Wednesday, 24 June 2009

If all else fails, then just direct-translate

Language is a wonderful living thing. Everyday new words come into existence while some existing words evolve new meanings.

The bulk of new words of course, comes from the area of technology. When I was a student, the words `cyberspace', `blogosphere' or even` email' did not exist. Hardware would refer to tools and building materials. There wasn't anything called software yet. Those days, they were called computer programs... the set of instructions written in code that tell the computer exactly what to do.

The rapid development of information technology gave birth to so many new words and terminologies. The speed of such advancement made it hard for the Malay language to keep up. Translators of English technical terms into Malay had a tough time. It is more often easier to make direct translations rather than create new Malay words. Words like disket and e-mel are immediately understood as compared to translations that use existing Malay words.

I remember some years ago reading in the daily Singapore Malay newspaper, the Malay word `softwe'. The proper translation of this word is now `perisian'. I can understand why this translation is chosen because the root word of `perisian' is `isi', meaning `content'. The logic of this being that software is the thing inside the computer that makes it run. Close enough.

`Hardware' is translated as `perkakasan'. Acceptable, I guess... unless you prefer `alatan keras'.

A word that I frequently use nowadays is `softcopy' (or perhaps, more correctly spelt as `soft-copy'). I don't think there's a Malay translation yet.

The world of IT is not the only contributor to new Malay words. There are many words being used by today's younger generation that I never heard when I was a child. When I heard my son first use the word `poyo', I asked him what he meant.

`Poyo tu poyo lah abah... takkan tu pun abah tak tahu,' he replied. I can guess what it means but the word is not in any Malay dictionary. Other new and interesting Malay words that I hear nowadays are `otai' and (my personal favourite) `skodeng'.

What actually prompted me to put up this post is something I saw at Tesco Hypermarket last Sunday. We were having lunch at the foodcourt before doing our shopping. As I collected my plate of fried rice from one of the foodstalls, I noted that the girl did not give me any spoon. When I asked her for it, she pointed to another section of the foodcourt marked `Kutleri'. This word is of course, a direct translation from the English `cutlery', meaning the implements that we use in having our meal... namely forks, spoons and knives. There is no equivalent of this collective noun in Malay... so I guess `kutleri' would have to do.

I have checked both my Kamus Dewan and its online version... `kutleri' does not officially exist yet. I have no doubt most Malaysians would know what the word means although I'm sure there are those of the older generation who would be puzzled. Nonetheless, as the norm goes for all new words, frequent and popular use would soon make it acceptable.

Perhaps one day, it would not sound awkward when I mention to a colleague that, `aku dah e-mel salinan lembut artikel blog itu kepada kau semalam.'


VersedAnggerik said...


tu blum masuk vocab-vocab yg dicipta oleh golongan2 mcm mak nyah lagi.

Caras, gebus, hanjing, glams, senduk, merembes, etc are all being widely used and understood on the street now!

Pak Zawi said...

More often than not some translated words appear to be much more foreign than the original English word. My late mum who passed away some 10 years ago at the age of 75 knows the word 'join' 'gohed''gostan' even though she never attended any English school. I often wonder why we translate paradigm as paradigma? Why shouldn't it be paradaim? I overheard an officer of a Ministry in Putrajaya pronouncing the word paradigm as paradigem. Until now i can't understand the meaning of Dirgahyu.
Thanks for the wonderful post.

Tok Senek said...

i am still using bahasa by samad ismail. someone i know is even worse, vehemantly defending bahasa and ejaan by zaaba

Oldstock said...


Adeh... nampaknya I kena berkawan dengan nyah kalau nak tahu maksud perkataan2 yg you tulis ni :-)

Oldstock said...

Pak Zawi,

Paradigem? Really? hahaha...

Anjakan paradigma seems to be the favourite phrase among intellectuals in those discussion shows on TV. I doubt if even some of them know what it means.

Sometimes I think Dewan Bahasa is not consistent in their approach in translating technical terms. Ada kala pakai direct translation dan ada kala guna equivalent malay words.

`disket' is easily understood... but at one time, the floppy disk was traslated as cakera liut.

Today, the floppy is near extinction and the thumb drive is becoming universal. So what do we call thumb drive in Malay? Pemacu ibu jari? Heheheh...

Oldstock said...

Tok snake,

Ejaan zaman zaaba tu contohnya chamcha, masharakat, ayer batu champor...yek?

Anonymous said...

Somehow the phrase "salinan lembut" sounds so gay!!! *laughs*

Oldstock said...


Hehehe... I'm an equal opportunities type of guy. Gay used to mean happy, right?

Here's another one for you - what's the Malay word for a plug-n-play device?

Plug = cucuk, play = main.

Try saying the malay translation with a straight face, heheheh :-)

Emila Yusof said...

Kalau diletak Sudu dan Garpu pun dah ok instead of Kutleri, which is a bit weird.

As for the soft-copy, I hope the direct translation will not be used else it'll be salinan-lembut. lol!

Patricia said...

Hahahah! What a great post. And even the comments are entertaining!!

Malay's stock of words is comparatively small, so it is not wrong for it to be adding to the list. Borrowing from other languages is how all languages survive. Even English is full of borrowed words.

My worry is when the original words are swapped for borrowed words. For example, 'famili' when 'keluarga' would do just fine.

And I agree, why not 'sudu & grapu', instead of the concocted 'kulteri' which even some English-speaking people may not understand.

I don't know what they do at Dewan Bahasa, but it doesn't look to me like they're protecting Malay, or being pro-active in developing and putting the right words out there, to stop all the confusion, and worse, the ridiculous, from happening.

Oldstock said...


I'll try to be an advocate of `salinan lembut'. Let's see how popular it'll be, heheheh :-)

Oldstock said...


Dewan Bahasa has their work cut out. They really need to move faster and be sensitive to the communuties demand.

For example, `otai' has been in use for a number of years now. TV stations are using this word freely... but yet, Dewan Bahasa cannot even put an online definition.

Patricia said...

Hi Oldstock,
In replying to a comment
, I directed a visitor back to this post. (Look for the comment by Patrick Choy.) It's not quite in the same vein, but I thought you'd be interested to give it a read :)

Oldstock said...


Thanks for the link. Patrick Choy has got a point there.