Malay trade and creole languages

Malay trade and creole languages

The Malay language, through its history has experienced both pidginization and creolization. This occurred mostly through inter-island trading and interaction where people from various ethnic groups, languages and backgrounds met.[1]

Malay, particularly in Eastern Indonesia, was brought by traders and missionaries, particularly during Dutch colonization over three centuries.

As the result, for daily speaking, Malay has been blended with many European languages (especially Dutch and Portuguese) as well as local languages.

The creoles are based on Malay, but highly influenced by European and indigenous structures. For example:

  • 'Rumah saya' becomes 'Saya punya rumah': "My house"
  • 'Saya pukul dia' becomes 'Saya kasi pukul dia': "I hit him"
  • 'Ini bukan milik Mama' becomes 'Ini bukan Mama punya': "It is not Mom's belongings"
  • 'Megat dipukul Robert' becomes 'Megat dipukul dek Robert': "Megat is hit by Robert"

In pronunciation, the creolized Malays are also influenced by local phonological systems, and, in Eastern Indonesia, nasalization and simplification are common, such as :

  • 'makan' becomes 'makang'
  • 'pergi' becomes 'pigi', or 'pi'
  • 'terkejut' becomes 'takajo'
  • 'lembut' becomes 'lombo'
  • 'dapat' becomes 'dapa'

There are several varieties of Malay Creoles spoken in different parts of Malaysia and Indonesia:


Betawian Malay

Betawian Malay is a creolized-Malay which is spoken in Jakarta (the modern name for Betawi) and its surroundings. Betawian or Omong Betawi is based on Bazaar Malay (Melayu Pasar) but influenced by various languages such as Javanese, Sundanese (the area is surrounded by Sundanese speaking area), Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, Balinese and others. Betawian creole began to be used after 1750 in Batavia, and replaced Portuguese creole as the lingua franca.[2]

Betawian Malay was also influenced by Chinese-style Malay spoken by the Chinese settlers who had come earlier.

It has now become a very popular language particularly amongst the younger generations in Indonesia due largely to its use on television (such as sinetron or sitcom).

Betawian Malay is divided into two main dialects

  • Betawi Kota dialect: Originally spoken within Jakarta with the typical strong e like (ada becomes ade).
  • Betawi Udik dialect: Originally spoken in suburban Jakarta, Tangerang, Banten, and Bogor and Bekasi in West Java. It has a strong a like (ada, pronounced adah).

Another Betawi Udik variant is called Betawi Ora, which was highly influenced by Javanese.

There is a significant Chinese community which lives around Tangerang, called Cina Benteng, who have lost their mother tongue. They now speak Betawian Malay.

Examples :

  • aye (kota), sayah (udik), gue (informal) : I
  • lu (informal or intimate) : you
  • iye (strong e, not schwa like Malaysian), iyah : yes
  • kagak, ora (udik variant and it is Javanese influence) : no
  • Encing mo pegi kemane? : Where will you go, mam?
  • Dagangan aye udeh bures, dah : My stuff has been sold out.

Baba Malay

Baba Malay (ISO 639-3 code: mbf), once a diverse group of language varieties, is spoken in Malaysia but is now now almost extinct. These are Malay varieties spoken by the Peranakan, Chinese descendants who live in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia since the 15th Century.[3] A kind of Baba Malay is spoken among Chinese living in East Java. It is a mixture of Malay or Indonesian with local Javanese (East Javanese dialect) and Chinese elements (particularly Hokkien). This particular variety is found only in East Java, especially in Surabaya and surrounding areas. While other Chinese tend to speak the language varieties of the places in which they live (the Chinese of Central Java speak High or Standard Javanese in daily conversation even among themselves; in West Java, they tend to speak Sundanese), in Surabaya younger ethnic Chinese people tend to speak pure Javanese (Surabaya dialect) and learn Mandarin in courses.

Example (Spoken in Surabaya):

  • Lu bo' gitu! : Don't act that way!
  • Yak apa kabarnya si Eli? : How's Eli?
  • Nti' kamu pigio ambek cecemu ae ya : Go with your sister, okay?
  • Nih, makanen sa'adae : Please have a meal!
  • Kamu cari'en bukune koko ndhek rumae Ling Ling : Search your brother's book in Ling Ling's house.

Manado Malay

Manado Malay is another creole which is the lingua franca in Manado and Minahasa, North Sulawesi. It is based on Ternatean Malay and highly influenced by Ternatean, Dutch, Minahasa languages and some Spanish and Portuguese words.

Examples :

  • Kita = I
  • Ngana = you
  • Torang = we
  • Dorang = they
  • Io = yes
  • Nyanda' = no (' = glottal stop)

Sentences :

  • Kita pe mama ada pi ka pasar : My mom is going to the market
  • Ngana so nyanda' makan dari kalamareng : You haven't eaten since yesterday.
  • Ngana jang badusta pa kita : Don't lie to me
  • Torang so pasti bisa : we can surely do that

Ternatean Malay

[not a creole!]

This creole resembles Manado Malay, but with different accents and vocabulary. A large percentage of its vocabulary is borrowed from Ternatean, such as: ngana : you (sg) ngoni : you (pl) bifi  : ant ciri  : to fall Spoken in Ternate, Tidore and Halmahera islands, North Maluku for intergroup communications, and in the Sula Islands.

Example :

  • Jang bafoya : Don't lie!

Bacanese Malay

[not a creole!]

Spoken in Bacan islands and its surroundings, North Maluku. Distinct from both Ambonese and Ternate Malay.

Larantuka Malay

[not a creole!]

Spoken as lingua franca in Larantuka, East Flores, East Nusa Tenggara. Based on Malay and distinct from Kupang Malay.

While other parts of Flores island tend to use standard Indonesian, in Sikka and in some communities in Larantuka Portuguese is also spoken, particularly in religious matters. It can be heard during Holy Week rituals in Larantuka.

Example :

  • Ongko te pi? : You don't go, do you?

Kupang Malay

Spoken in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara West-end of Timor Island. It is based on archaic Malay which mixed mostly with Dutch, Portuguese and local languages. Similar to Ambonese Malay with several differences in vocabularies and accents. Its grammatical system resembles that of other East Indonesian Malay Creoles.

Examples :

  • beta = I
  • lu = You
  • sonde = No
  • Beta sonde tau, lai = I don't know

Ambonese Malay

This Malay creole has been apparent since the 17th century. It was first brought by traders from Western Indonesia, then developed when the Dutch Empire colonized the Molluccas (Maluku). This was the first example of the transliteration of Malay into Roman script, and used as a tool of the missionaries in Eastern Indonesia. Malay has been taught in schools and churches in Ambon, and because of this, has become a lingua franca in Ambon and its surroundings.

Christian speakers use Ambonese Malay as their mother tongue, while Muslims speak it as second language as they have their own language. Muslims in Ambon island particularly live in several areas in Municipality of Ambon, dominant in Salahutu and Leihitu Peninsula. While in the Lease (pron : LAY-AH-SAY) islands, Christian Ambonese-speaking community is dominant in part of Haruku, Saparua and Nusa Laut islands. Ambonese Malay Creole has also become lingua franca in Buru, Seram, Geser-Gorom and South-West Maluku Islands, though with different accents.

Ambonese Malay is based on Malay with a great influences from both European languages (Dutch and Portuguese) as well as the vocabularies or grammatical structures of indigenous languages. It is famous for its melodious accent. Muslims and Christian speakers tend to make different choices in vocabulary.

Examples :

  • Beta pung nama Ahmad = My name is Ahmed
  • Ose su tau Ahmad pung maitua? = Do you know Ahmed's wife?
  • Jang bakudapa deng dia dolo, dia ada gagartang deng ose = Never see him for a moment, he's angry to you.
  • Susi dong pung kaka mo pi kamari = Susi's brother will come
  • Ini beta kasi akang voor ose = This is for you.
  • Ale badiang jua, beta cumang mo tipu-tipu Tuang Ala = Shut up, I am tricking God ( for joking )
  • Beta seng tau = I don't know

Ambonese word samples

  • Beta = I
  • Ose, Ale = you (ose is based on voce in Portuguese)
  • Dia = he, she
  • Akang = (may) it
  • Katong = we (cut from kita orang)
  • Dong = they (cut from dia orang)
  • Kamong, kamorang = you (pl) (cut from kamu orang)
  • Antua = he, she (respectful form)
  • iyo = yes
  • seng = no
  • bakubae = peace
  • nanaku = pay attention to something
  • su = already (indicating something has already happened or has been done)

Bandanese Malay

A distinct variant of Moluccan Malay. Spoken in Banda Islands, Maluku and it has specific accents. Different from Ambonese Malay and for Ambonese, Bandanese Malay is widely perceived as sounding funny due to its unique features.

Example :

  • Beta : I
  • pane : you
  • katorang : we
  • mir : ants (deviated from Dutch : mier)

Papuan/Irian Malay

This is a contact language among tribes in Indonesian New Guinea (Papua and West Papua) for trading and daily communication. Papuan and Irian declared Malay as their language since 1926, before the Sumpah Pemuda declaration. Nowadays, they tend to speak more formal Indonesian. This variant is also understood in Vanimo, Papua New Guinea near Indonesian border.

Example :

  • Ini tanah pemerintah punya, bukan ko punya! = It's governmental land, not yours!
  • Kitorang tar pernah bohong = We don't lie.

Kedahan Malay

[not a creole!]

This language is spoken in Perlis, Kedah, Pulau Pinang and in North Perak of Malaysia and Satun province of Thailand.


Kedah is the northern state of Malaysia, bordering with Thailand.

Penang (Malay: Pulau Pinang)

Penang island was colonised by Britain in 1786 and became a mecca for immigrants. This island once was the part of Kedah. Penangite Muslims are descendants from various ethnic groups, such as Malays, Thais, Burmese, Cambodians, Chinese, Indians, Javanese, Minangkabaus, Bataks, Boyanese, Buginese, Banjarese, Arabs and Persians. Through intermarriages, the local Kedah dialect has absorbed numerous foreign words especially from the Penang Hokkien dialect.


  • "Hangpa mai mana?" = Where do you all come from? (standard Malay: "Awak semua dari mana?")
  • "Cek pi merket tiap-tiap haghi neik geghek" - I go to the market every day by bicycle (standard Malay: "Saya pergi ke pasar tiap-tiap hari naik basikal").
  • "Hang ni ghaplah!" - You're careless!
  • "Hangpa dorang mai sini sat!" - Both 2 of you, come here now!
  • "Insat" - Wait
  • "Haria!!" - Ambush!!

Kedahan word samples:

  • "Saya", "Aku", "Cek" - I
  • "Hang" - You (singular)
  • "Hangpa" - You (plural)
  • "Dia", "Dea" - He/She
  • "Depa" - They
  • "Mai" - Come
  • "Pi" - Go
  • "Merket" - Market
  • "Beiskel", "Geqhek" - Bicycle
  • "Ghaplah" - Careless

For more Kedahan words, see Kamus Kedah.

Sarawakian Malay

[not a creole!]

Sarawakian Malay is a Malay dialect influenced by many Javanese (since that parts of Borneo was under Majapahit rule) and Dayak words, and it has many unique words when compared to standard Malay.[citation needed]


  • "Sine rumah kitak?" = Where is your house?
  • "Nak ne rumah kitak?" = Which one is your house?
  • "Kamek dari Kuching." = I am from Kuching.
  • "Nya tetak nangga Awang gugok/terusuk ke dalam parit" = He laughed seeing Awang fell down into the sewers.
  • "Pusak tok kamek empun/mpun!" = "This is my cat!"
  • "Kamek sik kerja hari tok" = "I'm not working today"
  • "Nenek kamek polah bubur" = "My grandmother is making porridge"

Sarawakian word samples:

  • "Kitak", "Kawu" = You
  • "Kamek" = I
  • "Kamek orang" = we
  • "Sine" = Where
  • "Pusak" = Cat
  • "Nya" = He/She
  • "Gugok" = fell down/fell into
  • "Asuk" = Dog
  • "Tetak" = laugh
  • "Burit" = buttocks
  • "Paluk" = hit
  • "Aok" = yes
  • "Sik" (equivalent to "tidak" in Standard Malay) = no, not
  • "Nangga" = look,see
  • "Sitok" = here

Bruneian Malay

[not a creole!]

Although Bruneians speak standard Malay, which is the official language, it has some unique words when compared with Malaysian and Indonesian.


  • "Dia atu bini-bini." = She is a lady.
  • "Sudah ko makan?" = Have you eaten?
  • Tekaduhung kitani kemari ani baiktah tarus makan saja sini = Since we're here, we might as well have lunch here too
  • "Awda mendapat cabutan bertuah" = You received a lucky draw.

Examples given:

  • "Awda/Ko" = You
  • "Bini-bini" = lady ("bini" is also used in Malaysian Malay, bini however means wife. However in Malaysian and Singaporean Malay, this is not considered a polite word either refer to someone's wife or to refer to one's own wife to friends, relatives, strangers etc. In Malaysia and Singapore, the word ' isteri ' is used in polite company. 'Orang Rumah' is also acceptable, the term literally means ' Person of the House'. In Indonesia, 'isteri' is used. )
  • "Baiktah" ("Baik saja" in Malay) = might as well
  • "tarus" = straight ahead, immediately
  • "Kitani" = We ( might be corrupted from ' Kita Ini ' - meaning ' Us Here ' in Malay )
  • "Karang" = later

For more Bruneian words, see

Sri Lanka Malay

Main Article Sri Lankan Malay language

The Sri Lankan Creole Malay language is a unique mixture of the Sinhalese language and the Tamil language with Malay. Sri Lanka Malay (SLM) is a restructured vernacular of Malay base spoken by at least five different communities in Sri Lanka which has evolved to be significantly divergent from other varieties of Malay due to intimate contact with the dominant languages of Sinhala and Tamil. The Malays in Sri Lanka, whose ancestry include laborers brought by the Dutch and British, as well as soldiers in the Dutch garrison, now constitute 0.3% of the population, numbering some 46,000. It is spoken exclusively by the Malay ethnic minority in Sri Lanka.[4]

See also

External links


  2. ^ Why Malay/Indonesian Undressed: Contact, Geography, and the Roll of the Dice, by David Gil
  3. ^ Baba Malay of Malacca.
  4. ^ Malays contact with Sri Langka.

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