Malay vs English: Similarities and Differences

If you live in Malaysia, these two languages are certainly the most commonly used in daily conversations. English is frequently used when communicating with business or international clients, and Malay is Malaysia's national language, so almost everything has Malay in it. Malay is used in a variety of contexts, from addresses to formal letters to everyday conversation. Have you ever seen a character who has the same pronunciation in Malay and English? If you have, you are likely familiar with some of these terms. Here are some examples if you haven't already. "Bus" in English is "Bas" in Malay. "Bag" in English is "Beg" in Malay. "Camera" in English is "Kamera" in Malay. Although the characters are different, the pronunciation and meaning are the same. As a result, most people are perplexed as to why there are characters with the same meaning and pronunciation but different characters. What is the degree of similarity and dissimilarity between English and Malay? These issues will be addressed in this article.

Before we get into the real topic today, we must know why similarities between Malay and English are there. We've seen the similarities in the languages above, and both of them are influenced by each other in some way. Actually, many languages have had an impact on the Malay language throughout its history. Many words from India brought changes to the Malay language at the beginning of old Malay. This is because Indians first set foot on the Malay Archipelago. Aside from that, Sanskrit has influenced Malay vocabulary. Agama, Angkasa, Anugerah, Bahasa, Bakti, Bangsa, Barat are some examples of words used. Changes in the Malay language were also brought about by the Portuguese language. Similarly, during the British empire's colonisation of Malaya, English influenced the Malay language.


Similarities and Differences: Vocals

In English sound system, there are 12 vocals whereas there are 6 vocals in Malay sound system.

The vocals which are the same in English and Malay are "a", "e", "I" and "u". Here are some examples for the similarities in these vocals.


Vocals --- English --- Malay (Meaning)

  • "A" sound --- But --- Awal (Early)
  • "E" sound --- Bed --- Enak (Tasty)
  • "I" sound --- Igloo --- Ikan (Fish)
  • "O" sound --- Opposite --- Oleh (By)
  • "U" sound --- Oogenesis --- Ubat (Medicine)

Similarities and Differences: Diphthongs

There are eight diphthongs in English phonology but only three in Malay. The three diphthongs in Malay are the same in English, and they are "aɪ", "aʊ" and "ɔɪ" or "ai", "au" and "oi" in Malay respectively. "aɪ" or "ai" in Malay is used in words like "five" in English and "kain" in Malay. "aʊ" or "au" is used in words like "now" in English and "laut" in Malay. "ɔɪ" or "oi" is used in words like "boycott" or "boikot" in Malay. Meanwhile, there are five more diphthongs in English which are "eɪ" in "say", "oʊ" in "go", "eə" in "air", "ɪə" in "near" and "ʊə" in "pure".


Similarities and Differences: Consonants

There are several differences in consonants in the pronunciation in English and Malay. For example, "W" sounds like "H" in words like "Who", "Why", "What" but it sounds like "UA" in Malay in words like "Wajar".

However, there are also consonants which sound similar in English and Malay which are consonants like "B" in "Barber" or "Buku"(books). "K" also sounds the same in Malay and English. For example, words like "Kerosine" and "Kerusi"(Chair).


Similarities and Differences: Loan words.

As we all know, Malay is Malaysia's primary language, whereas English is the second and worldwide language. Both are prominent languages in Malaysia that arose because of British colonialism. Therefore, the Malay language borrows a lot of English terms rather than the other way around. English appears to be the prevailing language in this example, as certain English loanwords in Malay outnumber Malay loanwords in English.

There are several types of English loanwords in Malay. The first type is the loanword, which has the identical spelling in both languages and conveys the same meaning. For example, the Malay word "atom" is spelt the same as the English word "atom" which has the same meaning as smallest unit into which matter can be divided without the release of electrically charged particles. Other examples are bonus, hotel, and drama.

Next is the spelling of the English loanword changes, but the sound remains the same in Malay. For example, the word 'carbon' in English is translated as 'karbon' in Malay, which differs in the first letter. Other examples are Apple (Epal), block (blok), graphic (grafik), compound (Kompaun) and activity (activiti).

Aside from that, there are a few Malay terms that have lately been translated and accepted as genuine English words. For example, the term 'lepak' refers to hanging around with pals and doing nothing. The other word is 'amok,' which derives from the Malay word 'amuk,' and refers to uncontrollable and chaotic behaviour. Other Malay terms that are officially used in English include durian and nasi lemak.


Similarities and Differences: Tenses

Among the fields of tenses, there are differences in past, present and future tenses between both Malay and English.

The past tense in a sentence is a grammatical tense used to express that the circumstance occurred in the past. To show past tense, the word is usually suffixed with -ed. Take, for example, the term 'walked.' The verb "walk" was suffixed with -ed to become 'walked.' However, there are no special suffixes in Malay to denote a circumstance that occurred in the past. For example, to express 'Ammar ate his breakfast,' we would say 'Ammar telah makan sarapan'. The word 'telah' denotes that the incident occurred in the past.

Present tense is used to describe actions that occur in the present but not necessarily happening right now. In English, the suffix '-ing' is frequently used in the present tense. For example, for a singular noun, use 'I am eating'. The original verb is not disturbed in Malay because we do not modify the verb; instead, we use another phrase to express the scenario that occurred in the past, present, or future. For example, 'Saya sedang makan' refers to a single subject eating. The word 'sedang' indicates that action is taking place at that moment.

The future tense denotes an activity that will take place in the future. This condition relates to anything that will happen later, the following day, the next week, or possibly the next month. For example, "I'll go with him." The term 'akan' is frequently used in Malay to denote a future situation. 'Saya akan mengikuti dia,' for example, means 'I will follow wherever he’s going later.'


Similarities and Differences: Singulars and Plurals

Most singular nouns in English become plural by adding '–s,' as in homes, flats, and dogs. It varies from Malay language in that we do not add '-s' to indicate that it is plural. We only use the phrase to represent the plural form of nouns. For example, the phrase 'seekor anjing' refers to a single dog, but 'banyak anjing' refers to a group of dogs. The meaning in Malay and English remains the same when the term is changed from singular to plural.

There are certain Malay terms that do not obey the "banyak" criteria. Words such as "restoran (Restaurant)" and "Orang (Human)" These nouns can be made plural by doubling them, as in "restoran-restoran (Restaurants)" or "Orang-orang (People)".


In conclusion, it is demonstrated that there are certain similarities and differences between the Malay and English languages. Despite their diverse origins, these two languages contain certain similarities, such as vowel sounds and loan words. Regardless of their differences, both of these languages are distinct and beautiful in their own rights, and they continue to be spoken by native speakers today. Linguists who classified all we know and use now are unforgettable because they are their great efforts, and they will be remembered forever.

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