Indonesian and Malay are fun languages because of they are simple, with no irregular verbs, no nouns to decline, no cases, and no weird tenses.  It makes them easy to learn.  What’s also fun is their propensity to make funny onomatopoetic words.  Onomatopoeia, you may recall, is when a word sounds like the thing that it represents, like "bang" or "buzz".  Indonesian and Malay are full of them, although we certainly only can recall a couple of them now that we are trying to think of them.  Here are our favorites.

Gong: Yes, the English word "gong" comes from Malay, not Chinese.  You can even check the OED.
Huru-hara: This is a noun for "riot" or "conflagration."  I (TP) noticed this word today while reading a speech by Mahathir Mohamad about the need to avoid big disruptions while economic recovery is happening.  It literally reflects yells that might be heard during a riot.
Ketok: This is the big wooden drum that kids were banging on outside of our windows in Jakarta during Malam Takbiran. Very expressive, this word.
Menggeong: To meow.  Of course.  It even looks like a proper Malay/Indonesian verb, complete with the "meN-" prefix and everything.
Ninabobo: This means "lullaby."  It comes from a description of a woman singing a lullaby– ni na bo bo, or something like that.  It may only be Indonesian.  To sing a lullaby to a baby, then is meninabobokan.

Comments 5

  1. Tom April 15, 2005

    OED gives some sort of lame attempt at linking it to a wolf-hunting cry: “bas le lup”! But of course, things that are onomatopoetic in one language usually are in another language. Probably no language has a word for “meow” that doesn’t sound like “meow”.

  2. fazu April 19, 2005

    in malaysia, we also say “mengiau” for the sound that a cat makes. (which reminds of the onomatopeic Spanish ronronear (ronronner in Fr.) for “to purr”)
    add to “huru-hara” also others like: hiruk-pikuk, lintang-pukang, kelam-kabut, tunggang-terbalik, kotak-katik, haru-biru – all expressions with the generic meaning of chaos and disorder.
    re: malay being easy: have you ever pondered on the question of suffixes? why do words like “ambil” gets a “meng-” (mengambil) but words like “pergi” gets nothing? (no such thing as memergi). And also, what about the irregular plural e.g. gunung-ganang, bukit-bukau, gerak-geri, ipar-duai etc? and what of the penjodoh bilangan, e.g. sepintu kedai (one-door shop), seekor burung (one-tail bird), sebentuk cincin (one-shape ring), sekaki payung (one-foot umbrella)? don’t you find these difficult (well, i do šŸ˜‰ )

  3. fazu April 19, 2005

    ninabobok also means to lull, to beguile, using sweet and melodious words etc.. also used figuratively. e.g. former president of Indonesia, Megawati Sukarnoputri once exhorted Indonesia’s financial sector participants “supaya tidak dininabobokkan oleh pinjaman keuangan dari IMF”.

  4. Tom April 22, 2005

    Julie claims “the counters are nonsense”, in the sense that she doesn’t even bother trying. We like “sebuah”. One-fruit of anything normally works in Indonesian, except for “seorang,” but that’s pretty easy to understand. Of course, it’s not correct, but everyone knows what you’re talking about. And don’t forget “sehelai kertas” (one-sheet paper), “sepasang sepatu” (one-pair shoes), “sebatang rokok” (one-stick of cigarette), “sebungkus rokok” (one-package of cigarettes), “sesesir pisang” (one-bunch bananas). So many good things. But at least they make sense, unlike sekaki payung! Here, we try to just avoid saying nouns (kidding!).
    As for the prefixes-vs.-nonprefixes on the verbs… I don’t know. I think that when we learned Malay/Indonesian, we just learned that some don’t get them. We just seem to memorize words the way we see them. So no “memergi” or “memakan”. Actually, I said “memakan” once when I was just starting, and my Indonesian teacher laughed and laughed. I just couldn’t figure out what was so funny.
    Julie says when she was learning the “ng” phoneme in her beginning Indonesian class, her whole class had to repeat “menggeong” over and over again. That’s the way to do it.
    Oh yeah, one more thing, that Bu Mega quote is priceless.

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