Friday, January 25


“ Ling Ah-yi, ni hao mah?” (“Makcik Ling, ,makcik apa khabar / Auntie Ling, how are you )
Wo hen hao, xie xie..” ( Makcik khabar baik, terima kasih/ I am fine, thank you)
That’s Mandarin.

Ah-pek, lu ciak pah boi?” (Ah-pek, Ah-pek dah makan hingga kenyang belum? / Ah-pek, have you eaten until you are full?)
Wa ciak pah liao” ( Saya sudah makan hingga kenyang / I have eaten till I’m full)
That’s Hokkien, my mother-tongue, one of the Chinese dialect spoken in Malaysia.

Kah cheh, nei yu hoi pin tou? ( Kak Long, kak nak pergi ke mana?/ Sis, where do you want go?)
Ngo yu fan okh kei” ( Kak Long nak balik ke rumah / I want to go home)
That’s spoken in Cantonese, another Chinese dialect.

Notice the difference in the dialogues?
The Chinese use the first pronouns ‘I, and ‘you’ in their conversations. On the other hand, Malays have a softer approach, preferring to use addressed forms such as ‘kakak, ‘makcik’, ‘encik’, ‘puan’ etc instead of first pronouns ‘I’ and ‘You’ as a sign of respect to the people they speak to.

Complaints about the misuse of the language by the non-Malay students:
“ Apa lah budak-budak cina tu… berani sungguh cakap dengan kita ni macam cakap dengan kawan dia,” commented the senior lecturers who were displeased with their female students.
“ Mereka cakap dengan saya, ‘Awak bila ada di pejabat?’”
“Mana boleh guna istilah ‘awak’, ‘kamu’ dan ‘engkau’ dengan saya, saya ni pangkat lebih tinggi, saya pensyarah mereka. Patutnya mereka guna istilah ‘Doktor’ atau ‘Puan’.
“ Dah jadi mahasiswa pun masih tak reti nak guna laras bahasa yang betul. Teruk betul.”
“Ya, benar. Bukan saja depan kita mereka panggil “Awak”, “Kamu” bahkan dalam sms kepada kita pun begitu. Sedangkan kita dah ada kempen berbudi-bahasa peringkat sekolah, kolej dan universiti.. apa yang mereka belajar agaknya?”

Complaints about the use of the Malay language among non-Malay speakers have been very common among the Malay-speaking lecturers, especially when it comes to term of address. Malays who grow up on Malay social etiquette naturally expect people of other races to think, behave and speak the way they do. This is especially so when the speaker addresses somebody of a higher social status. Well, difficulty arises when the speaker is ignorant of the intrinsic Malay terms of address.

Just compare these:
“I” in English and “ Wo” in Chinese
– direct translation : “Saya”, “Aku” in Malay
-polite form for family : “Abang”,”Mak”, “Kak”, “Abang”

“You” in English and “Ni” in Chinese
– direct translation: “Awak”, “Kamu”, “Engkau”
- polite form: “Encik”, “Puan”, “Cik”, “Tuan”, “Cikgu”
- polite form for family: “Abang”, “Kak”, “Mak”, “Ayah” in Malay language

When I was at school, I had difficulties using the correct form of address for different people because I only know one form, “Ni” which is, “You”. In order to be polite, we Chinese just add the ‘pangkat’ or social status of the person we speak to before the sentence. To us, that’s already fine. Saves time, and we need to learn to write only two words to represent the masculine and feminine form for‘You’.

Does going to school help to educate me on this particular aspect? Yes, and no. Yes, because I learnt about all those confusing social forms of address for different people such as the king, friends, VIP and VVIP; polite social forms of address which are confined only to the soils of Malaysia. Hu-li-hu-tou…So pening la. No, because everything is on paper. I may get A for my Malay language paper but that doesn’t guarantee that I know what term of address to use when I speak to a professor at the university. Unfortunately teachers at school don’t really emphasise on this aspect. I myself self-learnt through trial and error on the correct and most polite Malay way of addressing somebody.

Therefore, I really think if teachers and Malay students themselves help their non-Malay friends to understand the ways Malays speak, then real education will take place. Hopefully, we will not have anymore young undergraduates addressing their female lecturer as “Makcik” or “Kakak”, while the male lecturer gets called as “Pakcik” or “Abang”… ehehehe. Oh believe me, it happens all the time.

I think it’d be a good idea for teachers, lecturers and anyone who deal with students to remind them at the beginning of the class about the correct Malay language form of address that should be used. The Malay language is different from the English language and Chinese language, so we should first seek to understand why people of other races make mistakes when they speak Malay. Although I consider Malay as my second language ( I grew up near an army camp so I picked up Malay before English), my husband still corrects my pronunciation and choice of words now and then :D


  1. Assalamualaikum Nur Aliya,

    It may sound awkward when a Chinese says 'awak' or 'kamu' to someone of higher authority. However I find it more irritating when people address each other as 'kakak', 'abang', adik, etc.

    It's so common everywhere, be it in government offices, schools, banks, shopping malls, etc. Puan Ainon (Sifu PTS) shared a story on this matter in one of her classes.

    While she and her husband were at a hotel to dine, the waiter addresses her husband as 'encik' and herself as 'kakak'.

    She was not comfortable and replied : Saya bukan kakak awak. Tolong panggil saya PUAN.

    The waiter replied : Saya rasa lebih mesra jika panggil kakak.

    And Puan Ainon said this : Siapa kata saya mahu bermesra dengan awak. Saya mahu dilayan dengan hormat sebagai pelanggan.

    Puan Ainon said when dealing with clients, it's a must to be formal no matter how friendly the client may react to us. I certainly agree with her.

  2. Waalaikumussalam warahatullah,

    Yup, agree with both of you. I still cringe when a man who's a total stranger calls me 'adik' or a salesgirl calls me 'makcik' (hey, I'm not that old :P) or 'kakak'.
    It's one thing to be polite but these terms of address should not be used at one's liberty, either.
    And beware any salesgirl who calls my husband 'abang' in front of me, hehehe...