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Malaysian English (MyE), formally known as Malaysian Standard English (MySE), is a form of English used and spoken in Malaysia as a second language. Malaysian English should not be confused with Malaysian Colloquial English which is famously known as Manglish or Street English, a portmanteau of the word Malay and English.



  • Malaysian English is generally non-rhotic, regardless of the fact that all /r/s are pronounced in native Malay.
  • Malaysian English originates from British English as a result of British colonialism in present-day Malaysia.
  • It has components of American English, Malay, Chinese, Indian, and other languages: vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar.
  • Like South-Eastern British English, Malaysian English employs a broad A accent, as such words like "bath" and "chance" appear with /ɑː/ and not /æ/.
  • The /t/ phoneme in words like butter is usually not flapped (as in some forms of American English) or realised as a glottal stop (as in many forms of British English, including Cockney).
  • There is no h-dropping in words like head.
  • Malaysian English does not have yod-dropping after /n/, /t/ and /d/. Hence, for example, new, tune and dune are pronounced /njuː/, /tjuːn/ and /djuːn/ rather than /nuː/, /tuːn/ and /duːn/. This contrasts with many East Anglian and East Midland varieties of British English and with most forms of American English.

Varieties of English in Malaysia

According to The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Languages & Literature, p 61, English in Malaysia has been categorized into three levels: the acrolect, mesolect and basilect. The acrolect is near-native, and not many Malaysians fall into this category - only those educated in core English-speaking countries from early schooling up to university may be found to speak the acrolect variety, so only tiny percentage of Malaysians are proficient in it. As with other similar situations, a continuum exists between these three varieties and speakers may code-switch between them depending on context.

Most academics, professionals and other English-educated Malaysians, speak mesolect English. Malaysian English belongs to mesolect, and it is Malaysian English that is used in daily interaction.

However, in truth most Malaysians on the street speak Manglish on a daily basis. Therefore this means Manglish is actually short for Malaysian English. Manglish can be spoken almost using completely English words alone just that they are used differently. Imported words are actually minimal except for just a handful of common non-English nouns and verbs in Malaysia. Manglish or Malaysian English is therefore a matter of style of usage.

There are indeed colloquial words not common outside of Malaysia but that does not render them a part of English. They are used colloquially as substitutes in other languages in Malaysia as well.

At other times, using Malay grammar on English words, speaking English using Chinese grammar, or mixing grammar and words that don't belong together can be done quite spontaneously and be quite amusing. Hence, it would not be accurate to list down all words and meanings and package them as a new form of language as is sometimes done by authors to have enough content for a coffee table book.

Malaysian English and British English

In the first half of the 20th century, Malaysian English was exactly similar to British English (BrE) (albeit spoken with a Malaysian accent). However in the post-colonial era (after 1957), the influx of American TV programmes has influenced the usage of Malaysian English. There is no official language board, council or organisation to ensure the correct and standard usage of Malaysian English, because after independence, Malay replaced English as the official language. The University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate continues, however, to set and mark the GCE O-Level English Language "1119" paper which is a compulsory subject for the Malaysian Certificate of Education (the English Language paper set by the Malaysian Ministry of Education is the same as the English Language "1119" paper for GCE O-Level).

Unofficially, however, NST English (named after the New Straits Times, the oldest English language daily in Malaysia) is often used as the reference point for Malaysian English.[citation needed]

Words only used in British English

To a large extent, Malaysian English is descended from British English, largely due to the country's colonisation by Britain beginning from the 18th century. But because of influence from American mass media, particularly in the form of television programmes and movies, Malaysians are also usually familiar with many American English words. For instance, both "lift/elevator" and "lorry/truck" are understood, although the British form is preferred. Only in some very limited cases is the American English form more widespread, e.g. "chips" instead of "crisps", "fries" instead of "chips" and "diaper" instead of "nappy".

Words or phrases only used in Malaysian English

Malaysian English has also created its own vocabulary just like any other former British colonies such as Australia and New Zealand and these words come from a variety of influences. Typically, for words or phrases that are based on other English words, the Malaysian English speaker may be unaware that the word or phrase is not present in British or American English.

Malaysian British / American
Handphone (often abbreviated to HP) Mobile phone or Cell phone
Malaysian Chinese / Malaysian Indian Malaysian Chinese or Chinese Malaysian / Indian Malaysian
KIV (keep in view) Kept on file, held for further consideration
Slippers Flip-flop (not to be confused with slip-on night-time footwear)
Outstation Means both 'at work out of town' or less frequently 'at work overseas/abroad'.
MC (medical certificate). Often used in this context, e.g. 'He is on MC today' Sick note
Mee Noodles
Remisier Broker
Gostan (colloq.) Reverse

Definition: Officialy and On-the-streets

Students in Malaysian schools are taught only basic and simpler conversational English using British grammar and spelling. Unfortunately, due to the multi-language environment the local teachers are not high up on pronunciations and intonations.

There is no reference to the English being used in Malaysia, as Malaysian English, even from the English daily newspapers. Naturally there are some differences of comtemporary words used between Malaysia and the United Kingdom as they are continents apart each have their own media. However, they are not so distinctly apart and established that English in Malaysia needs to be recognised as Malaysian English. Malaysia continually strives to refer to authorities of British English but also accepts that American English influence is becoming increasingly apparent. Hence, Malaysia has no intention of formulating its own English or coming up with its own dictionary unlike some English-speaking Commonwealth states like Australia.

There is no such term as Malaysian English in any official context except for the ever-changing school curriculum modules in attempts to improve the command of English but without going into advanced lessons. Call it English 112, English for Primary Students, Malaysian English, Conversational English etc but "Malaysian English" is not an official dialect of English. On the streets, Manglish is just "Malaysian English" shortened as Singlish is Singaporean English shortened i.e. bad broken English that it originally was.

"Manglish" was coined right after "Singlish" was coined when Singapore attempted to stop such language being accepted on public media. For some reason however, it has turned out to be a quirky and amusing language to foreigners and some write about it to help foreigners adapt instead. And Malaysia wanted its own identity to the broken English language instead of a term that refers to sibling rival Singapore.

What is common between the two is the way local language terms, intonations, exclamations and grammar are fused with English. Manglish however is fused more with Malay nouns and verbs as all Malaysians learned Malay in school whereas Singlish is more fused with Chinese terms as most Singaporeans do not learn Malay in school and the island republic has an overwhelming majority of Chinese speakers.

It is however, possible to speak Manglish/Singlish without substituting English words with that from another language. By just changing the pronunciation, intonation, over-simplifying the grammar, redefining the use of certain English words, give meaning to phrases and using simple exlamations common to the region as well as paying attention to the expression and tones will have anyone speaking Manglish/Singlish.

  • Wat la yu? (What lah you?) spoken in a rising disappointing tone means How could you? or How stupid can you get?
  • Wat la yu.. (What lah you) spoken in lowering sheepish softening comforting tone means You shouldn't have or You should have been more careful but I still like you
  • Got or not? spoken is rising tone means Did that happen? or Do you have it?
  • Wear got? (Where got) spoken in rising exclamation means No such thing or I don't believe you
  • Sure ah? spoken in rising question tone means Are you sure?
  • O.K. wat? (OK what?) spoken in rising questioning OK and lowering assuring tone means Isn't this good enough? (with intent to assure that it is good enough) or This should be acceptable, isn't it?
  • Like dat cannot la! (Like that cannot lah!) spoken with serious expression means I cannot accept it this way or in this condition
  • How can? spoken in rising exclamation means How could this happen or How can this happen
  • Die lah! spoken in somber or exclamation means I'm in deep shit or I would be in deep shit, both figuratively speaking
  • it? end any sentence with this question ignoring the grammar will mean Is this/that correct? or Is the statement true?
  • When ah? Who ah? How ah? Why ah? Where ah? in rising ahs mean When? Who? How? Why? Where? respectively
  • Eh hello! (hey hello!) or just hello! spoken in the middle of a conversation means That does not sound right or you don't seem alright. You are not paying attention, please stay alert!

Of course there needs to be some inclusion of common simple words in Malay or Chinese like Alamak! or Aiyo! (both mean Oh no!!) but by no means would the list of non-English verbs and nouns take pages. Many writers who teach Manglish and Singlish do so with reference to earlier light-hearted books that would have needed to be at least 20 to 50 pages long. Anything less might not sell. In truth, they have less to do with imported words but more with style.

Some online dictionaries might also define the term Manglish differently in their efforts to quickly be a contemporary worldwide dictionary that includes new slangs and localised words. They aim to inform and explain, not to standardize and regulate. In turn, others learn this definition from them.

Different meanings

Words and phrases that have different meanings in British and Malaysian English

Word / Phrase Malaysian meaning American / British meaning
last time previously on the previous occurrence
a parking lot a parking space, e.g. "That new shopping mall has five hundred parking lots." a parking garage (from US English)
an alphabet a letter of the alphabet, e.g. "The word 'table' has five alphabets." a set of letters used in a language
bungalow A mansion for the rich and/or famous; or a fully detached house, regardless of the number of floors it has. Lately, some housing developers have changed the usage of this word further and we now see terms like "a semi-detached bungalow". A small freestanding house or cottage having a single storey and sometimes an additional attic storey.
photostat a photocopier; also used as a verb meaning "to photocopy" a historical copying machine using a camera and photographic paper, which was superseded by the photocopier. See Photostat machine.
slang accent, e.g. "I cannot understand your slang", when the real meaning is "I cannot understand your accent" informal spoken language, often unique to a particular country or social group
to follow to accompany, e.g. "Can I follow you?" meaning "Can I come with you?" to go after or behind, e.g. "The police car was following me"
to keep to put away or store, e.g. a parent tells a child "Keep your toys!" to retain as one's own, e.g. "I must decide which to throw away and which to keep."
to revert to get back to someone, e.g. in an email: "I will investigate this and revert to you by tomorrow." to return to a previous edit or state (although this meaning exists in BrE as well.)
to send to take someone somewhere, e.g. "Can you send me to the airport?" to cause something to go somewhere without accompanying it, e.g. "I sent this letter to my grandma."

Most Malaysians are adept at switching from Manglish and Malaysian English, but are sometimes unclear as to the differences between Malaysian English and SABE (Standard American-British English).


There are many non-Malaysian words used in Malaysian English that are not in standard English.

The following are shared with Australia, New Zealand or other countries:

  • chips – "hot chips" US "french fries" and UK "chips".
  • having-in/having here – eat-in at a restaurant
  • takeaway – takeaway (British English) take-out food (American English).
  • apartment – a medium-cost and high-cost flat
  • flat – a low-cost flat.

These are unique to Malaysia:

  • bungalow – a villa or any semi-detached house regardless of the size or number of storeys
  • blur – confused (used by Manglish speakers and considered as bad English)
  • chop – to stamp (with a rubber stamp), as well as the stamp itself.
  • condominium – a high-cost flat usually with common facilities.
  • la(h)! – the prominent trademark in Manglish, the colloquial Malaysian English, it is used for emphasis at the end of a sentence, la(h)! (see note above on Malaysian influence. It originates from Chinese influence although the 'lah' is of the Malay language). Eg: “Are you coming over to the party tonight?’ – “Yes, of course lah.”
  • pass up – to hand in "Pass up your assignments".
  • rubber – meaning eraser as in "Can I borrow your rubber?" (This is also a sense given to the word in British English.)
  • send – to take somebody to somewhere - "I'll send you to the airport."
  • slippers – Japanese sandals; as in US and UK "flip-flops", Australia "thongs"
  • spoil – to be damaged "This one, spoil, lah."
  • uni – in Malaysia it refers to the university (as in British English), while ‘U’ is common in spoken Malaysian English.


Syntactical differences are few although in colloquial speech 'shall' and 'ought' are wanting, 'must' is marginal for obligation and 'may' is rare. Many syntactical features of Malaysian English are found in other forms of English, e.g. Scottish English, British English and North American English:

  • Can I come too? for "May I come too?"
  • Have you got any? for "Do you have any?"
  • I've got one of those already. for "I have one of those already."
  • It's your shot. for "It's your turn."

Phonology and Pronunciation

Officially, Malaysian English uses the same pronunciation system as British English. However, most Malaysians speak with a distinctive accent. The accent has recently evolved to become more American, due to the influx of American TV programmes and the large number of Malaysians pursuing higher education in the United States. For example, this increased the emphasis on "r" in words such as "referring" and "world".

Role of Malaysian English in Independent Malaysia

Even though Malaysian English is no longer the official language of Malaysia, it is still used among Malaysians and is recognised as the language of business. About 80% of urban businesses in Malaysia conduct their transactions in English (both Malaysian English and Manglish). However, American English has quite a strong foothold in international businesses in Malaysia.

There are several English newspapers in Malaysia namely The Star, The Sun, New Straits Times and Malay Mail. There are also many English radio stations such as, Mix FM, LiteFM, Fly fm, Traxx FM and Red FM. However, Malaysia does not have any television station which is broadcasted purely in English. The Government National Language policy requires local TV stations to air at least 25% Malaysian-made programmes (either Malay or English). Some privately owned TV stations (such as TV3, NTV7, 8TV and Astro Hitz.TV) do air some English Malaysian-made programmes. A few Malaysian-made TV programmes in Malay carry English subtitles and vice-versa.

See also

External links


  • The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Languages & Literature, edited by Prof. Dato' Dr Asmah Haji Omar (2004) ISBN 981-3018-52-6


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