Malay Contributions to English, pt 2

With the war in mind, here is the next installment: Amok, usually seen as “run amok”. It tends to be used in English to mean out of control, but the dictionary meaning is the same in English as it is in Malay:

In a frenzy to kill; in a violent rage; bloodlust; berserk

Let’s use it in a sentence! “A disgruntled Marine went amok and fragged his superiors’ tents.”

Update: Major Boggs gives us the common American usage, out of control, in today’s New York Times:

“Let’s not get gun happy here,” Major Boggs cautioned the officers under the tarp that was the command center, quickly heating under the midmorning sun. “We are running amok. We’re suppressing him, probably, but we’re not killing him.”


In Indonesia, I’m told,  bule is a common nickname for foreigners. That’s not really in use over here that I can tell (maybe it is, just not to my face). What I get called most often is orang putih, white man. It’s not the least bit derogatory, and I don’t mind being referred to that way. I never cared much for “Caucasian” as an ethnic designation anyway. What I find funny is when it is used as a synonym for English, as when a shopkeeper will turn to his helper when I come in and say, “you go help him, I don’t speak white man“. It makes me ticklish every time I hear it used that way.

But my favorite term for foreigner is Mat Salih [or Salleh]. It’s slightly derogatory, since it could mean stranger or weirdo depending on who’s hurling it. What I like about it is the Mat. Muhammad is an extremely common first name, so much so that most people go by their middle names instead. Some people will even have an abbreviated form on their birth certificates, like Muhd. Arif bin Muhd. Azhari. With all these Muhammads floating around, it makes sense that a nickname would arise: Mat, short for Muhammad, from strong emphasis on the last syllable. Mat is used like John or Jack, a generic name, as in John Q. Public or John Doe. So you have Mat Dispatch, a comic book character delivery boy; or Mat Smart (that rhymes), a nerd; Mat Kool, a cartoon gorilla in ice cream advertisements; and Mat Salih. Lots of guys have silly nicknames starting with Mat too, like Mat Gun, who went to military school or Mat Panjang, a tall kid. If you know any more Mat- nicknames, feel free to leave them in the comments.

Old Sister Bird

The Malaysian language, Bahasa Malaysia, has contributed a small but interesting number of words to English. I’d like to start an occasional series on them, starting with the Cockatoo. Now, many of you may first think of an irritating pop band, but that’d be the Cocteau Twins. The Cockatoo is a parrot-like bird found here in the archipelago. It’s name here is Burung Kakak Tua, which means Old Sister Bird, and it is the subject of one of my favorite Malay nursery rhymes.

Burung Kakak Tua
Hinggap di Jendela
Nenek sudah tua
Giginya tinggal dua
Le-chum, Le-chum, Le-chum hoo la laa
Le-chum, Le-chum, Le-chum hoo la laa
Le-chum, Le-chum, Le-chum hoo la laaaaa
Burung Kakak Tu-aaaa!

Which I translate as

Old Sister Bird
Perched on the window sill
Grandma is now quite old
Of her teeth, only two remain
Le-chum, Le-chum, Le-chum hoo la laa
Le-chum, Le-chum, Le-chum hoo la laa
Le-chum, Le-chum, Le-chum hoo la laaaaa
Old Sis-ter Birrrrd!

Of course, I’d love to sing it for you, but I’m restricted by the medium. And, uh, by the fact that I can’t carry a tune. But there you have it, the Cockatoo.

Malaysian Nasheed

Malaysian Nasheed - Raihan

[UPDATE: I have gone on to translate a fair number of Malaysian nasheeds and pop tunes.  You can browse them with the nasheed and nasyid tags, check out the language category, or do a site search for things like lyrics.]

I just can’t keep up with the number of new music groups singing nasheed here in Malaysia. There must be at least a dozen groups that have debuted since the last time I was here. Raihan, Rabbani and Hijjaz continue to penetrate western Islamic goods catalogues. For those of us non-malays the biggest obstacle to appreciating the music is the original material in Malay language. So I was happy to find Nasheed World, a website dedicated to translating Nasheed lyrics into English. There’s plenty there to explore, but from a quick look, I’d say the quality of translation is good. Here’s their translation from the very beautiful track

“Odei Anak” by Raihan on the Syukur album:

Dear child do you understand
How fearful it is for the pregnant mother?
Dear child do you know
How painful it was for your mother to give birth to you?
Dear child do you know
How difficult it was for your mother to bear you?
Dear child do you know
How painful it is to give birth to you?
However, your birth entertains the heart
Cared and pampered for everyday
Irregular sleeping hours at night
But it does not matter because you are loved
Days have passed
As you have grown
A mother is getting older
However, still sacrificing to make a living
So you would have a better futureNow you are an adult and your mother has passed away
Time has passed as if it is calling out to you
Have you given her your love?
Have all her good deeds been repaid?
Paradise lies at her feet…Only good children
Can give their love
Only good children
Can pray for your afterlife

That site led me to Nasyid Online, which has a good selection of songs available to listen. Sepohon Kayu is a good one. It lets you get a feel for the instrumentation and melodies that a lot of the nasheed share; lots of gamelon-type percussion and clear harmonies.