Skip to content

Jawi Affairs in Kelantan

April 10, 2011

When I was in Kelantan, whenever I got stuck in the middle of a terrible traffic jam in Kota Bharu, I remember doing one thing that would always release the stress and bring a big smile to my face – reading aloud the Jawi scripts written everywhere on the street. For instance:

Kaf Ya Fa Ya = Ki Fi (Cafe)
Ha Ya Pa Ya = Hi Pi (Happy)
Sin Pa Ya Shin Ya Lam = Spi Shil (Special)
Tha Ya Lam Ya Kaf Wau Mim Wau Nun Ya Kaf Alif Sin Ya = Ti Li Ku Mu Ni Ka Si (Telekomunikasi)

After saying all these aloud, my imagination would then run wild – what happens when you talk to someone who learns English through a Jawi script?

“Hey, where did you go last night?”
“Ki Fi!”

“How are you feeling right now?”
“Hi Pi!”

“Is she your girlfriend?”
“Yes, she’s Spi Shil!”

“Which industry do you work?”

Sorry, guys. I’m not mocking this nice, steady, strong, gentleman called Pak Jawi. The various efforts initiated by the Kelantan state government (and in some other “conservative” states) to preserve the heritage of the Arabic alphabets for writing the Malay language in huge billboards and shop signs are rightfully applaudable and admirable. I’m just, you know, a bit amused with how far these people could possibly go to keep Jawi characters relevant and popular among the Rumi-oriented society. I mean, come on, I don’t have any problem with the use of Jawi in the Malay language. But, excuse me, English language? Don’t you think it’s unnecessary? I tell you what – when the complicated vowel system of English is converted into Jawi, the result can be phonetically disastrous and hilarious!

And my friend has another interesting take on this issue.

“What a waste of time and money!” he said when we were driving past a huge billboard with a Jawi word ‘Iks Pu’ (Expo) on it.
“Tell me about it,” I quizzed.
“These Jawi-translated billboards, I think they are rubbish,” he said very casually. Before I could shut his mouth up, he went on rambling: “Why wasting time reading two similar things? Do I have to read everything for two times? One in Malay, one in Jawi? Do they think I’m stupid?”

My ass-hole friend might sound stupid, but I think he’s got a point. At least, practically. Maybe we should just leave the English words alone. Or the Malay words alone. Or even the Jawi words alone. But but, before we start complicating matters that are already complicated, I suggest we all knock our own sleepy heads and go back to our history book. We all should learn everything from its root when it comes to the no-so-funny classic affair like Jawi (pause: if you lengthen the first consonant of this word in Kelantan Malay, it might mean “to circumcise”).


Just so you know, Jawi was never an alien business for our great grandpas and grandmas. In fact, it has been around the Malay archipelago for hundreds of years. Since the arrival of Islam in the fourteenth century, the Malay literature was glorified through the adaptation of Arabic characters, which were carefully customized into the Malay phonetics and phonology (six new letters were peppered into the literary dish: Ca Pa Ga Nga Va Nya). Until the introduction of the Rumi script by the British in the seventeenth century, Jawi had been promoted to such a noble position, engineering and propelling the Malay civilization into the eyes of the world. And it was for the very same reason that made the Malay language as, once upon a time and not so long ago, a lingua franca. So, based on this knowledge, it seems justified for us, the modern beasts with the right sense of affiliation for our glorified history, to keep Pak Jawi and all his relatives alive, right?

Okay, besides laughing and smiling alone in my car reading all these bizarre sounds of English words written in Jawi, I have been thinking seriously about another way to popularize Jawi affairs in Kelantan. Ladies and Gentleman – is it possible to adapt Jawi into Kelantan Malay? As far as I’m concerned (and please do correct me if I’m wrong), there has been no current effort to make use of Jawi in Kelantan Malay (except, for example, the classical Hikayat Agung Gempita, in which its Jawi orthographic system is heavily Kelantanized). Historically, Jawi has always been associated with Standard Malay. But can it happen in Kelantan Malay too? It might sound odd, but why don’t we use it as an official orthography for Kelantan Malay? Who knows, it might work out (or not) to everyone’s advantage (or disadvantage). If it happens, I’ll be more than happy to be part of the First Grand Pioneering Committee of the Kelantan Malay Orthography.

Yes, come to think of it, it’s a wonder to realize that Kelantan Malay has survived all these years despite not having it written or printed into books or magazines or newspapers or encyclopedias. It’s strange to think that, despite its widespread use in the spoken world, Kelantan Malay (and any other Malay dialects, for that matter) has never been put into a writing system. Some daring efforts have of course been made at colloquial levels (like a simple SMS), but a deliberate and official establishment is yet to materialize. Something could be done to preserve the great many works and literature of Kelantan Malay so they could be passed on to many generations to come. Jawi, among many other things, could be the saviour.

Are you Hi Pi?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 11, 2011 2:38 am

    Baru je tersenyum sorang2 minggu lepas bila baca او سي بي سي di papan tanda ketika sedang tersangkut di dalam kesesakan lalu lintas minggu lepas. 🙂

    Sekarang ni perkataan English dah banyak yang diMelayukan. Sesekali , bila tergerak baca sisipan akhbar jawi , kadang-kadang yang pandai baca jawi pun jadi terkial-kial juga la nak mengeja dan nak cari perkataan yang dimaksudkan. Jadi, nak tak nak, tidak boleh elak, kena juga dieja dalam Jawi untuk perkataan English tu. Mungkin, harus kita rasa Hi Pi saja dengan papan iklan/tanda yang sebegitu.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: