English words that are borrowed from Malay

I really like studying etymology and the origins of words, and I'm interested in the fairly omnivorous nature of English, which has a huge "borrowed" vocabulary. (Random fact: "bugger" is related to "Bulgaria".) So I thought every now and then I'd put up random lists of words English borrows from various languages - well, besides French, German, and Spanish, or I'll exhaust myself from typing.

I thought I'd start with Malay, national language of Singapore. Wikipedia already has a partial list, but I thought I'd come up with a list that also included a few other loan words. The obvious ones are words for things that are indigenous to the region - plants (durian, rambutan, bamboo, sago, camphor), animals (orang-utan, pangolin, cassowary), and cloth (gingham, sarong). But there's a whole bunch that're less obvious, even to native English speakers from this region:
  • amok. If you asked me to name one English loan word that's Malay in origin, this would be the first to come to mind.
  • cockatoo. From kakak tua "oldest elder brother sister". (I know this is an animal, but I wanted to comment more on the etymology.) This reminds me of that Malay folk song we were taught as kids, "Burong Kakak Tua" ("burong" = "bird"). The street next to mine is Jalan Pari Burong, "bird-stingray street". I presume that refers to a kind of leaping/'flying' stingray.
  • compound (in the sense of a fenced-in area). From kampung. Presumably this was folk etymology, turning the borrowing into an existing English word.
  • cooties. From kutu, "louse/lice". Always think this one's funny, since the concept of boys/girls "having cooties" seems so American to me. But apparently it's British slang.
  • gecko. Apparently from gekok, which apparently is Javanese. The Bahasa Melayu word for "lizard" is cicak.
  • gong. From gong. Funny that an onomatopoeic word is a borrowing.
  • ketchup. From kichap, which itself is a loan from koechiap, which is apparently Teochew. Clearly the interplay of languages in South-East Asia can be seen.
  • launch (in the sense of a boat carried on a ship). Apparently from Malay lancharan, from lanchar "quick, agile". Via Portuguese.
  • mandarin (in the sense of a high-ranking official; as well as Mandarin the name of the dialect). Via Portuguese mandarim and/or Dutch mandorijn, from Malay mantri, from Hindi mantri "councilor, minister of state". Compare the modern-day Malay term mentri besar, "Chief Minister".
  • tea. From the Hokkien/Teochew teh, via Malay teh, to the Dutch East Indies company (aka the VOC, which I spent a good portion of my history lessons learning about) and thereafter to Europe. Which is why we say "tea", and not something more influenced by the Mandarin cha, such as "chai". (Saying "chai tea" thus probably means "tea tea"... ah well, I'll file that with the Department of Redundancy Department, along with "ATM machine".)
It's really interesting to see this region's been a rojak for ages, so much that it's seeped into all the languages we speak. Some were direct borrowings by the Brits in their period as colonials here; others like "launch" wended their way through Dutch and Portuguese before settling into the English language. And I really like that "Mandarin" as a name for a language is a word borrowed from Hindi via Malay and Dutch. The history of this region in the history of one word.


calm one said…
seems like 'compound' comes from old french, according to dictionary.com
calm one said…
seems like 'compound' comes from old french, according to dictionary.com
Daryl said…
No, that's "compound" in the sense of "put together", or "something put together". dictionary.com agrees that "compound" in the sense of a "a fenced-in group of buildings" comes from "kampong".
Mr Miyagi said…
This goes into my 'Didn't know that, didja?' series! Start a Hobson-Jobson dictionary of Anglo-Malay!
(Though I thought ketchup was from the Cantonese - 'Care Chup'. )
Daryl said…
Heh - but intermixing between Malay and Hokkien/Teochew is much more common than with Cantonese, I think.
Anonymous said…
ketchup is more from cantonese.

care - being the name of tomato (we call tomato "fun care") and chup meaning sauce.
Agagooga said…
I should go dig up the OED
Anonymous said…
If angmoh 'tea' came from Malay 'teh' that came from Hokkien 'teh', doesn't that make angmoh 'tea' come from Hokkien 'teh'? In fact, the Dutch were trading directly with the Hokkien merchants in Luzon, and tea was a major Chinese export. There is good reason to believe that they learn the 'word' from the Hokkien. In fact, the word for 'tea' probably falls into two general category, depending on the trade route. The south route will have the 'te' sound, while the north road will have the 'cha' sound.

Also, ketchup totally sounded like Cantonese leh.
zayam said…
great post on etymology daryl :-) However, I have a different take on the origins of the word Mandarin in the British sense of the word i.e. middle to high ranking functionaries in the civil service.

Here in the UK, we refer very often (and the word is used to death in the papers) to "mandarins" in the Foreign Office, Home Office, Treasury etc etc. Very often, it is slightly derogotary by implying that they think too highly of themselves.

The non-etymological explanation of this is less to do with words than with cultural contact between foreign traders and Qing civil servants.

Most of the traders would have had to deal with Qing officiadom at some point and more often than not they corresponded with the officials placed in charge i.e. members of the 8th to 6th grade of civil rank.

What does this have to do with the word mandarin? It's related to the humble duck. From the Ming Dynasty onwards, there began the practice of identifying civil servant ranks through the use of rank badges on their surcoats. This was further institutionalised under Qing rule (they had birds to identify civil servants and animals to identify military officials).

This brings us back to the officials who had most contact with traders, the 7th ranking civil servants who wore the mandarin duck as their badge :p
Daryl said…
Thanks all for the comments. Dictionary.com agrees that "ketchup" might ultimately be derived from Cantonese rather than Teochew/Hokkien, but all seem to agree that the word most likely passed into English via Malay.
Similarly for tea, the etymology I can find - example - all seems to indicate a passing of the word from Chinese through Malay to Dutch. It's true that the Dutch traded in Luzon, but wouldn't the bulk of their tea trade be concentrated in the Dutch East Indies? And since bazaar Malay was the lingua franca of this region, the passage through Malay seems likely to me. Man, I need an OED, stat. Agagooga?
Daryl said…
Incidentally, Cantonese is a very rare source of English words. "Typhoon", "yen" (in the sense of a desire for something), and "opium" are the only ones I know of (well, I guess "kumquat" and "dimsum" both can count) - if ketchup turns out to be Cantonese in origin that's an interesting addiotion.
Nadie said…
*summarising from a linguistics assignment she did eons ago*

I do believe that ketchup did originate from the cantonese, which has a mandarin equivalent "qie-zhi". I think the word originally referred to a sauce made with fish brine, herbs and spices. Apparently, the popularity of this sauce spread to malaysia and this was where it was encountered by the Europeans. When this sauce was brought back to Europe, it was made with local ingredients such as mushrooms. In the 18th-19th century the word began to refer to any sauce which contained vinegar.

Interestingly, it was only in the 1790s that people started experimenting with tomatos as tomatos were originally thought to be poisonous because they are related to the toxic belladonna and nightshade plants.

I'll post the references up on my blog - am not sure which books they came from because this assignment was done when I was still clueless about in text referencing (thank god I wrote a biblio tho)
Agagooga said…
Your comments thread is rather cramped.

Amok: [ad. Malay amoq adj., ‘engaging furiously in battle, attacking with desperate resolution, rushing in a state of frenzy to the commission of indiscriminate murder... Applied to any animal in a state of vicious rage’; Marsden Malay Dict. Cf. AMOK(E v.]

Cockatoo: [ad. Malay kakatúa, app. immed. through Du. kaketoe; app. influenced in form by cock. Several authorities say the name represents the call of the bird: but see also quot. 1850.]

Compound: [Of disputed origin, but referred by Yule and Burnell, on weighty evidence, to Malay kampong, kampung (in Du. orthog. kampoeng) ‘enclosure, space fenced in’; also ‘village, quarter of a town occupied by a particular nationality’, as the ‘Chinese kampong’ at Batavia. In this latter sense, campon occurs in a Pg. writer of 1613.
Earlier conjectures were that it was a corruption of Pg. campanha or F. campagne country, or of Pg. campo field, camp. See Yule Anglo-Ind. Gloss. s.v.]
Agagooga said…
Cootie: [? f. Malay kutu parasitic biting insect.]
I too found it weird because I thought the Americans used this a lot...Gecko: [a. Mal. g{emac}koq (the q is faint) an imitation of the animal's cry.

Gong: [a. Malay g{omacbreve}ng, g{umacbreve}ng, so called in imitation of the sound made by the instrument. Hence also F. and G. gong, Sp. gongo.]

Ketchup: [app. ad. Chinese (Amoy dial.) kôechiap or kê-tsiap brine of pickled fish or shell-fish (Douglas Chinese Dict. 46/1, 242/1). Malay k{emac}chap (in Du. spelling ketjap), which has been claimed as the original source (Scott Malayan Wds. in English 64-67), may be from Chinese.
The Japanese kitjap, alleged in some recent dicts., is an impossible form for that language. (? error for Javanese.)]

Launch: [ad. Sp. lancha pinnace, perh. of Malay origin: see LANCHARA, LANTCHA.]
Agagooga said…
Mandarin: [< Portuguese mandarim (1514; also mandarin) < Malay menteri (see MENTRI n.) or its etymon Sanskrit mantr{imac} (see MANTRI n.). Cf. French mandarin counsellor (1581), Chinese literary language (1603), and in fig. (and ironic) use denoting an influential person from the early 19th cent.; Spanish mantelines, plural (1590 in the source translated in quot. 1589), Mandarines, plural (1590 in the source translated in quot. 1604). In form mandorijn after Dutch mandarijn, mandorijn (1596).

Tea: [= F. thé, Sp. te, It. tè, Du. and Ger. thee, Da., Sw. te, mod.L. thea; ad. (perh. through Malay te, teh) Chinese, Amoy dialect te, in Fuchau tiä = Mandarin ch'a (in ancient Chinese prob. kia); whence Pg. and obs. Sp. cha, obs. It. cià, Russian cha{ibreve}, Pers., Urdu ch{amac} (10th c.), Arab. sh{amac}y, Turkish ch{amac}y. The Portuguese brought the form cha (which is Cantonese as well as Mandarin) from Macao. This form also passed overland into Russia. The form te (thé) was brought into Europe by the Dutch, prob. from the Malay at Bantam (if not from Formosa, where the Fuhkien or Amoy form was used). The original English pronunciation (te{lm}), sometimes indicated by spelling tay, is found in rimes down to 1762, and remains in many dialects; but the current (ti{lm}) is found already in the 17th c., shown in rimes and by the spelling tee.]

So it's not a clearcut borrowing from Malay for all...
Daryl said…
Wow, thanks Agagooga! It's rarely clearcut, especially in mixed-up regions such as ours - it's of course possible that borrowings such as "tea" actually occurred both ways (into Dutch via Malay and from Hokkien) and their duality reinforced the word's status.

Going by your list, the more clearcut ones, it seems are: amok, cockatoo, compound (some dispute, but largely in favour of the Malay borrowing), cootie, gong, launch, and mandarin. "Tea" is noted as "probably" Malay in origin. Ketchup is one that's befuddled etymologists I think, with the Malay explanation remaining popular.

I think "compound", "launch", and "mandarin" are the most interesting ones to me. "Tea" and "ketchup", regardless of their ultimate source, are names of products that could not be found in Europe, so in that sense it's kind of like "bamboo" or "rambutan". It's words like "compound" that aren't obviously from this region that intrigue me.
RongC said…
Oxford English Dictionary also offers a comprehensive etymological account for words...
Anonymous said…
Main Entry: com·pound
Pronunciation: 'käm-"paund
Function: noun
Etymology: by folk etymology from Malay kampung group of buildings, village
: a fenced or walled-in area containing a group of buildings and especially residences

So is it means compound came from malay language?
Andrew said…
just wondering ... what is the origin of the word "bazaar"? any relation to "pasar"?
Anonymous said…
nice try!
FF said…
kakak tua means older sister doesn't it?
Anonymous said…
Interestingly, compound have been reborrowed as a kata pinjaman back to Malay - kompaun. Seriously - I think there is some kind of complex where kata pinjaman sounds more "canggih" than proper Malay words - my STPM registration form, for example, has a question asking what "ras" (race) am I (a proper Malay word already exist - kaum, or the proper legal equilevent - bangsa (for national)).

Oh, BTW, burung is mispelled up there.
Daryl said…
It's funny what happens when you write a post at 2 in the morning and a Mr Brown link sends in the proofreaders! Yup, burung is spelt wrong. "Jalan Pari Burong" is right though, presumably an older spelling. And yes, "kakak" is older sister. Older brother is, of course, "abang". Pak Jamal, my Malay teacher, would be horrified.

Bazaar is Persian in origin, if I recall correctly. Presumably then pasar would be similarly derived.
Daryl said…
A quick check shows that bazaar is Persian in origin, and came into English either via Italian or Urdu. Boy, these Persian merchants were everywhere. I would guess that "pasar" has similar Persian roots, but I'm not a Malay etymologist.
Anonymous said…
I like the malay word 'cukup'...sounds just like chinese.
Anonymous said…
Malay isn't the national language of Singapore... It's the national language of Malaysia...
Anonymous said…
Malay isn't the national language of Singapore... It's the national language of Malaysia...
Daryl said…
Um, yes, Malay is the national language, as well as being one of the four official languages.

Here're some references to Malay's status as the national language: International Herald Tribune, Speak Good English movement, the BBC.
Anonymous said…
"I like the malay word 'cukup'...sounds just like chinese." What do you mean it sounds just like Chinese? Most South-East asian languages have a Chinese origin more so than vice versa wouldn't you say? The cantonese word for tomato sauce is pronounced, "keh jup". "Keh" is a short term for "fon keh" meaning tomato. So how would you explain that? Maybe it would help if we knew the exact translation for tomato in Malaysian and Indonesian since their cuisines use "kechap", "ketjup", "ketjap manis".
Anonymous said…
Interesting that 'kecap' is a soy sauce with no relation to tomatoes.

The Bantam rooster, and thus I guess 'bantamweight' in boxing (wrestling?) derives from a small variety of chicken from Banten (west Java).

The Indonesian for gecko is the also-onomatopoeic 'toke'.

I liked all the Sanskrit words in Bhs. Ind. -- often in formal uses like 'mahasiswi' university student. These from the 1000-odd years of pre-Muslim Hindu kingdoms on Sumatra & esp. Java. Javanese, and Sundanese (I'm more familiar with the latter) seem to have even more of these, and there are lots of Sanskrit-derived given names, esp. common in the old aristocracy. Seems there are less of these terms in use in Malaysia? Along with, of course, less Dutch (& more English) derived words.
Anonymous said…

Referring to gong word, it's absolutely not funny at all since Malay people used/wrote the word in old manuscripts/book, I mean the written documents to call for a musical percussion instrument that takes the form of a flat metal disc which is hit with a mallet.

Plus, it is unique with the protrude round metal in the middle of the instrument not like the other instrument that should not called gong if it does not have a protrude round metal. Yes, it sounds like gong if you hit the protrude round metal in the middle of it.

There are other words in Malay even in other languages derived from the sound. Even some linguists say that languages also could be formed by the sounds of nature or tools.

Besides, there's no other languages have the word gong for the unique instrument, only Malay (and other tribes of Austronesian) write and call the instrument with exactly the gong word.

So, was it ever created and written in English or Korean or Japanese or Mongols or Chinese which referring to the unique instrument before Malay? No, they weren't.

One more thing, I'd like to comment about the Gecko which you said that it came from Javanese.
Yes, it is Javanese but who are the Javanese people?

For your info, Javanese people are brothers or siblings with Malays .Why ? Maybe (politely) you should know about Austronesian/Malayo-Polynesian peoples.

Javanese are considered as Malay too (I mean the Great Race of Malay a.k.a. Austronesians, not to be confused with the tribe of Malay) since Javanese and the tribe of Malay are brothers who share the same physical (face),words and cultures with some differences.

Do you know the Taiwanese Aborigines? They are Austronesians and sharing the same blood with Javanese & the tribe of Malay too. Plus, in southern Vietnam were some Austronesian kingdoms ever existed before being hijacked by the Viets. The well-known kingdom is Champa (Lin-Yi was its predecessor).

Just let you know that the Chinese Ming dynasty ever created a department of Malay language to teach Chinese people learning Malay during the century. Maybe the Malay language has influenced some people especially who ever learned Malay and still use some Malay words inside their language.

From Sherry.
Anonymous said…
Hello, I'm Jack...

About "gong" which is a Malay word in origin, it is normal for Malay to create it by imitation of the sound that the instrument produces.

Whether in English, Malay or other languages, the "Onomatopoeia" is a fundamental words forming of all languages by the sound it/something produces for a new concept/thing.

For example, in English (I sourced from this site Cracked.com there are many words were created by sounds. They are:

1. Cliche
2. Blimp
3. Sneeze
4. Laugh
5. Bumblebee
6. Ping-Pong
7. Poop
8. Buffoon
9. Owl
10. Marauder

I believe that in Chinese also have many words that were created by the sound imitations, but they're still Chinese words especially when they entered any other languages (the word/words which was/were formed by sound imitation rarely equivalent to the other cultures when it points to the new thing created by the owner's/original culture).

Even if the words created by the sound imitation, it still differs from other languages and cultures and that what makes it whether it came from here or there.

A word for a new thing created by the original culture might not be the same as a word in other cultures to refer to the similar type of the thing/instrument, too. Also, the new thing created might not be the same in terms of the features or its physical as in the other cultures.

Thus, the thing which never exists (or differs physically) in English people or French people or any other languages/cultures but it exists inside the 'X' culture/language would be borrowed into English/French languages no matter how originally the word was created in the original/owner's culture to cover the lacks in the borrower's culture for the new thing.

Old writings/documents (200 or 500 or 1000 years ago) could be referred to in order to figure out the history usage inside old documents especially to know about the "history of sound imitation words". I think this is the job of etymologists/linguists.

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