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Kelantan Malay vs. Standard Malay

December 12, 2010

I have seen a lot of Kelantanese struggling in their communication with Ore Luar, the outsiders. For the bold and beautiful ones who try to Kecek Luar, to speak like the outsiders, it usually ends up in a famous and tricky situation called Bau Budu (literally translated as ‘to smell like Budu’), or linguistically termed as Language Transfer. This could happen at all levels – phonetically, morphologically and semantically. While I used to claim myself as a Kelantanese who can speak Standard Malay quite eloquently (which is still refutable), I had my own Kantoi experience, an embarrassing incident, when I was still an innocent teenager from Pasir Mas who had just joined the community in the West of Malaysia. It happened one night when I bumped into one of my seniors inside the hostel.

“Hey Hilmi, what are you doing?” my senior asked.
“Oh, I just came back from Isa Prayer.”
“Isa Prayer?”
“Ops, Isyak Prayer.”

Embarrassing, huh? But come to think of it now, I realize that my mistake was not a mistake after all. It’s a systematic transfer of a complete phonological system from Kelantan Malay to Standard Malay. Many words in Kelantan Malay usually end with a low back open vowel /ɔ/, which is equivalent to a schwa /ə/ in Standard Malay. So quite systematically, /lusɔ/ in Kelantan Malay is ‘lusa’ /lusə/ in Standard Malay, /bisɔ/ is ‘bisa’ /bisə/, /ɣasɔ/ is ‘rasa’ /rasə/, /masɔ/ is ‘masa’ /masə/, and naturally, /isɔ/ is ‘isa’ /isə/, right? Exactly! It’s a perfect phonological transfer (‘Isyak’ /iʃaɁ/ in Standard Malay is /isɔ/ in Kelantan Malay – did you get it?) And there are so many other cute examples of this colourful transfer, if we care enough to explore. Imagine the embarrassment, the confusion and the hilarity that these linguistic conflicts may create between groups of different linguistic backgrounds. But that’s just the Beauty of it.

Well, having justified my own dark linguistic past, I think I can find more examples of such fatal yet beautiful transfer from many sources. And, this is how I found them. It’s called Yahoo Mail. After almost a year, I finally got back into the Yahoo inbox and was surprised by over 600 unread emails. I was in the middle of getting rid of these junks when I found a cranky email forwarded by a friend (thanks to Ms. Ikbal Yusof!). The email reveals the unbelievable stories of 40 Kantoi dramas of some Kelantanese trying to speak in Standard Malay. Reading the stories in excitement, I was more than bewildered. After some few good hours of rolling and laughing on the floor, I came to a conclusion that these whole Kantoi episodes can provide a rich study of language transfer between Kelantan Malay and Standard Malay. There have actually been a few studies done on this subject among undergraduates at a local university in Malaysia (remember that fatal Saga of Literature-Hunting at UPM?). They were all trying to explore the effects of Kelantan Malay on the learning of Standard Malay. But hey, wait a minute… Standard Malay? What sort of Malay that can be so standard? Hmm, excellent thought.

Now, a bit of lecture on what the Standard Malay is. As mainstream media roamed around the country in the early 20th century and the stratification of a national language seemed imminent, there was some debate among local scholars as to which Malay dialects in the Malay Peninsula that could be declared as “standard”. According to Idris Haji Nor (1961), the struggle for this standardization was strongly felt between the rulers of the North and the South, between the Kedah dialect and the Johor-Riau dialect. One side claimed that their dialect retains the original sounds and therefore is in tandem with the Malay literacy, while the other side claimed that theirs is more authentic (and, perhaps, superior?). But suffice to say, the Johor-Riau dialect has won the game, based on the current use of Standard Malay (notwithstanding the historical and political supremacy of both sides).

Okay okay, the debate can go on like the Harry Porter installments, but for now, let’s just focus on Kelantan Malay and how the intricate sounds of this dialect can be transported to Standard Malay, quite subconsciously, systematically and hilariously. Anyway, here are some sentences in Standard Malay as attempted and spoken by the Kelantanese. Each of the sentences is followed by my rudimentary analyses of the dramatic Language Transfer happening between these two monsters: Kelantan Malay (KM) and Standard Malay (SM). You can start laughing now.

1. Mari kita pergi, hujan sudah SERIK.

Intended meaning: Mari kita pergi, hujan sudah BERHENTI. “Let’s go, the rain has subsided.”

/səɣeɁ/ in KM “to subside”
/səreɁ/ in SM “unbearable”

2. Makcik, CUCUR lagi tak cukup seringgit.

Intended meaning: Makcik, BAKI lagi tak cukup seringgit. “Auntie, the change is not enough.”

/cuco/ in KM “change”
/cuco/ in SM “cucur” (a type of traditional food)

3. Dah banyak air tu, PADAM, PADAM.

Intended meaning: Dah banyak air tu, CUKUP, CUKUP. “No more drinks, enough, enough.”

/padɛ/ in KM “enough/ a field”
/padam/ in SM “put off (the fire)” (words that end with /ɛ/ in KM can be confused with /m/, /n/ or /ŋ/ in SM)

4. Diam lah! BOSAN lah!

Intended meaning: Diam lah! BISING lah! “Shut up! It’s too noisy!”

/bosɛ/ in KM “noisy”
/bosan/ in SM “bored” (words that end with /ɛ/ in KM can be equivalent to /n/ in SM)

5. Kadang-kadang, rumah saya BERKUBANG.

Intended meaning: Kadang-kadang, rumah saya BERSELERAK. “Sometimes, my house is messy.”

/bəkubɛ/ in KM “messy”
/bəkubaŋ/ in SM “to play in dirty water (usually associated with a buffalo)”

6. Kemudian, masukkan AWAS.

Intended meaning: Kemudian, masukkan REMPAH. “Then, put in some spice.”

/awah/ in KM “spice”
/awas/ in SM “beware” (words that end with /h/ in KM is equivalent to /s/ in SM)

7. Kunci motor ada dalam SORAK meja aku tu.

Intended meaning: Kunci motor ada dalam LACI meja aku tu. “The motorbike key is in my drawer.”

/sɔɣɔɁ/ in KM “a drawer”
/soraɁ/ in SM “to cheer” (vowel /ɔ/ in KM is equivalent to /a/ in SM)

8. Ular! Ular! KATAK! KATAK!

Intended meaning: Ular! Ular! PUKUL! PUKUL! “Snake! Snake! Hit it! Hit it!”

/katɔɁ/ in KM “to hit”
/kataɁ/ in SM “a frog” (vowel /ɔ/ in KM is equivalent to /a/ in SM)

9. Dia cakap dia nak pergi TEMBAK.

Intended meaning: Dia cakap dia nak pergi ke TEPI JALAN. “He said that he wanted to go to the roadside.”

/tembɔɁ/ “a roadside”
/tembaɁ/ “to shoot” (vowel /ɔ/ in KM is equivalent to /a/ in SM)

10. Jangan lari laju-laju, nanti REBAS!

Intended meaning: Jangan lari laju-laju, nanti REBAH! “Don’t run too fast, you’ll fall down!”

/ɣəbɔh/ in KM “to fall down”
/rəbah/ in SM “to fall down” (the transfer is perfect: words that end with /h/ in KM can be confused with /s/ in SM)

11. Eiii… COMAN nya!

Intended meaning: Eiii… COMEL nya! “Eiii… so cute!”

/cɔmɛ/ in KM “cute”
(COMAN does not exist in SM, but the transfer is perfect: words that end with /l/ in KM can be confused with /n/ in SM)

12. Hutang Encik ialah dua ribu tiga ratu lima puluh ringgit point SAMAS.

Intended meaning: Hutang Encik ialah dua ribu tiga ratu lima puluh ringgit point LIMA PULUH SEN. “Your debt is two thousands three hundreds fifty ringgit and fifty cents.”

/samah/ in KM “fifty cents”
(SAMAS does not exist in SM, but the transfer is perfect: words that end with /h/ in KM is equivalent to /s/ in SM)

13. Saya nak duduk ETEP.

Intended meaning: Saya nak duduk JUGAK. “I want to sit down too.”

/ɛtɛɁ/ in KM “too”
(ETEP does not exist in SM, but the transfer is perfect: words that end with /Ɂ/ in KM is can be confused with /p/ in SM)

14. Kak, PLETIM ada?

Intended meaning: Kak, PENYEDUT MINUMAN ada? “Sister, do you have a drinking straw?”

/plətiŋ/ in KM “a drinking straw”
(PLETIM does not exist in SM, but the transfer is perfect: words that end with /ŋ/ in KM can be confused with /m/ in SM)

15. Bang, IKAN AYA ada?

Intended meaning: Bang, IKAN TONGKOL ada? “Brother, do you have tuna fish?”

/ikɛ ajɔ/ in KM “tuna fish”
(IKAN AYA does not exist in SM, but the transfer is perfect: vowel /ɔ/ in KM is equivalent to /ə/ in SM)

16. Bang, mintak SUPIK satu.

Intended meaning: Bang, mintak BEG PLASTIK satu. “Brother, can I have one plastic bag.”

/supeɁ/ in KM “a plastic bag”
(SUPIK does not exist in SM)

17. Kalau bising sekali lagi, saya akan suruh awak TUBIK!

Intended meaning: Kalau awak bising, saya akan suruh awak KELUAR!

/tubeɁ/ in KM “to go out”
(TUBIK does not exist in SM)

18. Bang, ada jual CETONG tak?

Intended meaning: Bang, ada jual GAYUNG tak? “Brother, do you sell a bailer?”

/cɛtoŋ/ in KM “a bailer”
(CETONG does not exist in SM)

19. Jom KELIK!

Intended meaning: Jom BALIK! “Let’s go home!”

/kəleɁ/ in KM “to go back home”
(KELIK does not exist in SM)

17 Comments leave one →
  1. ikpunye permalink
    December 13, 2010 12:55 am

    CETONG dalam SM takde, tapi try la sebut Cetong kat kedai kat Johor, kat area2 bnyk org Jawa cam parit2 kat Batu Pahat tu ke. Silap2 diorang salah dgr jadi CENTONG. Maka, dapatlah senduk. 🙂

    *f satu je …welcome anyway :)*


    • December 13, 2010 9:59 pm

      Thanks for this info, Ms Ikbal Yusuf (with one f).


      • ikpunye permalink
        December 14, 2010 12:37 am

        haha, now o not u. Welcome anyway.

        * Hey , thanks for the correction. No big deal la Mi. Saje je ngusik. With double f or u, I know it refers to me. ;). *


  2. December 13, 2010 10:34 am

    Prof Datuk Dr Cekmi, (my du’a)
    I learn something new everytime I read your entries. Mama is teaching me the Malay language (in case we go home for good) but mainly mainstream. With the occasional Trengganuspeak from Dad. Life can be hard for a cat too, OK? purrrr….meow!


    • December 13, 2010 10:01 pm

      Dear Angie – thanks. You’ll be a good speaker of Standard Malay. Don’t be bothered by the dialects.


  3. December 13, 2010 9:27 pm

    This is hilarious. Can I share it with my students at Facebook?


    • December 13, 2010 10:06 pm

      Dear ayyusuf – Feel free to share. Thanks for your interest ya 🙂


  4. ojah permalink
    December 14, 2010 11:39 am

    cool blog bro 🙂


    • December 14, 2010 11:36 pm

      Thanks, dear Ojah.


  5. December 14, 2010 3:35 pm


    tu baru kelantan , belum lagi bahasa kedah, nogori sembilan, melaka lagi la dengan LAHABAU semua cukup ..tapi itu la uniknya bahasa melayu ni kan


    • December 14, 2010 11:37 pm

      Terima kasih, Pak Rizal. Idea bernas ini akan dipertimbangkan.


  6. December 15, 2010 9:27 pm

    Salam Cekmi,

    A very hilarious entry indeed.. Some of my Kelantanese friends did make such mistakes when they want to talk to me… I told them just say it in Kelantanese lah… no big deal right? I’ll try to understand it.. tak paham? just ask them what it means.. haha kinda cool to learn other dialects… 🙂


    • December 18, 2010 11:32 pm

      Dear Suhaimi – The communication gets more interesting this way. Thanks for your words.


  7. December 27, 2010 6:36 pm

    hahahahhaha! cant stop laughing! i never made any of those mistakes yet (harap2 takkan tershashul! haha). tapi yang kat bawah ni sokmo sangat!

    – adoi, lenguhnya TEKAK ni mendongak lama sangat.
    – tolong ambilkan SUIS kereta saya.

    and my little pure kelantanese cousins always say this:

    – haa haa pinggan dan pecah. BERAT laa awak!



    • December 29, 2010 6:28 pm

      I love BERAT. It makes me confused. Then I realize it means a different thing among the Kelantanese.


  8. December 28, 2010 1:08 pm

    oh oh ada lagi. mak saya cerita dulu2 masa dia mula2 datang KL. dia kena beli barang kat kedai runcit:

    – saya nak buah timun cina.

    – mak: lobak ada tak? tokey: lobak takde hari ni. mak: er..tu ada? (pointing at the veggie). tokey: ohh, tu sawi la.



    • December 29, 2010 6:30 pm

      I don’t know LOBAK is SAWI in Standard Malay, haha. But hey, thanks for all these great examples, Jihe. They just show the beauty of language transfer.


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