28 May 2010


I have previously mentioned problems finding words in a Malay dictionary (here) and also apparent anomolies in the way my dictionary lists some items, particularly double listing of some words (here).

One reason for pointing out anomolies is that they can be quite revealing about the structure of the language. So here is the puzzle for today: what is the root of the word menipis ('to get thinner')? Is it tipis or nipis, both of which are listed in my dictionary as meaning 'thin'?

The first of these, tipis, is a much more common word; but the second, nipis, does exist, as in limau nipis ('lime'). Also in an article on page 1 of the Media Permata of 29 May, the new Apple iPad is described as "tablet hitam nipis" ('a thin black tablet').

So, back to the puzzle. What is the root of menipis? The answer according to my dictionary is: both! The word menipis is listed twice, once under tipis and again under nipis.

One way to resolve which of these is correct is to find out what the passive form would be: ditipiskan or dinipiskan? (My UBD colleague Adrian Clynes tells me that the -kan transitive suffix is necessary for this to work.) I'll try to find a suitable way to phrase that as a question to present to my Malay colleagues.