Linguistic Rules and Malang Backwards Language

Just about two years, I wrote a short post about boso walikan Malang, or Malang backwards language. This is neat kind of linguistic game found primarily in the East Javanese city of Malang in which words are pronounced backwards, so boso walikan Malang -> osob kiwalan Ngalam.

I observed in that post that to the best of my knowledge, all sorts of linguistic rules continue to be followed in the backwards version:

…the morphosyntactic constraints on word formation. For example, affixes are not included in the reversal.

makanan [makan + an] -> nakaman, not *nanakam

Moreover, syllable-shaping rules continue to operate.

banjir [= flood] -> rinjab, not *rijnab
cina [= Chinese] -> onit, not *onic.

Returning to that same restaurant for lunch today, however, I happened upon a server wearing a pin that read ayas genaro Ngalam (sorry, no picture), meaning “I am a person from Malang.” Interestingly, this phrase violates what I take to be the very basic phonological rules that govern boso walikan.

The specific problem is the word genaro. Were this to follow the standard way of producing boso walikan from Indonesian, this would read ayas ngaro Ngalam.

saya -> ayas [= I]
orang -> ngaro [= person]
Malang -> Ngalam

(I am not the first to have noticed this.)

What’s going on here? Probably what happened is that the person making the pin focused on the written word orang rather than the spoken version. Because the word gnaro is not a grammatical word shape in Indonesian or Javanese, an “e” was added to make one. But this is merely a consequence of the Dutch and now Indonesian alphabet using two letters to represent one consonant (ŋ). I wonder how frequently this happens in the traditional spoken form; my guess is never. If there happen to be any experts on boso walikan reading this, leave your thoughts in the comments.

Comments 3

  1. Ivan Rasyiid January 3, 2018

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  2. Bahrul Annafi January 3, 2018

    First , i apologise to you if comment on your web with Bahasa, because my English is not good enough

    Di Malang, penggunaan Osob Kiwalan memang pertama, digunakan sebagai bahasa Sandi (Kode) saat Perang Kemerdekaan oleh Hamid Rusdi, satu dari sekian Pahlawan Perjuangan asal Malang, sehingga, dia tidak memiliki bentuk yang baku terkait dengan struktur dan segala macamnya. Bukan hanya Gnaro (Orang = yang dalam penulisan tanpa huruf E sebenarnya, tapi dalam pengucapan, seolah ada huruf E disana). Semisal penyebutan untuk kata “Kerja (Work)” Osob Kiwalan menggunakan “Idrek” bukan kebalikan dari Kerja dalam Bahasa Indonesia, ataupun Kerjo (Work ini Javanese), contoh lain, Uang (Money) dalam Bahasa Jawa Menggunakan “Duek” tapi dalam Osob Kiwalan menjadi “Ojir”.

    Jadi penggunaan Osob Kiwalan ini lebih berdasarkan pada kesepakatan dalam masyarakat, tanpa kemudian memiliki sebuah struktur yang jelas seperti dalam Bahasa Inggris, Bahasa Indonesia, ataupun Tata Bahasa lain di Dunia. Karena, ini memang bahasa yang dimaksudkan sebagai Sandi (Kode) ketika perang

  3. Nqabutho January 11, 2018

    I haven’t access to IPA symbols here, but for both “ngaro” and “ngalam” the spoken reversal would (presumably) have the velar nasal only as the initial consonant, and not velar nasal followed by velar plosive. Perhaps Malang phonological rules either allow or do not allow a word- initial velar nasal (from what you say, it seems to allow the velar nasal-velar plosive version). So how are these words pronounced in the boso walikan Malang (working from the spoken forms)? Likewise, for “banjir” –> “rinjab”, the prenasalized alveolar affricate is a cross-linguistically common syllable- initial combination and could be considered a single speech sound, but the sequence of affricate plus nasal is less likely as a result from normal processes of language change, and would be considered as a sequence of two consonant sounds. So the reversals work with phonological elements, rather than phonetic elements (i.e., like what you would get if you played a tape of normal Malang backwards). (It is humanly possible to produce phonetically backward speech, but takes more attention and practice.) Interesting that speakers are aware of the analysis of the word into the lexical and inflectional elements.

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