19 August 2010


In my previous post, I discussed the advantage of Malay spelling, as 'ngg' indicates the pronunciation /ŋg/ while 'ng' indicates /ŋ/, whereas English spelling provides no help over this distinction. Indeed, Malay spelling is much more transparent than English spelling. However there are some exceptions.

Pronunciation is generally not shown in Malay dictionaries, presumably on the assumption that it can be predicted from the spelling. But one problem is that the letter 'e' in Malay can be pronounced /e/ or /ə/, and it is often not possible to guess which one. So, for example, perang can be pronounced /pəraŋ/, in which case it means 'war', or it can be pronounced /peraŋ/, in which case it means 'brown'. The Kamus Dwibahasa published by Oxford shows these two words as follows:This gives no indication that the two words might be pronounced differently, which seems a real problem. I believe that, in failing to provide this information, this dictionary is flawed.

In contrast, some dictionaries do show the distinction. Here are the same two words in Collins Easy Learning Kamus DwibahasaThis is much more helpful, as /e/ is indicated using an acute accent over the letter: 'é'. It seems, therefore, that the Collins dictionary is far superior.

There are plenty of other contrasts like this:
  • bela ('to keep') vs béla ('to defend')
  • beri ('to give') vs béri ('berry')
  • semak ('undergrowth') vs sémak ('to check')
and doubtless many more. The Collins dictionary helpfully shows all these distinctions, while the Oxford one does not.