06 February 2013


Looking up words in a Malay dictionary can be problematic, as you have to identify the root of the word. I was reminded of this just a couple of days ago when I was trying to find mengerikan in the dictionary, and I didn't know if the root was eri, keri or ngeri so whether I should be looking it up under 'e', 'k' or 'n'. (In fact, the root is ngeri, 'fear', and mengerikan means 'frightening'.)

Just like Malay, English has prefixes and suffixes. But fortunately in English, prefixes in English change the meaning substantially (they are derivational), so for example you look up distrust under 'd' and not 't'; and words like walks, walking and walked which have inflectional suffixes are all listed under 'w', so there is no problem.

Mind you, the problems of looking up a word in a Malay dictionary are trivial compared to the difficulty of looking up Chinese characters. When using a Chinese dictionary, you need to guess the radical and then count the number of strokes, and that can be a serious challenge. In comparison, the difficulties posed by Malay dictionaries are minor.