Reduplication is the name linguists give to the doubling up of words.  It doesn’t happen all that much in English, aside from making adjectives more intense, as in Star Wars (“Long long ago in a galaxy far far away”), or baby talk (dumdum, poopoo), or when apologizing to Miss Jackson (for ever-ever?).

Bahasa Malaysia, on the other hand, is the undisputed king of reduplication.  Any sort of word can be doubled, and doing so changes the word in all kinds of ways.  People learning BM run into this right away, since the reply for terima kasih (thank you) is sama-sama (same to you), from the word sama meaning same.  Like English, it can be used to intensify, so banyak (many) becomes banyak-banyak (a whole lot).  It can expand or play on the original meaning, so main means play and main-main means to fool around; orang is a person, orang-orang is a scarecrow. But reduplication can also transform words into something very very different.  Kuda means horse, but kuda-kuda is the distinctive low bent-knee starting posture for Pencak Silat.  Obor means torch, but obor-obor is a jellyfish!
It is such a common feature of the language that it is often written with a “2” for the second instance, like sama2 or kuda2.  I was sure that was a modern innovation, text-speak like LOL and GR8, until I was reading a kitab kuning in jawi and found it there too!

So what happens when a highly reduplicative language like BM starts borrowing words by the truckload from a not-very-reduplicative language like English?  You could fill a small dictionary with all the English words brought directly into Malay unchanged.  More rare are the words that are digested and reworked for local use (and I hope to post on those sooner or later).  But so far I have only come across a few English words that have been brought into BM and transformed by doubling up. Here they are:
Together-gether:  from together, obviously, but with meanings ranging from togetherness in the sense of harmony or unity, to coupling-up or cuddling.
Ileq-ileq:  from relax, but meaning more like hang out, chill, take it easy. In town now we have the Ileq-Ileq Cafe, and in fact that’s where I first heard it.  Visit them down at Taman Budaya next time you’re in the area.
Any body-body heard of any more?  Leave a comment please!

Published by bingregory

Official organ of an American Muslim in Malaysian Borneo, featuring plants, pantuns and pictures from the Malay archipelago. Oversharing since 2002.

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  1. last-last – meaning akhir sekali (with a suggestive/persuasive note). example: ‘Sekarang kita buat ini dulu. Yang itu kita buat last-last lah.’

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