17 March 2011


I have previously discussed the difficulties of using a Malay dictionary (e.g. here). This basically involves removing the prefixes so that you can identify the root of the word, for that is where the word is generally listed. This is not always straightforward, especially for a learner of Malay, as the root of menyambut ('welcome') is sambut, while that of menawar ('make an offer') is tawar.

I still sometimes get caught out. For example, I wanted to look up cecair ('liquid'). It turns out that it is listed under cair ('liquid').

The problem with this is that ce is not a standard prefix (like the very common prefixes ber, ke or meN). Eventually, I discovered that reduplication is regarded as a standard morphological process, which is why ce can be added on to the front of the root cair. Other examples given by Malay Grammar Made Easy (Liaw Yock Fang, Times, 1999, p. 362) include:
  • tetamu ('guest'): root = tamu ('guest')
  • lelangit ('palate'): root = langit ('sky')
  • lelaki ('man'): root = laki ('husband')
  • jejari ('radius'): root = jari ('finger')
  • rerambut ('capillary'): root = rambut ('hair')
The problem here is that none of these other words, tetamu, lelangit, lelaki, jejari, or rerambut, are shown in the dictionary under their given roots. They are all simply listed as full entries. Only cecair is listed under the root. No wonder it is so hard to find words like this. Trying to learn Malay really can be frustrating.