Monday, 22 March 2010

Ungkapan (idiomatic expressions) in Modern Bahasa Melayu/Malaysia

Idioms and idiomatic expressions, or ungkapan in Malay refer to a fixed group of words with specific meaning (used as one lexical item) which is different from the meanings of the individual words.

In Bahasa Melayu/Malaysia, ungkapan can be divided into four categories (examples are classical ungkapan in BM which meaning you can find in any complete BM dictionary/language encyclopedia):
  • simpulan bahasa – usually a pair of words;
such as, babi buta, sejuk perut, panas hati, hati emas, anak emas, hati batu and mandi darah
  • pepatah – similar to metaphors, but mostly used poetically in advice;
such as, biduk lalu kiambang bertaut, besi ditempa selagi panas, besar umpan besarlah ikannya, embun di hujung rambut, jelatang di hulu air
  • perumpamaan – simile, with the use of bagai, umpama, laksana, bak, ibarat, misalan, macam, sama;
such as, bagai melepaskan batuk di tangga, seperti langit dengan bumi, umpama kiambang di air, bagai mengail kucing hanyut, umpama ayakan dawai
  • peribahasa – proverb;

such as, kalau tak pecahkan ruyung manakan dapat sayunya, lambat laga asalkan menang, mujur tidak berbunyi malang tidak berbau, mudik menyongsang arus hilir menyongsang pasang.

It is important to note that different linguists or language experts categorise Malay ungkapan differently. It all depends very much where you studied and who were your teachers/lecturers. This is how I categorise ungkapan.

While classical ungkapan serves its purpose in BM effectively, we can agree that its use by the younger generation is waning. Its use is severely limited to mostly academic writing/discussion or Malay fiction.
The effectiveness of ungkapan to deliver apt and accurate analogies cannot be disputed. Malay as a culture is very fond of using ungkapan. It denotes that one is cultured, schooled, well-raised and educated.

It is my personal opinion that while the younger generation lacks the complete knowledge of the classical ungkapan in BM, they still feel the need to use ungkapan to be effective in conveying meaning, along with its connotation. Therefore, they have invented their own modern ungkapan to fill this void. Modern ungkapan is mostly limited to spoken BM, and most can only be used in informal language setting. While classical ungkapan is mostly derived from observation of nature and its behaviour, modern ungkapan has no specific pattern in its derivation. Table below illustrates modern ungkapan in BM.

Category Ungkapan and general meaning
Simpulan bahasa • ekonomi terpimpin – guided economy 

• otak komputer – very smart

• gelak setan – laughing out loud

• mangkuk (h)ayun – idiot/idiotic

• buang karan – a waste of time/money/energy

• berjiwa rakyat – people friendly

• raya Hindu – very happy, emancipated feeling; merriment

• mati kering­ – severely abandoned or neglected

tangkap lentok – nostalgic

tangkap leleh – tear-jerker

jiwang karat – sentimental/sensitive soul
Perumpamaan • macam kena rasuk ­– out of control; hysterical  

• lari macam kartun– running very fast

• kerja macam robot – working very hard continuously

• bagai mat rempit dapat motor – uncontainable happiness; very happy

• seperti Hang Jebat mengamuk – running amok
Pepatah • suci dalam debu – purity in impure circumstance  

• kalau dah tahi, tahi juga – a bad person won’t change; a bad thing is still bad regardless of name
Peribahasa • sebelum kerja, kena isi minyak dulu – eating before starting to work  

• masa kecil tak nak meninggal, dah besar menyusahkan orang ­– a problematic person

Table 1: Modern ungkapan in BM

As we can see from the table above, modern ungkapan could be derived from technology (otak computer, buang karan, kerja macam robot, sebelum kerja kena isi minyak dulu), films/TV (masa kecil tak nak meninggal, dah besar menyusahkan orang ­– P.Ramlee’s film, seperti Hang Jebat mengamuk – Hang Tuah the movie, lari macam kartun – cartoons), songs (suci dalam debu), superstition (macam kena rasuk), religious elements (raya Hindu, gelak setan), politicians’ catch phrases (berjiwa rakyat, ekonomi terpimpim) and other observation (kalau dah tahi, tahi juga, bagai mat rempit dapat motor, mati kering­, mangkuk (h)ayun, jiwang karat, tangkap lentok, tangkap leleh). We can conclude that modern informal ungkapan is based on whatever is familiar to the younger generation, be it from what they have seen in the media or their modern surroundings.

The list is not exhaustive. If you have any to add, please feel free to do so.


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