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What is Malaysian English?

Malaysian English (MyE), formally known as Malaysian Standard English (Mys E), is a form of English used and spoken in Malaysia as a second language. Malaysian English should not be confused with Malaysian Colloquial English which is famously known as Manglish, a portmanteau of the word Malay and English, or Street English.

Features of Malaysian English

Malaysian English is generally non-rhotic, regardless of the fact that all /r/s are pronounced in native Malay. Malaysian English originates from British English as a result of British colonialism in present-day Malaysia. It has components of American English, Malay, Chinese, Indian, and other languages: vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar. Malaysian English employs a broad A accent, as such words like cab and tab appear with // rather than //. The /t/ in words like butter is usually not flapped (as in some forms of American English) or realised as a glottal stop (as in many forms of British English, including Cockney). There is no h-dropping in words like head. Malaysian English does not have English consonant-cluster reductions after /n/, /t/, and /d/. Hence, for example, new, tune and dune are pronounced /nju/, /tjun/, and /djun/. This contrasts with many East Anglian and East Midland varieties of British English and with most forms of American English. Fricatives 'th' ( and ) are pronounced [t] for [] and [d] for []. 'L' is generally clear. Diphthongs 'ow' ([] or [o]) are just [o] and 'ay' ([e]) is just [e].

Malaysian English and British English

In the first half of the 20th century, Malaysian English was exactly similar to British English (Br E) (albeit spoken with a Malaysian accent). However in the post-colonial era (after 1957), the influx of American TV programmers has influenced the usage of Malaysian English. There is no official language board, council or organization to ensure the correct and standard usage of Malaysian English, because after independence, Malay replaced English as the official language. The University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate continues, however, to set and mark the GCE O-Level English Language "1119" paper which is a compulsory subject for the Malaysian Certificate of Education (the English Language paper set by the Malaysian Ministry of Education is the same as the English Language "1119" paper for GCE O-Level). Unofficially, however, NST English (named after the New Straits Times, the oldest English language daily in Malaysia) is often used as the reference point for Malaysian English

Words only used in British English

To a large extent, Malaysian English is descended from British English, largely due to the country's colonization by Britain beginning from the 18th century. But because of influence from American mass media, particularly in the form of television programmers and movies, Malaysians are also usually familiar with many American English words. For instance, both "lift/elevator" and "lorry/truck" are understood, although the British form is preferred. Only in some very limited cases is the American English form more widespread, e.g. "chips" instead of "crisps", "fries" instead of "chips" and "diaper" instead of "nappy".

Words with different meaning in Malaysian English

Some words and phrases used in Malaysia have different meanings than in British or American English.

Word/ Phrase
parking lot

Malaysian meaning

American / British meaning

parking space

parking garage (US) a historical copying machine using a


a photocopier; also used as a verb camera meaning "to photocopy" which

and was

photographic superseded

paper, by the

photocopier. flat apartment low-cost apartment or flat medium-cost apartment or flat apartment (US) flat (UK) commonhold (UK)

condominium high-cost apartment or flat to accompany, e.g. "Can I follow to follow

you?" meaning "Can I come with to go after or behind, e.g. "The police you?" or, "I will follow you." car was following me."

meaning "I will come with you." to come back (reply) to someone, e.g. to return to a previous state, e.g. "We to revert "I had sent our clients an email this reverted to our initial plan of hosting morning, but they have yet to revert." the party in a restaurant."

to send

to take someone somewhere, e.g. "Can you send me to the airport?"

to cause something to go somewhere without accompanying it, e.g. "I sent this letter to my grandma."

condition of a person who is dazed, blur confused, appears mentally slow, e.g. "You look very blur right now, take a break."





"Everything is just a blur when I take my spectacles off."

Other oddities in Malaysian English include using the word horn as a verb. This reveals how language use may be changed by a group of speakers, whereas Standard English uses horn only as a noun. Take trumpet for example: She is always trumpeting the cleverness of her daughter; or drum: Peter drummed on the table with his fingers. Here, the words can be used as nouns or verbs; whereas neither horn nor guitar can be used as verbs. Here is a list of local expressions and words which are not Standard English: Horn Local use: The man horned loudly. Standard English: The man sounded his horn loudly. In Standard English, horn is a noun, not a verb. Chop Local use: Chop this form, please. Standard English: Please stamp this form. In Standard English, chop means to cut into pieces. on/off Local use: Please off the lights when you leave the room. Standard English: Please switch off the lights when you leave the room. In Standard English, on and off are not verbs. Cut Local use: We cannot cut buses on this busy road.

Standard English: We cannot pass (or overtake) buses on this busy road. Open Local use: Open the lights. Open the screw. Standard English: Switch on the lights. Loosen the screw. In Standard English we cannot open the lights, though we can open the door.

Words only used in Malaysian English

Malaysian English has its own vocabulary which comes from a variety of influences. Typically, for words or phrases that are based on other English words, the Malaysian English speaker may be unaware that the word or phrase is not present in British or American English.

handphone (often abbreviated to HP) public telephone or public phone Malaysian Chinese, Malaysian Indian keep in view (often abbreviated to KIV) MC (medical certificate) mee (from Hokkien word mi) bank in (cheque)

British / American
mobile phone or cell phone payphone Chinese Malaysian, Indian Malaysian kept on file, held for further consideration sick note noodles deposit a cheque

Many words of Malay origin have made it into the standard form of Malaysian English used in the media, literature and formal speech. For example, Menteri Besar (Malay for Chief

Minister) even has a plural form in English - Menteris Besar. The suffix lah, a very common feature in Manglish, is not considered standard in Malaysian English. Malaysians are quite happy to forget about the use of the word as a verb and tend to use it as a positive or negative interjection, or even as a question. Thus when we are asked by someone, Do you have time to take me to the tourist spots?, a Malaysian may answer can! or cannot-lah in place of the conventional Yes, of course or I am afraid not, I am busy. A foreigner may think that a rowdy can-can dance is about to take place with our liberal use of the word! Another interesting example is the use of the word spice or spicy. A Malaysian thinks primarily of food which is liberally sprinkled with chillies, or other ingredients which have the effect of making his eyes water and his skin burn. While the British would usually ask if you prefer your curry hot, Malaysians would ask if you like it spicy. In Britain, the word spice is not primarily thought of as meaning flavoured with chillies and other such ingredients. For instance, take the brand name of a certain Western male cosmetic. When men splash themselves with Old Spice aftershave lotion, they expect themselves to smell fragrant, not to make their skin burn!

Words and grammar


"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").

"maluation" - embarrassment, from Malay "malu" + English "-ation". "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)

"chop" - stamp (also used as verb). From Malay 'cop' meaning stamp e.g. "Put your company chop on the receipt".


"action/askyen/eksyen" - show-off (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. "cincai" - casually, simply, doing things as one pleases. e.g. "I just cincai order a dish from the menu."

"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.


"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 Terengganu, 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.") "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.

(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")


"Alamak": exclamation of surprise or shock. (E.g. "Alamak!" (Oh no!)). From the Malay exclamation 'alamak'







good. "Syok"



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).




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)

"Cehwah/Fuyoh/Fulamak/Aiseh" - exclamation of amazement/wonder/marvel. (E.g. Fuyoooh, 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.

"Izzit?" - expression of mild unbelief. (from the word, "Is that so?"). "Watudo" - rhetorical question (Example, "It has already happened. What can we do?").


"(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 ([l] or [l]), 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.)


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. "Meh" is also a common ubiquitous word that used at the end of a question. It is usually used with a sense of confidence in his or her own statement but the hint of doubt towards the other person. For example," I like her, can not mei?" (meaning "I like her. What's wrong with that?").

"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 yu (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.)


In Malaysian English, the last syllable of a word is sometimes not pronounced with the strength that it would be in British English. Also, p and f are sometimes pronounced somewhat similarly among speakers of Malay descent. For example, the two Malay names 'Fazlin' and 'Pazlin' may sound almost identical when spoken by Malays, whereas this confusion would not arise when spoken by a British Speaker.

Some Common Mistakes

Things can be odd, too, when Malaysians use words with the wrong meaning. Here are some common mistakes: Wrong: Can you borrow me five ringgit? Correct: Can you lend me five ringgit? Wrong: He is living in Hotel Odeon. (The word refers to a place where one lives for a long time, as in a home) Correct: He is staying in Hotel Odeon. (For a place one stays for a short time) Wrong: The state of Malaysia. (This is a country) Correct: The state of Malacca. Wrong: They learn History and Mathematics. (Learning is used for skills such as cooking or driving) Correct: They study History and Mathematics. Wrong: They ate a lot of fishes for dinner. Correct: They ate a lot of fish for dinner. Wrong: The lady goes marketing to get food for her family. (Marketing means to sell something)


Correct: The lady goes shopping to get food for her family. Other oddities in written Malaysian English include: Wrong: Its cool in Frasers hill. (Its signifies something that belongs to the hill, eg: its lush greenery) Correct: Its cool in Frasers hill. (Its is a contraction of it is) Wrong: Keep quite! Correct: Keep quiet! Wrong: His work is worst than yours. (A superlative adjective) Correct: His work is worse than yours. (A comparative adjective) Wrong: They walked passed the shop. (The past tense of the verb pass) Correct: They walked past the shop. (This is a preposition. Past usually follows a verb eg: He ran past the garden) Wrong: The lost of her handbag really stressed her. (This is the past tense of lose and is a verb) Correct: The loss of her bag really stressed her. (This is a noun)


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