Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Pair words with alliteration and rhyme in Bahasa Malaysia

Sound is an interesting feature of a language. While it is not compulsory for a language to have sound (e.g.: sign language, depending on how you define “language”), it is a feature closely linked to a speech community’s world view, common sense and experience in their environment.

In Bahasa Malaysia (BM), according to Tham (1990), sounds and combination of sounds are to create affectivity. Pair words which employ alliteration and rhyme in particular, play important roles in extension of meaning (mostly) and shift of meaning. Such uses create dramatic effects which ensure interest and sympathy among the interlocutors. This form of reduplication also achieves precision in conveying shades and nuances of meaning of the primary word. Zainal Abidin Ahmad (cited in Tham, 1990) suggested that the use of alliteration in pair words is “to strengthen and intensify the ordinary meaning of the primary word and to imply indefiniteness, continuity, association and inclusion.”

In this study, pair words consist of a primary word (base word) which has semantic values and can occur in other linguistic contexts, and a secondary word which do not. In writing, these pair words are separated by a hyphen.

The following are examples of pair words in BM. The pair words contribute to the extension of meaning of the primary words, unless indicated otherwise. The list is not exhaustive.

Pair words with alliteration in BM

Primary words Secondary words
gerak  (move) gerak-geri (movement of all sorts)*
teka (guess) teka-teki (crossword/puzzles)*
sekali (once) sekali-sekala (once a while)*
tali (rope) tali-temali (all varieties of ropes)*
susup (crawl under) susup-sasap (to enter stealthily)*
kelip (to flicker, to open and close alternately) kelip-kelap (flashes of light continuously)
tabrak (hit, collision) tabrak-tubrok (all sorts of collision)
geli (ticklish) geli-geleman (repugnance feeling)
geliang (to writhe, wriggle) geliang-geliut (all sorts of wriggling)
porak (disorderly) porak-peranda (chaos)

Pair words with rhyme in BM

Primary words Secondary words
senang (easy) senang-lenang (extreme comfort)*
hina (lowly, base) hina-dina (downtrodden, poor people)*
remeh (unimportant, trivial) remeh-temeh (negligible, superfluous)*
sayur (vegetables) sayur-mayur (all sorts of vegetables)*
tunggang (ride) tunggang-langgang (hurrying in disorderly manner)#
tungkus (wrapping) tungkus-lumus (to toil, work hard)#
tetek (breasts) tetek-bengek (negligible, superfluous)#
awang (floating) awang-gemawang (unreliable, uncertain)
kacau (disturbance) kacau-bilau (chaos)
cerai (separate) cerai-berai (in pieces, beyond repair)
segar (fresh) segar-bugar (new, young, healthy)

*Examples are from Tham (1990).
# Shift of meaning.

As we can observe, in both groups (pair words with alliteration and rhyme), there is no specific pattern of how the initial or final sounds of the primary words are replaced in the secondary words.  Generally, both primary word and secondary word have equal number of syllables. However, we can see the process of affixation in a few of the pair words above. The secondary word in geli-geleman is suffixed with the bound morpheme [eman] and the secondary word in awang-gemawang is prefixed with [gem]. In the pair word tali-temali (all varieties of ropes) bound morpheme [em] is infixed after the first consonant /t/ in the secondary word. We can also observe change of spelling of the secondary word in porak-peranda, where only the consonant sounds /p/ and /r/ of the primary word are retained.

Further detailed analysis is required to see if there is a pattern in the replacement of sounds, affixation process and/or dropping of syllables in pair words with alliteration and rhyme. Worthy to look at is the production of sounds – both place and manner of articulation.


Tham, SC. (1990). A Study of the Evolution of the Malay Language. Singapore: Singapore University Press.

Zainal Abidin Safarwan. (2002). Kamus Besar Bahasa Melayu Utusan. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Pub.

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