How Malay is Actually Pronounced

Generally, the pronunciation at the end of a word might change slightly for some words. These changes will make the pronounciation sounds quite relaxed and less formal, but not to that say it becomes informal.

Basically in this topic, we will be discussing about spoken Malay. If you have read about the Malay pronunciation, you might come across the point saying that a Malay word is pronounced the way it is spelled. Well, technically yes, it is pronounced according to the spelling. However, in spoken language, there are some exception, and some sounds tend to follow certain rules.

Generally, the pronunciation at the end of a word might change slightly for some words. These changes will make the pronounciation sounds quite relaxed and less formal, but not to that say it becomes informal. In a way, it has become the standard pronounciation for the locals. The following are some variations you might see or hear from a conversation with the locals.

1. Words ending with “a”

For some words ending with the letter “a”, the sound could change into a schwa pronunciation. The schwa pronunciation is a relaxed pronunciation that could be spelled by many vowels. However in Malay, the schwa will be voiced as if the letter “a” is replaced by “e”.

WordPronunciationMeaning
samasamesame
utarautarenorth
diadiehe/she
tiadatiadenot (in possession or existence)
semuasemueall

Of course, not all Malay word will be pronounced like this, but you can assume that majority follows this pattern. There are however, a group of words that do not follow this pattern, which mainly are Western loan words.

2. Words ending with “r”

For this variation, the letter “r” in the ending of a word will have no sound. If translated into writing, it is as if the “r” is dropped.

WordPronunciationMeaning
biarbialet
luarluaoutside
kotorkotodirty
leherleheneck
lahirlaheborn
sayursayovegetable

As you can see, the “r” does not make a sound if it is placed at the end of a word. This is very common in spoken Malay.

3. Ending syllable containing “u”

If you look closely, one example for this point was displayed in the previous variation. This variation applies to syllable where “u” appears in between consonants and is also placed in the ending syllable. The “u” will be pronounced as if it was replaced by “o”.

WordPronunciationMeaning
laburlaboinvest
kecutkecotshrink
betulbetoltrue
untukuntokfor
belumbelomnot yet
jantungjantongheart

4. Ending syllable containing “i”

This variation have a similar pattern with the previous one. The “i” will be pronounced as if it was replaced by “e” with the schwa pronunciation.

WordPronunciationMeaning
lahirlaheborn
sakitsaketpain
ambilambeltake
balikbalekreturn
zalimzalemoppressive
rantingrantengtwig

Conclusion

Basically what is being explained here is just a guide to make you sound more natural when speaking in Malay. If you do not follow this guide, people can still understand what you are saying, although it might sound a little stiff or formal. If you are still new in the language, of course people will appreciate that you are even speaking in Malay at all. Nonetheless, there are also parts of the world, even in Malaysia where they actually pronounce the words as the way it is written.

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