Bridging the communication gap between Malay, Malay and Malay

Darul Aqsha

LAST year my boss showed me an article published in a leading Indonesian newspaper. He wondered about the article’s title, which used the term Sang Raja to refer to the Sultan of Brunei.

According to him, sang was considered offensive in this usage because in Brunei it is used only for animals, as in sang kancil (mouse deer), sang macan (tiger) and sang buaya (crocodile).

However, he finally understood that was not the intended meaning after I showed him an Indonesian dictionary in which sang as defined as an “honoric epithet or article (also used in sarcastic or derogatory way)” like Sang Hyang (title for God), Sang Prabu (His Majesty), Sang Surya (sun), Sang Suami (honorable husband), or Sang Pencuri (thief).

Throughout Southeast Asia, many words have similar spellings or pronounciations, but have different meanings.

Such words can cause misunderstandings, specifically between Bruneians, Indonesians, Malaysians and Singaporeans.

In Indonesian, boleh means “may”, but in Brunei it means “can”, but in certain circumstances it can also mean “may”. The Indonesian word for “can” is bisa.

Similarly, harus in Indonesian means “must”, but Bruneians use mesti.

This confusion can be real fun. I am Indonesian, and recently at the library in Bandar the staff were confused when I asked should I return the books in dua pekan, because pekan in Brunei means “town”. In Indonesian, pekan can mean “market” or “week”. In Brunei, the word for “week” is minggu and the word for “market” is tamu or pasar. Pasar also means “market” in Indonesian, but tamu means “guest”. Confused yet?

Therefore Dr Mataim Bakar, former Director of the Language and Literature Bureau of Brunei Darussalam (DBPB), was quite right when he wrote in his foreword, “Some of the words have meanings and concepts which have different usage depending on their context, background and user.”

He added that sometimes a word is bound to a cultural factor so that its expression is limited to the certain norms and values, or in another words, “the word is considered as taboo”.

In order to avoid such misunderstandings, the DBPB published the dictionary Kamus Kata dan Ungkapan Am Bahasa Melayu Brunei/Bahasa Indonesia/Bahasa Malaysia (Dictionary of Words and Idioms of Bruneian/Indonesian/Malaysian Malay Languages). It was published in conjunction with the 30th anniversary of the Majelis Bahasa Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia (Mabbim, the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia Language Council).

The dictionary was first published in 1994 as a realisation of one of the decisions of the 21st Meeting of the Majlis Bahasa Indonesia-Malaysia (MBIM, Indonesian-Malaysian Language Council) in April 1984 and at the same time to mark Brunei’s contribution after the Sultanate joined the council, which changed its name to Mabbim in November 1985. The dictionary was revised and reprinted in 2003 and 2007.

The other aim of the dictionary is for people in the three Malay countries to be able to select the right word and idiom and avoid usage that may lead to different understandings than intended.

The dictionary includes a list of words and idioms that have similar spellings but different meanings (homonyms) and contrasts their meanings across the three dialects. It uses national language dictionaries: Kamus Bahasa Melayu Brunei for Brunei, Kamus Dewan for Malaysia and Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia and Kamus Umum Bahasa Indonesia for Indonesian.

It also uses Kamus Kata dan Ungkapan Am Bahasa Indonesia, Bahasa Malaysia-Bahasa Melayu Brunei, published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka in Kuala Lumpur in 1988.

Among the examples, the word amit is used for “addressing an uncle or auntie in the sixth rank among seven siblings”, but in Indonesian it means “permission”, while in Malaysian it means “snacks”. Another meaning for amit in Brunei is “to raise somebody’s cattle to obtain a share if the cattle gives birth”.

Unfortunately, the committee in charge of composing the revised edition lacked the enthusiasm to explore the Indonesian or Malaysian meanings of some Brunei words, such as bantai, bantal, bantat, banting, bara, barang, basi, biduk, among others. Hence, these are published without Indonesian and Malaysian meanings, whereas they have their own meanings in those dialects.

That said, the dictionary is very helpful, especially for businesses, workers and expatriates, students and researchers, not only in the three Malay-speaking countries, but also throughout Southeast Asia in general, to improve understanding between the dialects and to avoid mistakes and misunderstandings.

The Brunei Times
Sunday, June 28, 2009


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