Letters and Pronunciation in Malay Language

In Malay languange, it is fairly easy because the words are spelled using roman alphabets. Not only that, a Malay word is also consistent to its spelling, with a few exceptions.

To start learning a language, it would be helpful to know what sound exists in the language. In Malay languange, it is fairly easy because the words are spelled using roman alphabets. Not only that, a Malay word is also consistent to its spelling, with a few exceptions. For this lesson, we will get to know that.

So a Malay word can contain any roman alphabets, A to Z. Most of the pronunciation stays consistent.

In this post, we will learn the Malay sounds alphabetically, and then on to combinations of letters.

Single letter pronunciation

LetterIPA SoundAs Pronounced in
a[a]Art
b[b]Bay
c[tʃ]Chair
d[d]Dice
e[e],[ə] Fell, Fern
f[f]Fossil
g[g]Go
h[h]Hello
i[i]Ink
j[dʒ]Job
k[k]Car
l[l]Lead
m[m]Man
n[n]Neat
o[o]Oat
p[p]Post
q[q]*Qatar
r[r]Rest
s[s]Sail
t[t]Top
u[u]Uber
v[v]Volt
w[w]Wonder
x[ks]Taxi
y[j]Yam
z[z]Zebra
Table 1: Malay sounds from the alphabetical letters

From table above, you can see that all the letters in the alphabet are used in Malay. However, some of them only appear on loan words. Very seldom can we see a Malay word containing a v or an x. The letter v appears in loan words, and would be pronounced as how “vocal” is pronounced. However, x is even more rare to be seen anywhere in a Malay dictionary. Usually if a word containing x is loaned into Malay, it would be pronounced as combination of letters k and s. For example, “taxi” would be pronounced as “teksi”, “lexical” as “leksikal” and so on.

There are two ways an e is pronounced. I could be hard for a beginner to identify which e sound to use in a Malay word. The way to get to know this is to familiarize with words in the language itself.

Combinations of letters

Now we will see another set of sounds created from combinations of letters. There are quite a number of them.

CombinationIPA SoundAs Pronounced in
ny[ɲ]*Pinata
ng[ŋ]Song
ai[ai]Thai
oi[oi]**Point
au[au]Vow
sy[ʃ]Share
kh[x]*Khan
gh[ɣ]*Maghribi
Table 2: Malay sounds from letter combinations

From the table above, the first 5 combination letters exist in native pronunciation. Therefore, it would be helpful to familiarize with the sounds. The last 3 combinations do not exist in the native pronunciation, but are found in loan words. However, the sy combination could be found more often than the other 2 non-native pronunciation.

Hope this guide will be able to get you started in Malay. If you want to learn more, it might be helpful to know the break down of original and loaned sounds in Malay. This will help you get more familiar with the sounds and getting the pronunciations closer to the native sounds. This will be explained more in detail in the upcoming post.

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