Culture and Events

Lessons in Manglish

A comic panel depicting two people speaking in Manglish.
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Malaysia’s unique culture is not only represented by the demographics and lifestyle, but also in their language. Manglish, also known as Bahasa Rojak (“rojak” means “mixture” in Malay), is best described as Malaysia’s very own blend of spoken English, influenced by other languages spoken in Malaysia. Manglish is one of the informal yet prevalent ways in which Malaysians speak and convey their thoughts.

Origins of Manglish

English was introduced to the Malay Peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak in the 19th century, when they were under British colonial rule. Based on British English, a Malaysian form of English is standardised, with loanwords from other commonly used languages in Malaysia, and some words that may bear different meanings when compared to British or American English.

Then, a less formal variation of Malaysian English emerged and gained traction as a spoken language, and shaped the way Malaysians communicate. This variation (or pidgin, if you wanted to be more technical) is known as Manglish.

So what makes Manglish so unique and special?

Perhaps the most frequently mentioned feature of Manglish, apart from the accent, is the usage of “lah” at the end of a sentence to affirm a statement; instead of “you cannot go there”, one may say “you cannot go there lah”. Aside from “lah”, words like “ah”, “loh”/”lor”, “leh” and “meh” are used before a pause in speaking, often with different meanings, as illustrated below:

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Speakers of Manglish tend to use expressions, words and interjections, either sparingly or frequently, from commonly spoken languages in Malaysia such as Malay, Chinese, Tamil and Hindi. Words from these languages can also be heard in Manglish. Notable examples include:

  • gostan – to reverse a vehicle
  • kena – from Malay, meaning “to experience/get caught”
  • tahan – from Malay, meaning “to withstand/bear/endure”
  • kacau – from Malay, meaning “to disturb”
  • wah – from Chinese/Cantonese, similar to “wow” in English

Sentences spoken in Manglish may deviate from the usual sentence structure. Sometimes, it may even be directly translated, word by word, from another language! For example, the sentence “Do you have any money?” can sound like “You got money ah?” in Manglish, when translating from the Chinese language. “Did you?” may be translated into “Where got?” in Manglish.

Manglish also features short, concise sentences that are straight to the point. For example:

  • when you accept someone’s invitation, you might say “on” in Manglish.
  • “turn on the TV” becomes “on/open the TV” in Manglish; in this case, “turn” is omitted.
  • instead of “a cup of coffee”, you can have “one kopi”.

In many cases, English words can be duplicated when speaking Manglish; this originated from the duplication of words in Chinese, Malay and Tamil. For example, “play-play” means “to fool around”, while “slow-slow” means “slowly”.

Manglish has become a popular, down-to-earth form of communication for everyday speech among Malaysians. Understanding this unique form of English helps people understand the Malaysian style of communication, and engage in conversations easily with the locals. When you come to Malaysia, you can try it yourself lah!

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