Loan Words

Debate against the purity of a language is not new and unique to only Bahasa Malaysia. The English language had undergone this sensational debate long time ago when the borrowing of words from Greek, Latin and French were at the utmost in the period of 1530 to 1660. Other languages such as German, Turkish, and French were also debated and said to be corrupted due to loaning words from other languages. As early as the age of middle English, Purist has been rejecting words borrowing as they believe this act contaminate the English language with inkhorn term (Sheard, 1970) as cited in (Ojeda & Cecelia, 2004). However, we should keep in mind that language change is inevitable when a language stop changing, it will be a dead language. Classical Latin is already a dead language for being static for nearly two thousand years.
World changes as the technology develop. New inventions emerged, new words created and being users of the products, words are loaned. There goes the reason for loaning computer (computer), roket (rocket), fotokopi (photocopy), robot (robot), televisyen (television) and telefon (telephone) from the inventors’ language. As we borrow knowledge from others language, we also do not create a new own word or term for it. Just accept it; Matematik, Fizik, Biologi, Kimia, Geometri, Sejarah, Perakaunan, Geografi etc. do not originate from Bahasa Malaysia themselves. We actually borrow more than we realised, and these borrowings and loaning are not new. It’s not like we just learnt Mathematics yesterday. And what about the days the weeks, do we create it ourselves? No, we did not. We loan it from Arabic’s number, from one to seven.
Do all these borrowings pollute the language? I would say no. These borrowing symbolised what Bahasa Malaysia have been through, from the contact with Islam, colonisation of Portugal, Dutch, British and Japan, the various ethnics due to the colonisation, the romanisation of the spelling in 1972, the influence from neighbouring countries, to the nationalisation of the language. Indeed, all the borrowing comes from the contact with another language such as English, Portuguese, Dutch, Sanskrit, Tamil, Chinese dialects, Javanese, Latin and Persian. Hence, the borrowing will still continue to grow, absorbing suitable words to be put in our dictionary and used until the words are no longer relevant for the time.
There are three principal ways to increase a language vocabulary; by forming it using existing words and word part, by borrowing from other languages and by starting from scratch which is making up new words. Bahasa Malaysia shares a few traits that are similar to English. They both can derive new words by adding affixes. In English, a verb can be changed into a noun by adding suffix –er to create a word with the sense of ‘one who’, for example, painter, teacher, designer etc. Meanwhile, in Bahasa Malaysia prefix pe- is added to mean the same things such as pengajar, pereka, pelukis etc. Both languages also can be derived using inflectional affixes, in English, adding suffix –ing shows an action is being done, for instance, cooking, singing, dancing, washing and all other verbs that existed. In Bahasa Malaysia, prefix me- is used in verbs to represent actions; memasak, menyanyi, menari, membasuh etc. Hence, some words in Bahasa Malaysia can be modified or derived into a new word by adding affixes from English. E.g. pra- (prabayar), anti- (antirasuah), poli- (politeknik), sub- (subtajuk), supra- (supranasional), multi- (multimedia), -isme (sekularisme), -al (praktikal), ultra- (ultrabunyi) and so on.
Aside from deriving words from existing language, the second way to increase the vocabulary size is by borrowing from other languages. As stated above, we realised that Bahasa Malaysia has loaned many words from various languages. What makes Bahasa Malaysia borrowing words more often instead of creating them by itself? Do the speakers of the language have lost it creativity or does it because it is an easy way to increase the vocabulary? To answer this we need to know what it takes for a word to be accepted into the dictionary. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, usage is the answer. When a word is used widely, lexicographers track the usage of the word to see how often it is used and how it is used. The words are then marked, and citations of the words are created. Words that have enough citations from various publications over a considerable period of time will be added as a new entry. For instance, ‘Selfie’ has become so popular all over the world; it is adopted as an entry in Merriam-Webster and nominated as the word of the year in Oxford English Dictionary in November 2013. The first usage of this word is in 2002 in Australia but only become a hit in 2012 as it appears frequently in print and electronic media. By the way, do you know that some idioms in Bahasa Malaysia are borrowed from English? Dimana ada kemahuan, disitu ada jalan, gajah putih, bulan madu, perang dingin, budaya kuning and ulat buku are some of the example. I think you can name a few by yourself now.
Finally, creating a new word is another way to increase the vocabulary of a language. One example of the most recent word that is created by Bahasa Malaysia is ‘swafoto’. Yeap! You are right, it is a new word created by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka to replace the popular ‘selfie’. Whether it is going to last, is an another question. But Kudos to Bahasa Malaysia for trying! Last but not least, a living language is not static. It changes all the time, some words decay because it is no longer suitable to be used just like epok-epok. Some of you won’t even realise it while you’re sitting on the carpet (karpet) at the balcony (balkoni) enjoying your curry puff (karipap) and sipping the hot coffee (kopi).
Finegan, E. (2014). Language: Its structure and use. United States: Cengage Learning.
Baugh, A. C., & Cable, T. (2013). A history of the English language.London: Routledge.
Tieken, I. (2016, June 09). You should not borrow that! Retrieved March 28, 2017, from…/you-should-not-borro…/
Ojeda, J. R. G., & Cecilia, R. R. (2004). Attitudes of English people towards lexical borrowing. Glosas Didácticas, (11).218.
Campitelli, S. (2016, May 24). Language Change The Great Debate | Catholic Schools Guide. Retrieved March 28, 2017, from…/language-change-the-g…/


Popular posts from this blog