When teaching introductory morphology, I occasionally discuss the word structure of Malay, to enable students to appreciate that the linguistic analysis of language does not apply just to English.
One important issue for Malay morphology is identifying the root of a word; and I ask my students what the root of penyelia ('supervisor') is.
The answer is: selia. And you have to know this if you want to find the word in a dictionary. The problem here is that selia does not exist as an independent morpheme, so we might describe it as a bound root. Here is the entry in my Collins dictionary:What is rather surprising is that most of my first-year students do not know this, and they look bemused when I tell them that selia is the root. This indicates that they would not be able to use a Malay dictionary to look up the meaning of a word such as this.
I find this very strange. I always have an English dictionary available, and I regularly check the meaning or pronunciation of English words. But speakers of Malay in Brunei do not seem to do this for their own language.
John McWhorter responds
2 hours ago