- "cabut/cantas" - to run off, flee or to escape ('Cabut' is a Malay word meaning to pull or pulling out as a transitive verb, or to become detached as an intransitive verb.)
- "gostan" - reverse a vehicle, apparently from the nautical term "go astern" (mostly used in Kelantan, Kedah and Penang) or "go stunt". Sometimes also expressed as "gostan balik" (lit., reverse back).
- "jadi" - happened, succeeded (derived from the Malay word 'jadi', and may sometimes mean 'so' as in, "Jadi?" = "So what?")
- "jalan" - to walk (Malay)
- "kacau" - to disturb (Malay) e.g.: Please don't kacau me.
- "kantoi" - to get caught ("I kena kantoi..." means, "I got shafted/reprimanded/caught")
- "kena" - to get caught/punished; often used like a noun ("I sure kena if I cheat") or (I need to 'kena' a joint o_0"). From the Malay passive verb "kena".
- "kill" - to punish/scold/cause trouble to someone ("If you're not careful ah, this guy will kill you")
- "makan" - to eat (Malay), often refer to lunch or dinner (Malay) (e.g. "You makan dy?" means "Have you taken your dinner/lunch?")
- "minum" - to drink (Malay)
- "on/off" - to turn something on or off, respectively (e.g. "Don't forget to off the fan.")
- "pangsai" - to take a dump (e.g. I feel like I wanna pangsai la). From Hokkein origins.
- "pengsan" - to faint (Malay)
- "pon" - to skip school/play truant/apon (from Malay "ponteng", meaning the same)
- "saman" - to issue a fine, usually in relation to a traffic offence, from "summons".
- "sit" - since this is the word used for riding in a vehicle in Malay and in Chinese dialects, it is used in the same way in English, e.g. "sit bus"
- "tahan" - to stand, to bear ("Cannot tahan her perfume! So strong!"). From Malay "tahan", to endure, to withstand.
- "tumpang-ing" - riding in someone else's vehicle or lodging at someone else's house, from the Malay verb "tumpang" + "-ing"
- "mamak" / "mamak stall" - from the term mamak (a slang for Indian or Indian Muslims), it is used to refer to Indian Muslim restaurants in Malaysia. Example: let's go eat at a mamak lah.
- "yam-cha" - socializing with friends usually in "mamak stalls", but other places also apply. Generally identifies with "go have a drink". Derived from the "Yum Cha" used in Cantonese.
- "lempang" - literally "bash", it usually refers to a slap. Example: He can lempang your face.
- "bocor" - literally "leak". Used to refer to a leaking material or sometimes menstruation (in a bad way). Example: Aiya, dah bocor lah!
- (any Malay word) + "ing" - doing a certain action ("Tengah makan" or "I'm eating right now" is shortened to "Makan-ing' and "He's the one cheating me!" equates to 'He's d one dat tipu-ing me leh..' ")
- "Kow-kow" / "Kow kow" / "Kowkow" - (pron: Kao-kao) used to stress a personal satisfaction on a specific action specified before. The stress can be due to shock, anger, pain, or pleasure. Example: He got it kow kow ("He got it badly")
- "beraking" - defecating, derived from malay "berak" + "-ing" (e.g. Sorry, Boss beraking so I take your message ah.)
- "Da Bao/Tapau" - Take away (food)
- "Cun" - Describe a pretty woman (e.g. Wow that girl is so cun)
- "Alamak": exclamation of surprise or shock. (E.g. "Alamak!" (Oh no!)). From the Malay exclamation 'alamak'
- "Best/Syok": indicates the object as superlatively good. "Syok" is from the Hokkien word for pleasure. (syok is also a chain of novelty shops, although it could also be possible that the word stems from the English word "shock" in the context of seeing something shocking).
- "Die/Finish/Gone/Habis/Mampus/Mampui/Sei/See/GG/Pok kai/tiu-lor(死)" - generic exclamations to indicate "trouble", used like the English "damn it" or "to face the music". "sei" is usually pronounced as its Cantonese equivalent, "die". (E.g. Today he die because of that loan shark). (Today, he is in trouble because of the loan sharks The word "die" does not mean to die literally)
- "Fooi sheh/Foo yoh/Foo lamak/Aisheh" - exclamation of amazement/wonder/marvel. (E.g. Foooooi sheh, his hair so jinjang!)
- "Jinjang" - a term to explain one's appearance, being out of fashion or old-fashioned. Sometimes it is used to refer to people who act rudely or uncivilized in public. (Jinjang is also a sub-urban town in Kuala Lumpur,Malaysia). (E.g. The guys over there are so jinjang!).
- "Walao/Waliao eh" - also an exclamation of amazement/wonder/marvel
- "Giler Ah!" - exclamation of shock or amazement. Also from the Malay word 'gila' which means mad or crazy.
- "Wakao!/Kao!" - exclamation of usually utter shock but at times amazement as well, depending on the tone, situation and context of speech. It is largely similar to "shit!/oh shit!/Holy shit!" commonly used in the United States.
- "(Subject + predicate), is it?" - this is often used as a question. "It" doesn't refer to the subject, but rather to the entire preceding clause ("Is it so?") This is comparable to the French phrase "n'est-ce pas?" (literally "isn't it?") and the German usage of "..., oder?" (literally "..., or?")
The "Lah" word
The ubiquitous word lah ([lɑ́] or [lɑ̂]), used at the end of a sentence, can also be described as a particle that simultaneously asserts a position and entices solidarity.
Note that 'lah' is often written after a comma for clarity, but there is never a pause before it. This is because in the original Malay, 'lah' is appended to the end of the word and is not a separate word by itself.
In Malay, 'lah' is used to change a verb into a command or to soften its tone, particularly when usage of the verb may seem impolite. For example, "to drink" is "minum", but "Here, drink!" is "minumlah". Similarly, 'lah' is frequently used with imperatives in Singlish, such as the command, "Drink, lah!" (Come on, drink!). 'Lah' also occurs frequently with "Yah" and "No" (hence "Yah lah" and "No lah"), resulting in a less brusque sound, thus facilitating the flow of conversation. This form is more used by Chinese in Malaysia.
Lah is often used with brusque, short, negative responses:
- Don't have, lah! (Brusque response to, "Lend me some money, can?")
- Don't know already, lah! (Brusque response to someone fumbling with an explanation. Mostly by Chinese.)
Lah is also used for reassurance:
- Don't worry, he can do it one lah - Don't worry, he can get it done.
- It's okay lah - It's all right.
Lah can also be used to emphasize items in a spoken list, appearing after each item in the list.
- They got sell Nasi Lemak lah, Roti Canai lah, Chapatti lah; Everything got lah!
Although lah can appear nearly anywhere, it cannot appear with a yes-no question. Another particle should be used instead. For example:
- Where are you ar? (This is especially of Chinese origin.)
Most of the Manglish grammar described here is of Chinese origin since Malays do not usually converse in English as often as those from other races, while the Indians use a different form of Manglish. The Chinese influence in Manglish, however, can be seen among other races in Malaysia, especially when conversing with Chinese-speaking people. This principle can be generally applied to all forms of non-standard English spoken in Malaysia.
It might have Tamil origin. Lah is still used widely in Southern Tamil Nadu (Thirunelveli, Kanyakumari district) in the same manner. Tamil is said to be more pure in this region than northern Tamil Nadu and had ancient trade link with south east Asia .
The particle what [wɑ̀t], also spelled wat/wot, is used to remind or contradict the listener, especially when strengthening another assertion that follows from the current one:
"There is"/"there are" and "has"/"have" are both expressed using got, so that sentences can be translated in either way back into British / American English. This is equivalent to the Chinese 有 yǒu (to have):
- Got question? — Is there a question? / Do you have a question?
- Yesterday ar, East Coast Park got so many people! — There were so many people at East Coast Park yesterday. / East Coast Park had so many people [there] yesterday.
- This bus got air-con or not? — Is there air-conditioning on this bus? / Does this bus have air-conditioning?
- Where got!? — lit. Where is there [this]?, also more loosely, What are you talking about? or Where did you get that idea?; generic response to any accusation.
Can is used extensively as both a question particle and an answer particle. The negative is cannot:
- Gimme lah, ok or not? — (Give it to me, OK?)
- Can! — (Sure!)
- Can! — (Yes, that is possible)
- Cannot. — (No way.)
The word 'Manglish' is also used to describe the colloquial Malayalam, the language spoken in the Indian state of Kerala, that is often interlarded with English. It is a supposedly stylish accent often associated with some Malayalam language television personalities (mostly females). Although the origin of the accent is attributed to the pidgin Malayalam spoken by non resident Indians, many native speakers of Malayalam commonly emulate the accent due to the perceived style value and increasing exposure to the accent via Malayalam language television shows.
Manglish (manga in English) is also the name of an interactive cartoon feature in the Mainichi Daily News, Japan's major English-language online newspaper. Manga, or Japanese comics, are displayed on the Web site in their original format, but English translations of the Japanese characters can be seen by mousing over the speech balloons. http://mdn.mainichi-msn.co.jp/entertainment/etc/manglish/index.html
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.