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Insightful Tips for High-Quality Malay Translations

Posted by Anne Q. on January 04, 2022.

High labour productivity, the adoption of cutting-edge technology, and a great base of industries are three factors that make Malaysia the third-largest economy in South East Asia. To succeed in this market, it is highly recommended that companies connect with Malaysian people in their native language.

From our own experience in Malay translation projects and the help of Raihand Mansor – our 9-year experience Malay translator, we would like to share some helpful tips that will help companies achieve successful Malay translation projects.

1. Loanwords

Malay is a language that is a mash-up of several languages, with many borrowed words. During the trading with the locals, some words were borrowed from Arabic, Sanskrit, Tamil, certain Sinitic languages, and Persian as Malaysia (formerly known as Tanah Melayu) was a strategic transit point in South East Asia.

Malay translation_Loanwords

Recently, the Malay vocabulary for scientific and technological fields has been supplemented with several loanwords from Dutch, Portuguese, and English.

Loanwords in the Malay language can be divided into three main groups:

    • Borrow permanently (E.g. bank, forum, affidavit, etc.)
    • Loan translation (E.g. fried rice ~ nasi goreng, technical aspects ~ aspek teknikal, etc.)
    • Transliteration (E.g innovation ~ inovasi, collaboration ~ kolaborasi, etc.)

While the Malay language has its own words for some of the borrowed words, the use of loanwords is somewhat more popular. For example, “vakum” was loaned from the English word “vacuum”. Although the Malay language has the word “pembersih hampagas” to refer to this object, most people still use the word “vakum”.

According to Raihand, in Malay translation and localization, Malay linguists will try as much as they can to acknowledge their own words and use them instead of borrowed words to protect language purity.


2. Text Expansion

One interesting feature of the Malay language is its use of a lot of affixation to express different parts of speech, resulting in text expansion when translating from other languages into Malay.

For example, the term “Idioma de la interfaz” in Spanish or “Interface language” in English is translated into Malay as “Bahasa pegantar untuk penelusuran”.

Text expansion in Malay translation

In Malay translation, the expansion or shrink of words has a direct effect on the layout or design of documents, websites, or apps. The first solution that pops up in many people’s minds is to set a word length limit for linguists so that during the translation process, they will have to shorten the text to fit into the small space.

The problem is, simply omitting any affixation will create different meanings for words and lead to mistranslation. Thus, it is necessary that your company leaves more spaces for text when translated in Malay. In some cases, slight or moderate redesign of some parts is necessary to deal with the word expansion.


3. Malay Pronouns

The Malay language has a wide range of personal pronouns which are used to show the relationship and respect between speakers and addressees. Several aspects of the person are considered to assist speakers in selecting the appropriate pronouns. Three common factors are age, social rank, and closeness of the relationship.

These pronouns are in two groups – Formal pronouns and Informal pronouns:

English Formal Informal/Familiar
I Saya Aku
You (Singular) Awak/Anda Kamu
You (Plural) Sekalian/Semua Kalian
He/She/It Dia ~ Ia Dia ~ Ia
We (inclusive) Kita Kita
We (exclusive) Kami Kami
They Mereka Mereka

For example, “Saya” and “Aku” are both forms of “I”. While “saya” is a more former form, usually used to talk with people who are older, in higher status than the speakers or strangers, “Aku” is for close friends, family or lovers.

The diversity in the Malay pronouns means that when translating content into Malay, your company needs to decide which pronoun to use to suit the target audience. The use of informal pronouns can create a close and friendly relationship, suitable for young audiences.

In contrast, if your audiences are mostly old people, the use of formal pronouns is recommended. Factors such as your types of products and services, locations, etc. should also be considered. In short, to make the best choice, you should seek advice from a native localizer who understands the market and your buyer persona.


4. Other Malay Translation Details and Locale Specifics

Below is the checklist of Malay translation details for the Malaysian market you should consider:

    • In Malaysia, colors have distinct meanings. Yellow, for example, represents purity, while black represents loyalty, perseverance, and honesty.
    • In Malaysia, business cards are typically exchanged following an initial introduction. Because a large proportion of Malaysian businesspeople are Chinese, it will be useful if your business card is printed in both English and Chinese and includes information about your education, professional qualifications, and business title.
    • Malaysians use the metric system of measurement: kilogram, meter, and so on. They also have their own traditional system, which includes kaki (for measuring the amount by mass) and gantang (for measuring the amount by weight) (for volume).
    • The currency in Malaysia is Ringgit (RM). Malaysians use commas as the thousand separators.
    • The date format is day-month-year.
    • The full name format is the first name, patronym (bin, binte, binti), and then their father’s first name.
    • The address format is as follows: name, street number, street name, region, postal code, town/city, and state.


Let’s Sum Up

We hope that the information in this article will assist you in achieving high-quality Malay translations and finding great success in the Malaysian market. Download our free whitepaper for more localization tips into 10 major Asian languages if you plan on localizing your content into other Asian languages.

If you are looking for a professional Malay translation partner to assist your localization journey in the Malaysian market, contact GTE Localize’s team now. With numerous offices in Southeast Asia and extensive market knowledge, we are confident to bring you the best Malay translation services in town at the most cost-saving rates.

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Drop us a line and receive a quotation for your Malay translation project today!