Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Language Barrier?

It's been quite a while since I actually wrote something worth getting mad at, and thanks to my Mr Polliwog, here's one worth every damn penny you ever bet on it.

So a particular Ahmad Fairuz Othman wrote an article on the Sarawakian Malay dialect, the native Malay language of Sarawak. I say native since it has entirely different intonation, grammar, vocabulary and whatnot than the standard Malay language of Malaysia. There are words similar to the standard Malay, but some would carry entirely different meaning in Sarawak. Some would need a unique way of pronunciation, stuff I'm trying to remember right now (it's hard explaining about things you're used to do absent-mindedly).

Before I begin commenting Mr Ahmad's article, I think I had to mention that I'm a Sarawakian. (duh)

And I know, oh I know, I read it a couple of times, that Mr Ahmad is just writing in the 'foreigner' point of view, and please note that I am not degrading anyone by saying foreigner. I meant it in the way how we address someone from, say, Switzerland coming to Malaysia kind of way, someone who is not accustomed to the language kind of way, nothing else. I wrote this to clarify what the real situation is to non-Sarawakian Malay speakers. Call me fussy but hey, it's my mother tongue, if anyone wants to learn it be my guest, but do it right.

But there are debatable points which I want to clarify since we're dealing with language. In Malaysia we have this saying : "Bahasa Menunjukkan Bangsa", which translates as 'Language signifies Culture/Race'. Any way you go about it, it roughly means that a language is more than just a language, it carries alongside it the culture of the people speaking the language, their race, and their roots. Let's just cut to the chase shall we?

1. Mr Ahmad is right, don't try to sound like us. We'd know, goddamnit, no matter how much you try to cover it up. XD

Just as long as you make sense, and you don't use wrong words in wrong places, we won't get all crazy. We know, and we understand that you are not a Sarawakian, we notice that, but trying too hard will risk you sounding like a joke.

Even different Sarawakians themselves from different regions find it hard to copy accents. Throw in a Mirian to Bintangor and see him/her scratch his/her head at their deep, somewhat throaty accent. Moral of the story: don't go OTT with the accent thing. It doesn't work. Wanna blend with us? Eat what we eat that you don't normally eat back at home. InstaAcceptance.

Taken from tendabiru. This is a Sarawakian sweet, sweet snack/dessert made up of ...
damn I forgot the translation in English, but it's some kind of flour.
The white part that is. It tastes a little gelatinous and plain.
 But the black liquid is palm sugar, which is some sweeeeet stuff
and its called....The Kuih Bungkor.

2. Unique words? No matter. Just use standard Malay words for the words you don't know.

But the fun side of learning languages is to understand different words, unique words, right? Then again, different regions have different ways of saying things, meaning that sometimes common words used in a particular city is not common (if ever heard at all) in another. For example, a particular word "tergelei-gelei", which is my mother's favorite word that translates as "lounging around lazily" or "lying around lazily", something to do with you doing nothing in particular. My mom's from Sibu, and they do have lots of unique words there. So when I told my Kuching friends that I'm "tergelei-gelei", they'd give me a quizzical look because they don't understand what I meant.

3. "Kacak" does mean pretty... But I do find it a rare case where a guy takes it as an insult.

I like to think of it as neither grammatically male or female. We use it to try to say something/someone is pleasing to the eye; a shoe, a house, a guy... Meaning, we can use it to try to say a guy is handsome and he's unlikely to feel that you're calling him pretty. However do note that most people, even old peeps would say "handsome" to mean that a guy is handsome. There is a particular Sarawakian Malay word for handsome but it slipped my mind as of now since different parts of Sarawak speak different Sarawakian Malay (CAN THIS THING BE ANY MORE COMPLICATED?! @_@) and that word is often prevalent in Kuching and the surrounding area.

4. Sinun, Sia, Sitok = Over there, there, here respectively. I think that'd help a lot.

5. "Asyik", which means 'all the time' is a very uncommon word in any Sarawak region. We use "mala" for that, which means the same thing. It does matter if you want to sound Sarawakian. Unless you want us to know you're not (refer to #1). "Jumpa", meaning 'finding', does not necessarily have a silent k behind it as claimed by Mr Ahmad. Most will often just say how it is.

6. "Lok" is not the Sarawakian suffix version of "Lah".

Man this sets me on fire. Mr Ahmad, please berate your Sarawakian friend by telling him/her that "Lok" would correspond to "Sekejap" in standard Malay, which means "hold on a second" or something the lines of holding on for a while, and NOT the infamous Malaysian suffix -lah.

What would pass as Sarawak's version of "Lah" would be "Bah". Most Malaysians would go DUH at this lah.

"Tunggu lok bah" (Will you please wait for me? (quite condescending depending on the tone, but often said in an angry way)) not "Tunggu lok lok". It's not that difficult, honestly. Just don't jumble meanings up.

Sekda bah = no lahhh
Kelak bah = later lahhh

Easy, right?


He was right when he said you will need to go for crash courses if you're looking forward to try conversing or understanding the language, as is the case of any language anyways. Just basic common words will do. Try to listen carefully how it is said, the correct intonation (note: intonation, not accent), basic stuff like you'd learn in some Japanese or French language classes. The locals would be more than helpful to guide you through, just as long as you cross-reference to avoid getting pranked.

Senang jak bah.... (that's easy,lah) :)

Have a great day!


  1. 2. Tergelei2 haha. Maybe frm Miri area to Sibu jak tauk. Much like "melobo-lobo" isn't rly used in Miri here bt in Kch instead I think x:

    3. I know kacak jak. Pfft.

    6. *thumbs up*

  2. Mehehehe...=}


a penny for your thoughts