Our guide for translating Bahasa Malaysia

It is widely known that if a person who can speak Malay, they can understand the entire Pacific strip. The language is commonly used in the nations of Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore. These are found in areas favored by international business and commerce. As a result, Bahasa Malaysia is the preferred language of business.

This business growth requires professional translation services to ensure the mutual understanding between your business partners, associates, and target customers.

I. The importance of Bahasa Malaysia translation

Since 1968, the official language of Malaysia is known as Bahasa Melayu or Bahasa Malaysia, with “bahasa” means language. Nowadays, there are approximately 40 million native speakers.

Outside its own countries, Bahasa Malaysia is primarily spoken by 140 million people in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Singapore. It is one of Singapore’s 4 official languages. Additionally, it is used as a working language in East Timor. 

II. 4 problems when translating Bahasa Malaysia

1. The lack of similarity in vocabulary

The translators usually face the challenge of the lack of similar words in Malay vocabulary. Let’s take English as an example. Malay, unlike its fellow Asian languages, has very few loanwords taken from English. Even those very few loanwords, the way they sound is completely altered.  Who may have guessed that the word “sains” in Malay actually comes from “science” in English?

2. The plurals of nouns

Another obstacle for translators is the way Malaysians form the plurals of nouns. Instead of simply adding an “s” after the word as in English or just never forming the plural at all as in Chinese, Malay people use repetition. 

They either repeat the whole word, for example, rumah means a “house” and rumah-rumah stands for “houses”, or they repeat only a part of the word, for instance, “daun” is a “leaf” and “dedaun” is “leaves”. This is so complicated that you may have to learn them all by heart (if you cannot make sure you are able to look at the dictionary or ask Google every time).

3. Conjugation 

Verb conjugation is a challenge when translating from Malay just as the plurals of nouns. In other languages, such as English, verbs do change their form to express time or when going with different pronouns, but they do not change as frequently as they do in Malay. 

Unfortunately, as if it is not causing enough headache for learners and translators, adjectives in Malay do the same!

4. Social registers

This language is characterized by distinct differences between formal and informal registers, so professional translators must have an in-depth knowledge to choose the proper set of vocabulary for each case. The two register is:

  • The informal register is used in casual day-to-day conversations. It has a significant number of borrowings from local languages. 
  • The formal register or also referred to as Standard Malay, is used in public events, formal documents, educational settings or etc. It has mainly loanwords from Sanskrit, Arabic and other foreign languages.

Let’s find some example:

Saya and aku are the two major forms of the first person singular pronoun ‘I’. Saya is formal, and “aku” is used informally with family and friends. 

For the pronoun ‘you’, there are 3 common forms: anda (formal), kamu (informal), and kalian ‘all’ (slightly informal plural form like ‘you all’).

Bahasa Malay is considered a hard language to translate but our experts who are equipped with thorough understanding of Malay culture, as well as the language, will definitely deliver the best result.

If you need to translate into Bahasa Malaysia, give us a call today!

Facts about Bahasa Malaysia language

  • There are English words that came from Malay: ketchup, bamboo, gecko, camphor, rattan
  • Malay is considered more difficult for English-speakers than French or Italian, requiring 36 weeks of instruction to reach ILR level 3 in speaking.
  • In Indonesia, ”baja” means ”steel” but in Malaysia, the same word means ”fertilizer.” 
  • Malay has been greatly expanded through its borrowing from languages such as Arabic, Sanskrit, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese dialects and English.