Saturday, 28 November 2015

Sound System of Bahasa Malaysia

According to Abdullah Hassan and Heah , originally there were 19 consonant sounds, six vowel sounds and three diphthongs, which are /ai/ as in pantai /pantai/, /au/ as in pulau /pulau/ and /oi/ as in sepoi /səpoi/ in Malay. Presently, although many linguists believe that in Malay, there is no consonant cluster in spelling, it does exist in Malay phonology. For example, words such as Kelang, Terengganu and seteru, are pronounced as /klaŋ/, /trəŋganu/ and /sətru/ respectively .

Malay consonant sounds are basic in the sense that the pronunciation is mainly in the supraglottal organs (only two glottal sounds), no pharyngealised sounds (unlike Arabic) and no clicks (unlike some African dialects). Table 1 below demonstrates original consonant sounds in Malay (-V refers to voiceless sounds and +V are voiced sounds).

Table 2: Original consonant sounds in Malay (BM)

Malay vowel sounds are also simple and basic, in the sense that every vowel sound is distinct and none is similar to one another in terms of lax or tense vowel sounds (such in English as in short /i/ and long /i:/). Table 2 demonstrates vowel sounds (monophthongs) in Malay.

Height of Tongue Degree of Retraction of Tongue
Front Central Back






Table 3: Vowel sounds in Malay (BM)

However, due to language transfer and borrowing from Arabic and English, the Malay sound system has dramatically changed. We now have 26 consonant sounds and six diphthongs. Table 3 below illustrates the change which Malay consonant sound system experienced due to language transfer and borrowing.

Table 3: New (current) consonant sounds in Malay (BM)

While vowel sounds (monophthongs) in Malay basically stayed the same even after the language transfer,  Malay adopted some diphthongs due to transfer. From Arabic, we now have /ij/ and from English /æ/ and /ei/. There is no diphthong adopted from Sanskrit, since our diphthongs are the same.

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