The Malay language (Bahasa Melayu) is spoken by millions of people in Malaysia, Indonesia, Sumatra, Brunei Darusalam and Thailand, with slight variations in pronunciation and vocabulary. Loan words have been borrowed from Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, Sanskrit and English. Arabic origin words include algebra, falasafah, sabun, sultan and zirafah. Mee, pau, teh, lichee and sampan are from dialects of Chinese. Some Dutch borrowings are bamboo, bantam, batik, boss and cookie. Sanskrit examples which share commonalities with Thai include gecko, guru, naga, roti and sepak takraw. Malay words adopted for use in English include amok, cockatoo, gingham, gong and sarong.
A Latin alphabet version of Bahasa Melayu called Rumi has replaced the Arabic script Jawi and is used in most contexts of everyday life. Most Malay words are phonics-based, meaning they are spelled the way they sound and easily divided into syllables, which helps facilitate communicative competence literacy. Grammar is also quite straightforward. Malay nouns do not have gender or articles and many plurals simple double the singular term, such as rumah for house and rumah-rumah houses, or buka-buka for books. The word order of Malay sentences is subject-verb-object, just as in English.
Common sense spelling transcribed according to sound phonemes ranges from elektronik to interaktif; sekolah to sains; polis to doktor; televisyen to teksi; pensil to biskut. Such progressive reform is long overdue in Thailand where idiosyncratic spellings of names and places more often confuse than clarify. Isn’t it appropriate to help make Thai signs readable by foreign visitors? For example, I suggest that Thavil should be re-written as Tawin, Ampol as Umpone. Phuket would be preferably Pooget; SriSakes as See Saget.
Common sense measures initiated by linguistic reformists have resulted in Malay/Rumi becoming a fun and comparatively easy language for foreigners to master, serving as the philosophical basis for developing “4 in 1” (Malay, Chinese, English and Thai) published by Genesis Multimedia. I highly recommend these innovative materials as a supplementary cross-cultural self-access learning option tool which can encourage creative thinking, broaden visualized perspectives and nurture tolerant multiversity.
Dr. Charles Frederickson