Table of Lessons (for PC)   |   HOME PAGE

This is the smartphone version. The earlier and fuller version, which discusses the Indonesian language as well, can be found here. 

Lesson 1 of A Basic Malay Language Course by pgoh13

Lesson 1  Nama (Name)

Click to listen to the Malay sentences.

A second reading (by Michelle Nor Ismat, a native speaker)

What is your name? Apa nama anda?
My name is John. Nama saya John.
He is my friend. Peter Dia kawan saya. Peter
What is his name? Apa namanya?
His name is Peter. Namanya Peter.
She is my friend. Mary Dia kawan saya. Mary
What is her name? Apa namanya?
Her name is Mary. Namanya Mary.
Apa = What
nama = name
anda = you or your
saya = I or my
kawan = friend
dia = he OR she (think of "that person")
mereka = they
nama anda = your name
namanya = his/her name
nama saya = my name
kawan anda= your friend
kawannya = his/her friend

The first thing you will notice is the absence of the verb "to be" in Malay in the above sentences.
In fact the verb "to be" is simply not needed here.
A sentence without a verb? Yes, it's possible in Malay.
Those who had to struggle with the conjugation of the verb "to be" in French or Spanish will be greatly relieved to hear this!  (Having said that, people who feel lost without putting in a verb in a sentence can note that the word adalah is sometimes used for the verb "to be" when it is followed by a noun. Thus Dia guru saya and Dia adalah guru saya both mean "He/She is my teacher".)
More examples on verbless sentences in Malay:
I am hungry = Saya lapar. (literally "I hungry")
He is angry = Dia marah. (literally "He angry")
She is fat = Dia gemuk. (literally "She fat")
Another thing you will notice is that while in English we have the pronoun before the noun (eg. my name, your name) in Malay it is just the opposite ie. the noun comes first then the pronoun (so in Malay we say "name my", "name your"). If you remember this it will serve you throughout this course as it is the same word order when it comes to adjectives and nouns (so "big car" becomes "car big" in Malay).
The third important thing to remember is something that you'd better get right from the very beginning and that is the same pronoun dia is used for BOTH "he" and "she" (the same is true for nya (see below). Only the context will tell whether you're talking about a man or a woman.

If you should be confused by this just try to think of dia as meaning "that person" which, as you know, can refer to either a man or a woman, so can be a "he" or a "she".

Please note that the colloquial forms (Apa nama anda? and Apa namanya? ) are used in this lesson. The formal forms would be Siapa nama anda? and Siapa namanya?
The formal forms only confuse English-speaking students because Siapa actually means "Who" as in Siapa dia? = "Who is he (or she)?" while Apa normally means "What" as in Apa ini? (What is this?). So to make it easier for English-speaking students (why be pedantic when you are a beginner?) I am using the colloquial form. Please note that this course is aimed at giving you a basic knowledge so you can get around in Malaysia and not to make you a Malay language expert. Those hoping to become Malay scholars will have to go to a proper school.

For those who want to know more

You will notice that the suffix nya is tagged on to the noun to indicate "his" or "her". So namanya can either mean "his name" or "her name" (depending on the context). Similarly bukunya can mean "his book" or "her book" and kawannya can mean "his friend" or "her friend".
So far you have learnt the Malay pronouns for I, you, he and she.
The Malay word for the pronoun "they" or "them" is mereka. To help you remember I am going to bring up three common names: Murphy, Raymond and Kazan, the famous Hollywood film director. What is so special about these three people, you might ask. Well, if you remember them, they're not only going to help you remember the Malay word for "they" or "them" but also help you to pronounce the word correctly. How is this possible? Well just pronounce the FIRST syllable of each of the three names and you will get mereka as it should be pronounced (Mur-Ray-Ka). I hope this little mnemonic will be of help to you. At least it will show you that the e vowel has got two different sounds in Malay (see Lesson 50), one the schwa sound as the "Mur" in Murphy (the phonetic symbol for this sound being ə) and the other the ay sound as in Ray (if you know French, it's the sound of é).
When you are asked your name in a social context in Malaysia you don't have to worry too much about whether you should give your first name, your family name or both your first name and family name together. Just give whatever you want though normally Malaysians give the name they would like friends to call them by and not the entire name.
Apa nama anda? (literally "What is your name?", which is not wrong for most Malaysians and makes your learning so much easier, though your Malay teachers will probably tear me to pieces for this!)
Ok, to be more correct (and to please your Malay teacher!) the correct form is:
Siapa nama anda? (which means literally "Who is your name?")

Important note on the pronunciation used in this course

Email received from BH:
I am confused with the "a" pronunciation at the end of a word.
I always hear jumpa, kerja with "a" pronounced as "er" instead of "ar". And it sounds kind of weird to pronounce it as "ar". But when it comes to "anda" I always hear it pronounced as "ar".
I know "ar" is the right way but sound rather unnatural at times. I hear "er" even in radio or TV programmes. Pls advise. Thanks.

The answer is as follows:
Although in a number of states in Malaysia the "a" vowel in the final syllable, as in Apa, nama and saya is pronounced er (as in the second vowel in "butter") and represented by the phonetic symbol ə, I am here pronouncing it exactly as the "a" in the first syllable (which has the sound of "ah"). This was one of the recommendations in bahasa baku (standard Malay pronunciation) which, incidentally, has since been scrapped by the Malaysian government after its attempt at standardizing Malay pronunciation failed. As they say, habits die hard and the Malays in many states are so used to pronouncing the "a" vowel in the final syllable as "er" that nothing can make them change their way of pronunciation.
In all my lessons I try to simplify things as much as possible so that students won't get confused by less important points (the main objective being that they are understood when they speak Malay and not to try to speak like the locals). Well I guess you can't have everything and have to make small sacrifices in the bigger interest.
In fact the learning of Bahasa Malaysia can be complicated by the fact that many states (Kelantan, Negeri Sembilan, Pinang, etc.) possess their own dialect or local accents. This is called bahasa daerah (or loghat) in Bahasa Malaysia.
By the way I prefer that you learn the Malay sounds bit by bit from each lesson instead of presenting you all the vowel and consonant sounds in the very first lesson. On the whole, Malay pronunciation is not a problem for English language speakers. There are a small number of difficult sounds though and these are summarized in two entire lessons (Lessons 49 and 50).

If this lesson is not enough for you and you want to learn all about the intricacies of the Malay pronoun go here. There you will understand why I have to use anda throughout the course for "you" when words like kamu or awak are normally used (of course if you know this please substitute kamu or awak for anda each time).
But that lesson is more of cultural interest. I would suggest you just go on to Lesson 2

 Table of Contents    Next lesson 

Table of Lessons (for PC)   |   HOME PAGE