BAHASA MALAYSIA: Don't cheapen Malay language with slang


I HAVE been reading with interest the debate about the "invasion" of foreign languages into Bahasa Malaysia.

As an English language teacher, language is something that is dear to my heart. Thus, I would like to express my views on this matter.

Whenever I come across words like famili, akaun, fleksibel, bajet, etc in Bahasa Malaysia, I cringe and wince. Sometimes I feel uneasy and dizzy.

Famili, fleksibel, bajet and the like are such cheap words (of low quality) in BM. Why do we need to use bajet when we have this beautiful word belanjawan. Why use famili instead of the affectionate word keluarga?

I did some research on the inclusion of these foreign words into BM. To my astonishment, words like apek (Hokkien, meaning an old man), kamsia (Hokkien, meaning thanks), akaun, debat, komputer, krisis, kritik, kiriminologi, famili, intim (intimate), intimidasi, interviu, etc were already included in the 1989 edition of Kamus Dewan.

There were some errors with regard to the source of a word. For example, the dictionary attributes the source of the word intim to Indonesian-Dutch. The word is actually from the English word "intimate", which has a Latin root.

Then, I scanned through the 2010 edition of Kamus Dewan. There were new words like tren, diskusi, akses, makwe and bajet. It no longer cites the source of the words adapted from English.

The lexicographers of Kamus Dewan did do their homework by classifying words like bajet, makwe and kamsia as slang words. However, it didn't classify apek (1989 version), famili, diskusi and tren as slang.

Kamus Dewan defines the term "slang" as a talking language or words that are not classified as standard language. The prestigious Garner's Modern American Usage defines slang as "it is markedly lower in dignity than standard English, it typically surfaces first in the language of people with low status or with a low level of responsibility; it is more or less taboo in the discourse of those with high status or a high degree of responsibility". The authoritative Fowler's Modern English Usage quotes the eminent language authority Dr Samuel Johnson as saying slang is a "low word".

The Cambridge Advanced Leaner's Dictionary, 3rd edition, defines it as very informal language that is usually spoken rather than written, used especially by particular groups of people. For example, "chicken" is slang for someone who isn't very brave.

I would define slang as "cheap words". I always tell my students to use phrases like "make water", "pass water", "relieve myself", "answer the call of nature" when going to the toilet. A glimpse of these phrases would instinctively tell you that "make water" and "pass water" are cheap phrases.

Judging the approval rating of the public about words such as translasi, tren, akauntabiliti, debat, famili, diskusi and the like, these words should be classified as slang.

When I read the New Straits Times' special report, "On the Malay language trail -- The coining of new words" (Aug 15, 2011), I was appalled to find that it only takes a new word to surface three times in reading materials in order for it to be officially worthy of inclusion in Kamus Dewan.

According to an article on, the Global Language Monitor, a leading authority on the English language, recognises new words after they meet the criteria of 25,000 citations across the breadth of the English-speaking world.

It requires "depth of usage in books, journals and periodicals, on the Internet, blogosphere, social media and in the top 75,000 global and electronic media". (For example, the word "linsanity" has just been included in the English language after surviving the rigorous scrutiny of this Global Language Monitor.)

Have the lexicographers of Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka betrayed the Malay language by indiscriminately including all these "cheap" foreign words in Kamus Dewan over the years?

Can we then call Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka the official guardian of the Malay language?

I have some advice to Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka: raise the status of words like belanjawan, wawancara, keluarga, perbahasan and the like as formal or very formal words.

At present, Kamus Dewan does not classify a word as formal or very formal.

Demote the status of foreign words that the public regard as slang so as to discourage people from using these words in formal situations, for example, during budget discussions or when delivering a speech. (Kamus Dewan should use a full label to classify a word instead of using an abbreviation, such as "BP" for bahasa percakapan as slang. Nobody would bother to find out what "BP" means.)

As the late John F. Genung, a prolific writer on rhetoric and composition, said, "Slang is to a people's language what an epidemic disease is to their bodily constitution..."

To quote Frank H. Vizetelly, the author of How to Use English, "The man and the woman who interlard their speech with colloquialisms and slang are like the individual who picks up weeds when he might gather flowers."

This is my message to Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka: stop the spread of unwanted weeds of foreign languages around the beautiful flowers of the Malay language.

Words matter. They define who we are. They are what reputation is to a politician, or beautiful hair is to a woman, or a healthy body is to a sportsman.


L.C.B., Cheras, Selangor


It only takes a new word to surface three times in reading materials in order for it to be officially worthy of inclusion in ‘Kamus Dewan’.

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