Jordan MacVay, a Canadian (or as he puts it “Caper, Bluenoser, Canuck, former Haligonian”) living in Malaysia, discusses many things in his blog MACVAYSIA, some of them language-related; he has, for instance, an excellent post about the “invasion” of English words in Malay, sensibly pooh-poohing the doom-cryers and pointing out the usefulness of loanwords:

First of all, the ‘purists’ who decry the use of English words have to realize that stripping words of foreign origin out of Malay would leave it with hardly any words at all. One prominent historian has pointed out that only three Malay words are exclusively Malay: kayu (wood), batu (stone) and babi (pig). Another historian has added padi (rice field) and two or three other words to that list. So where the heck did all the other Malay words come from? Most Malay words came from other languages including (but not limited to) Sanskrit, Arabic, Javanese, Portuguese and, you guessed it, English. For many centuries Malays have had a flair for adopting foreign words and adapting them to suit their language needs. A closer look at the English words in the above list shows that while some of them are in their original English form (bank, hospital, hotel), this is only because their spelling suits Malay conventions of spelling and pronunciation. Other words are altered to reflect these conventions, and these alterations make the words uniquely Malay despite their English origins. This is the case of the word bajet, which has prompted some purists to question why the government didn’t use the Malay term, anggaran belanja (at least I think that’s the official term, I’ll have to check a dictionary). The government has explained that the old term does not adequately express the exact meaning of a budget being tabled by the a government, so the English word has been adopted, albeit in a modified form. So who’s to say bajet is not a Malay word? It serves a purpose, and now there it is.

I suspect the “three Malay words” thing is a rhetorical exaggeration, but the point is a good one. And for a fascinating example of just how useful borrowings can be, check out his followup post on English pronouns (yes, pronouns) in Malay!


  1. There’s definitely a lot more than three native words left in the language, though it’s also true that Malay/Indonesian has borrowed a lot more than many of the other Austronesian languages. But, from what I remember from the Austronesian languages seminar I took a few years ago, there’s still lots of basic vocabulary in Malay, like names for body parts (such as mata `eye’, which has cognates in just about every Austronesian language), some of the pronouns, and numbers (but only from 1-6; 7 is derived from a root meaning `to point’, but I forget where 8 and 9 come from) which can be traced back to Proto-Austronesian.

  2. How can you stop the adoption of words in a society that is made up of so many different cultures and people who participate in a global economy?

  3. Well, exactly — you can’t. But some people get very bent out of shape about it.

  4. John Jainschigg says

    Interesting. The “official Malay” term for ‘budget’ (I’m assuming that ‘belanja’ is the basic noun and ‘anggaran’ an adjective) looks like French ‘bilan’ or English ‘balance,’ spelled sideways. The French, meanwhile, have abandoned formal use of ‘bilan’ for the more colloquial borrowing ‘budget,’ too, haven’t they?

  5. As I understand, Icelanders and Finns have succeeded in excluding most foreign words from their vocabulary. On the other hand, almost all Icelanders and Finns are multilingual.
    Scandinavia is an interesting case in language policy. Theoretically the Icelanders have saddled themselves with a tiny, useless language, but no harm seems to come of it. Theoretically the Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians have stupidly ended up with four very similiar standard languages (including Norwegian bokmal and nynorsk) for ~20 million people, but no real harm comes of that either. Probably it’s really good for the employmenty chances of prescriptive grammarians and multilingual copy editors.
    (please add norse character set here)

  6. Forgive my ignorance, but I would be curious to know if Malay is especially amenable to the introduction of loanwords because of its phonological range. I vaguely recall reading somewhere that the reason English has been able to absorb such a vast number of loanwords, aside from world domination by the British Empire, was that it contains far more sounds than most other languages, making the pronounciation of most foreign words relatively easy.

  7. jteoh:
    I strongly doubt that the phonemic diverstiy of a language has anything to do with it. Japanese has a very limited system that allows for only about 96 different syllables yet is currently in the midst of a borrowing bonanza primarily from English but also to a lesser extent from French. The biggest two sources supporting this massive borrowing are advertising and comics. The trend appears to be strongly age-linked the younger the speaker (down to about 14) the more borrowed words used. Foreign words are considered both fashionable, associated with the elite, and associated with a high level of education –a powerful combination socio-linguistically.

  8. Ziska wrote:

    As I understand, Icelanders and Finns have succeeded in excluding most foreign words from their vocabulary.

    That’s mostly a myth. Finnish has lots of foreign words (German, Russian, Swedish, English…). Icelandic has perhaps not so many, but it does have foreign words, e.g. “bill” (car), “banani” (banana), “kaffi” (coffe) and “tóbak” (tobacco).

  9. Like Joe said, the Malay use of English pronouns usually indicate education, and has air of fashion around it(at least it does in Malaysian television.)
    I’m a Singaporean Malay and here in Singapore there’s also the use of pronouns but not as excessive in Malaysia(I would think because we incoporate more English in our sentences). I myself cringe at the use(*) and find it extremely awkward.
    * Mainly by the younger generation.(note that I’m 20.) I somehow find it comfortable when my parents use it though.

  10. Interesting forum! While we are discussing Iceland borrowing terms from english, I would like point out that German, English, all the Scandinavian languages have roots from the old Germanic. So, whichever language you see, you will see similar words. So, you would ask, “What about the new words?” My answer is that words are derived from older words. If they had similar words to begin with, the newly derived words cannot be too subtly different.
    Before anyone can say Icelandic is being globalized (demoralized, as I would say), I will say that it has a council that regularly (and routinely) creates words to keep up with the ever so fast developing terminologies.

  11. NonOfYourBusiness says

    Well to me if you strip off the Austronesian roots of Malay of course it’ll leave just 2 or 3 words left that are pure Malay.. I mean probably most of everyday word for stuff that Pre-Indian/Arabic/English Malays had are Purely Malay..If you strip down English from everything including German Roots you’ll be left with almost exactly 2-3 words that are purely English.. I mean I think the word Aku/saya(I/Me) and Engkau/Kamu/Awak (you) are pure Malay(Not Stripping out the Austronesian Roots) in a sense.. If you chose to purify a language with no roots at all.. that’s crazy talk.. For me,I just don’t like foreign words to be just borrowed in like it’s not a big deal.. albeit English,Portugese,Dutch,Sanskrit,Arabic,Tamil,and other foreign languages.. Austronesian languages have the similar words because they’re a family group, much like Romance ,Slavic or Germanic languages.. They all have the same root meaning they may have similar words and phrases and denying that fact is just Idiocy..

  12. marie-lucie says

    John Jainschigg: The French, meanwhile, have abandoned formal use of ‘bilan’ for the more colloquial borrowing ‘budget,’ too, haven’t they?

    Le bilan and le budget do not mean the same thing. Le bilan is retroactive: the state of affairs resulting from what happened earlier. For instance, every business owner has to present a bilan at the end of the fiscal year. For store owners that includes making an inventory of everything not sold. The word is not limited to finances, but could include policy. Even the average family could be making (informally) a bilan, reviewing aspects of their life, such as former decisions or habits needing adjustments as the children are growing up. Le budget is proactive but only deals with money matters: how a family, business or state intends to organize and conduct its fimancial affairs.

    It is possible that the French government now prefers to present a budget (for the future) rather than a bilan (about the past), but that is a matter of policy, not of choice of words or register.

  13. Nemore said: “Before anyone can say Icelandic is being globalized (demoralized, as I would say), I will say that it has a council that regularly (and routinely) creates words to keep up with the ever so fast developing terminologies”

    As of course does France. But you have to get in early. They managed to do that with computing, inventing a series of words which rather to my surprise have overwhelmingly been adopted.

    Computer=ordinateur, softwear=logiciel, network=reseau (of course this predates computing), informatique for the whole computer business. Fireware=micrologiciel. Firewall = peru-feu, again a preexisting term.

    Doesn’t always stick, however. Courriel is the correct term for email, but “mail” is used widely (though not by Le Monde, or Valerie Treilwieler…). And you can “skyper” someone … Probably harder to make French words stick to new technical developments.

  14. The etymology of budget in English is interesting. Etymonline says:

    early 15c., ‘leather pouch’, from Middle French bougette, diminutive of Old French bouge ‘leather bag, wallet, pouch’, < Latin bulga ‘leather bag’ of Gaulish origin (cf. Old Irish bolg ‘bag’, Breton bolc’h ‘flax pod’), from PIE *bhelgh- > belly). Modern financial meaning (1733) is from notion of treasury minister keeping his fiscal plans in a wallet. Another 18c. transferred sense was ‘bundle of news’, hence the use of the word as the title of some newspapers.

    So the word (or its root at least) has passed from (Gaulish to Latin to) French to English to French. Other victims of this double shuffle include ace < as ‘le point unique de la face d’un dé’, bacon, bar(man) < bare ‘barrière, barre de tonneau’, basket-ball < Normand bascat (CFr. basquet), caddie < cadet, challenge < chalonge ‘contestation en justice ou par les armes’, coach < coche, confortable < Eng comfortable < confort, corner < Eng < Normand (CFr. cornier ‘corne, angle’), customiser < coutume, country (music) < contree, désappointé < Eng disappointed < desapointer ‘destituer, déranger’, express, foxtrot < troter ‘aller rapidement, sautiller, fuel < foail ‘bois de chauffage’, gentleman < gentil ‘homme d’ascendance noble’, humour, interview < entrevue, marketing < Normand marchié, panel < id. ‘morceau d’étoffe’, parking < parc, pedigree < pie de grue (yes, really!), passing-shot < passer, performance < parformer ‘exécuter, piercing < percier, poney < poulenet ‘cheval de petite taille’, prime-time < prime ‘premier’, rail < raille/reille ‘poutrelle’, rallye (automobile) < rallier ‘assembler’, record, rifle < id. ‘éraflure, rayure’, rush < russer, shopping possibly < eschoppe ‘booth, stall’, socquette < Eng socket < sochet ‘petit soc de charrue’, spleen < esplen, sport < de(s)port, standard < estendard ‘ point de ralliement’, stress < estrece ‘étroitesse, resserrement, rigueur, gêne, misère’, supporter (nom), suspense, test < id. ‘pot de terre qui servait en alchimie à tester l’or’, ticket < étiquette, toast < toster ‘griller’, touriste < tour, volley-ball < volée. I confess to using the sacred < rather loosely here.

  15. marie-lucie says

    Paul: courriel is used everywhere in Canada. In France people undersand the word but most of them say and write un mel for an email message.

    Firewall = peru-feu: should be pare-feu ‘fire screen’ (that you place in front of a fireplace while the fire is going).

    The pare component is the same as in pare-brise ‘windshield’, paravent ‘folding screen’ (lit. ‘wind-protector), parapluie ‘umbrella’ (lit. rain-protector), parachute (lit. fall-protector), paratonnerre (lit. ‘thunder-protector) and others). It is a form of the verb parer ‘to be prepared (against a risk)’.

    JC: pedigree < pie de grue: should be Middle French pié de grue ‘crane’s foot (Mid.Fr pié = Mod.Fr pied ‘foot’). The semantic connection is the resemblance of a simplified genealogical tree to the bird’s foot, or rather footprint. The TLFI says that such a mark was used as an abbreviation in legal documents. As the French phrase was adopted into English, it went to several spellings, and when it became French (as a part of animal breeding vocabulary) it went again through several attempts to reproduce the English vowels.

  16. Actually, according to AHD, pedigree is from Anglo-Norman pe de grue (sic, no accents; “from the resemblance of a crane’s foot to the lines of succession on a genealogical chart”).

  17. This etymology wasn’t known to the venerable Littré yet, who says, “Les étymologistes anglais disent que pedigree est le français par degré, corrompu dans la bouche anglaise.”

  18. marie-lucie says

    LH: Actually, according to AHD, pedigree is from Anglo-Norman pe de grue (sic, no accents;

    It this is Anglo-Norman (ie Norman French as spoken in England post-conquest), pe rather than pie makes sense. The lack of an accent is not a problem because accents were used much less in medieval times than they are nowadays: for instance pere ‘father’, not père like today The lack of i in a diphthong is still common in Normandy French (as in ben from bien – the latter quite common in colloquial Northern French although the reduction of the diphthong does not extend to other words).

    As for the alternate par degré, I trust the TLFI over the LIttré. It does mention “par degré” as a later, doubtful proposal (presumably based on the “digree” portion of the English word). The English etymologists mentioned by Littré had obviously not consulted early English sources where the word is spelled in several ways compatible with p(i)é de grue but none compatible with par degré. in particular, none of them includes an r before d, which the English mouth would have been quite capable of pronouncing, as it did in words such as pardon and garden. Perhaps those etymologists thought ‘crane’s foot’ too undignified and searched for something which did not recall bird tracks in mud.

  19. John Cowan says

    Pié, yes, of course. There may be other missing accents in the French originals; the glosses I cut and pasted from French Wiktionary, but the originals I typed myself and may have made errors of this kind. I pruned out the examples there whose English etymologies are wrong. Specifically, hobby (horse) could have gone either way; hockey is of unknown origin, though a connection with hoc ‘hook’ is possible; the ultimate origin of the palto(c)k/paletot pair is not known; the origin of job (like many English words in j-) is obscure and the statement “aussi le nom d’un ancien roi d’Angleterre” nothing short of bizarre (have they conflated King John with the biblical Job?); the notion that thriller derives from frisson is ludicrous; bus is a clipped form of omnibus < Lat 'for all' and has nothing to do with French. Some francophone should go and fix these. I think there is one more, though I cannot now find it, where the French and English words are actually cognates that happen to look alike.

  20. John Cowan says

    List of genuine French/English cognates. There are remarkably few, only 130 of them, of which grue/crane is one. Greenberg used the first 84 to try to show the validity of his mass comparisons by demonstrating that even the common origin of French and English, which no one doubts, is based on only a few words. (Of course it’s not really based on words at all; as Pullum says, a language is not just a big bag of words, a folk theory that seems frighteningly common even among linguists, no matter how much they consciously know better.)

  21. The number seems quite respectable already. Take two Sino-Tibetan languages chosen in random, the only cognates you will find are:
    – the personal pronouns (1 in ŋ-, 2 in n-)
    – the numbers (the Chinese numbers, however, are widely borrowed in non-ST languages)
    – body parts (eye, ear and nose are especially stable, though in contemporary Chinese only “ear” survived)
    – a couple of verbs (“to die” and “to kill” are especially stable, “to weave” is also quite common too)
    – “fish”, “louse”
    and a couple of chance common survivals.

    I must have exaggerated, though.

  22. marie-lucie says

    JC: “a language is not just a big bag of words”, a folk theory that seems frighteningly common even among linguists

    This is one of the problems in (at least some branches of) current historical linguistics, where many linguists seem to have forgotten that comparative linguistics as a science started from a comparison of morphology rather than vocabulary. What happened in Indo-European, for instance, is that once a number of linguists had written “comparative grammars” of the various families (considering all the component languages together, for instance all the Celtic languages), and put the inferences as to the structure of the proto-language on a firm basis (which later was decisive in identifying Hittite and Tocharian as Indo-European members), they turned their attention to reconstructing the PIE vocabulary, which meant looking at thousands of words and deducing the rules of phonological correspondences between them. This task of “lexical-phonological comparison” between words of languages which no longer need to be only “presumed” to be related has been so consuming of time and energy that for many linguists it has become the defining feature of the “comparative method”. It has worked fairly well also with languages with no known history (such as those of the Americas) but with very obviously related morphology as well as vocabulary (for instance the Uto-Aztecan or Mayan languages), but not with larger groups where shared morphology is not at all obvious, as with the Penutian group (which Sapir thought was a genetic grouping but would always remain “beyond the reach of the usual historical methods”), let alone with super-large groups such as Greenberg’s presumed “Amerind”, which is based almost entirely on lexical comparison, with sublassifications within the group largely following earlier linguists’ suggestions, whether currently accepted or not.

  23. pedigree is from Anglo-Norman pe de grue

    Although the “crane’s foot” explanation is now generally accepted, there’s no direct evidence for it. The word was opaque in English for centuries, inspiring a wide variety of etymological attempts surveyed on Anatoly Liberman’s blog. The OED explains the change from -grue to -gree as an eggcorn, “assimilation of the final element to gree n.1”, where gree is “A ‘step’ in direct line of descent; a degree of relationship” (same origin as in degree).

    The Anglo-Norman Dictionary had an interesting blog post on pedigree and other words and phrases derived from , written during the revision of that entry; in January 2015, they said

    The suggestion is that this sense arose from the use of a conventional three-line mark in medieval manuscript genealogies to indicate succession and/or kinship. This symbol could be interpreted as the three toes of the bird, or, suggested elsewhere, its tracks. From this, the word for the symbol then came to refer, as a pars pro toto, to the entire genealogical representation.

    Although this explanation seems to be generally accepted now, I have not seen any examples of the use of such a symbol in medieval genealogies. I would be very grateful to any medievalists or genealogists who could provide us with examples of these ‘crane’s feet’ in manuscript genealogies, and help us to corroborate this theory.

    And in their revised entry under the headword pédegrue:

    While Anglo-Norman provides the earliest attestations indeed, it should be noted that a) the word appears to be rare (especially in comparison to its use in later English sources), b) no attestations of the literal sense ‘crane’s foot’ have been found, c) gree is not a variant spelling otherwise attested for grue.

    (They have only two attestations in Anglo-Norman, one spelled pee de gru and the other pee de gree; maybe the eggcorn started in French?)

    So, plausible, but not ironclad.

  24. PlasticPaddy says

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