Sunday, 21 August 2011

Word-formation processes in Bahasa Melayu/Malaysia

This work is dedicated to Prof. Dr. Loga Baskaran for the awesome lecturer/teacher that she is.

Words come in and out of a language very often. The lexicon is the most dynamic and ever-changing aspect of any language. It’s a sign that the language is alive and well, and its users creative and adaptable.

Words can be formed or expanded by various morphological processes possible in a language. There are many word-formation processes, but in Bahasa Melayu/Malaysia (BM), the main types of morphological processes are:

1. Affixation
2. Compounding
3. Reduplication
4. Borrowing
5. Blending
6. Backformation
7. Onomatopoeia

1. Affixation

Affixation is the most common word-formation process in BM. It’s a process where a bound morpheme is attached to a free morpheme in various syntactic positions. The various types are prefixation, suffixation, confixation and infixation.

Prefixation is when the bound morpheme is added in front if the root-word in preposition. For the most part, these prefixes do not alter the word class of the root-word. For example,

rumah (N) – perumahan (N)

hidup (N) – penghidupan (N)

bangunan (N) – pembangunan (N)

makan (V) – memakan (V)

guna (V) – mengguna (V)

lajak (V) – terlajak (V)

derap (N) – berderap (V)

Suffixation is a process when the bound morpheme is placed at the back of the root-word, in post-position. In BM, sometimes suffixes alter the word class of the root-word.  For example,

lambai (V) – lambaian (N)

lagu (N) – lagukan (V)

rawat (V) – rawatan (N)

ratap (V) – ratapi (V)

rasa (V) – rasai (V)

Confixation is a word-formation process where the bound morphemes occur in front of and at the back of the root-word. For example,

ingin (ADJ) – keinginan (V) – berkeinginan (V)

hakim (N) – menghakimi (V)

hadap (V) – menghadapkan (V)

halang (V) – berhalangan (V)

lakon (V) – melakonkan (V)

ada (V) – keadaan (N)

adab (ADJ) – memperadabkan (V)

Infixation occurs when the bound morpheme is inserted within the root-word. In BM, usually it’s placed after the first consonant. For example,

kemumur – kelemumur

guruh – gemuruh

tunjuk – telunjuk

kuping – keruping

jajah – jelajah

getar – geletar

2. Compounding

Compounding is a process where two or more root-words are combined to produce a new word (lexical item). Compounds consist of words from all classes, including minor classes. There is no limit of restriction as to the type of combination involved. Moreover, there is no specific ruling as to the actual conjoining of these words in the final product. Therefore, some words appear as one word, while others appear as two words. For example,

kelab malam

mala petaka

hak milik

luar nikah






3. Reduplication

In BM, reduplication is a common word-formation process. It’s a process where a single root-word is repeated to form a new word. Sometimes the vowel or consonant (or both) of the second word is changed, perhaps for the purpose of alliteration or rhyme. For example,









4. Borrowing

One of the most common sources of new words in BM is borrowing, that is the taking over of words from other languages and calling them our own. Because of Malaysia’s unique history, BM has adopted a vast number of words from many languages, including Arabic, Sanskrit, English and Mandarin. For example,

kertas (Arabic)

kamus (Arabic)

kicap (Mandarin)

mempelai (Tamil)

kedai (Tamil)

aneka (Sanskrit)

aniaya (Sanskrit)

udara (Sanskrit)

skrip (English)

muzik (English)

5. Blending

Blending occurs when two or more words are combined after at least one of them (or all) is shortened. For example,

panggung + wayang + gambar = pawagam

berdiri atas + kaki + sendiri = berdikari

perempuan + mati + beranak = pontianak

taman + bimbingan + kanak-kanak = tabika

taman + didikan + kanak-kanak = tadika

kumpulan + gitar + rancak = kugiran

anak + dara + tua = andartu

pulih + pelihara = pulihara
cerita + pendek = cerpen

cerita + reka = cereka

budi + daya = budaya

haus + kikis = hakis

6. Backformation

Although not common (or well-known), backformation is another word-formation process in BM. It is a specialised type of reduction of a word, to form another word. Sometimes, the product is of a different word class. In BM, backformation process happens to loanwords. For example,

bahaya (N) from berbahaya (ADJ) (corruption of merbhaya, Sanskrit)

bazir (V) from membazir (V) (corruption of mubazir, Arabic)

intim (ADJ) from intimate (ADJ) (English)

prinsip (N) from principle (N) (English)

7. Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeic words are words which echo or similar to the effect of the actual sounds as perceived by the speakers of a language. Examples in BM are,

berdesir (like a snake)

berkokok (cockatoo)

mengaum (lion or tiger)

menguak (buffalo)

berdehem (ahem)

berdentum (fireworks or explosives)

berdebuk (hitting the ground hard)

mengicau (birds)

Link: Onomatopoeia – animal sounds


Hawkins, J.M. (2007). Kamus Dwibahasa Oxford Fajar. Shah Alam: Oxford Fajar

Loga Baskaran. (2005). General Linguistics (Lecture notes). Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya

Yule, G. (1985). The Study of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



  1. Hello Aris, thanks for sharing your article about WFP in Malay, it's instructive. I have a question about the different types of blend if you can tell me more. For instance, kugiran is a headed blend or coordinate blend ? In malay (bahasa malayu), it seems that there are more affixation / compound word than blending, isn't it ?
    Thank you for your reply.

  2. Hello.
    "Kugiran" is generally recognised as coordinate blend, because all words are heads. I would say, yes, affixation and compounding are the more common ways of word formation, but equally common, in my opinion, are reduplication and borrowing. This is especially true in spoken Malay.
    Kind regards.