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Sarawak Malay
Kelakar Sarawak
Native toSarawak
Native speakers
(undated figure of 900,000–1,200,000[citation needed])
  • Kuching
  • Saribas
  • Sibu
Language codes
ISO 639-3

Sarawak Malay (Standard Malay: Bahasa Melayu Sarawak or Bahasa Sarawak, Jawi: بهاس ملايو سراوق, Sarawak Malay: Kelakar Sarawak) is a Malayic language native to the State of Sarawak. It is a common language used by natives of Sarawak[1] and also as the important mother tongue for the Sarawakian Malay people.

This Malay variant is related to Bruneian Malay. The Sarawakian Malay language also bears strong similarities with the West Kalimantan Malay language around Sanggau, Sintang and Sekadau in the northern part of the West Kalimantan province of Indonesia.


According to Asmah Haji Omar (1993), Sarawak Malay can be divided into three dialects which are:[2]


Sarawak Malay has features that are not found in Standard Malay, of which some of them are closer to colloquial Indonesian:[2]


Sarawak Malay has a rich vocabulary of which many words, while also found in Standard Malay, have completely different meanings.[3]

Difference in meaning
Word Meaning in

Sarawak Malay

Meaning in

Standard Malay

agak 'to meet' 'to guess'
kelakar 'to talk' 'funny'
tangga 'to look' 'stairs'
tikam 'to throw' 'to stab'
tetak 'to laugh' 'to cut'
marak 'to waste' 'to refract'

The numbers of Sarawak Malay differ a bit from their Standard Malay counterparts.[4]

Sarawak Malay Standard Malay English translation
satu satu 'one'
duak dua 'two'
tiga tiga 'three'
empat empat 'four'
limak lima 'five'
nam enam 'six'
tujoh tujuh 'seven'
lapan lapan 'eight'
semilan sembilan 'nine'
sepuloh sepuluh 'ten'

The pronouns too differ quite significantly,[5] with 1st and 2nd personal pronouns (both singular and plural) are both derived from 1st person plural pronouns (kami and kita in Standard Malay).

Personal pronouns
Sarawak Malay Standard Malay English translation
kamek saya/aku 'I/me'
kamek empun saya/aku punya 'my/mine'
kamek orang kita/kami 'we'
kitak kau/kamu/awak 'you' (informal, singular)
kitak empun kau/kamu/awak punya 'your/yours'
kitak orang kamu semua 'you' (plural)
nya dia 'he/she/it'
nya empun dia punya 'his/her/hers'
sidak nya empun mereka punya 'theirs'
sidak nya kedirik mereka sendiri 'themselves'

Below is a non-exhaustive list of lexical differences between Standard Malay and Sarawak Malay.[citation needed]

Standard Malay Sarawak Malay English translation
baring gurin 'to lie down'
bodoh paloi 'stupid'
berlari berekot 'to run'
garang gaok 'angry'
hijau gadong, ijo 'green' (colour)
kapal terbang belon 'aeroplane'
kecil kecik/salus 'small'
juga juak 'also'
sombong lawa 'arrogant'
kenapa kenak 'why'
kenyang kedak 'full' (eating)
mahu maok 'to want'
merah jambu kalas 'pink'
sekarang/kini kinek 'now'
singgah berambeh 'to go to'
tembikai semangka 'watermelon'
tak/tidak si/sik 'negative marker'
tipu bulak 'to lie'
ya/ha'ah aok 'yes'
lihat/tengok tangga 'to see'
berkira cokot 'picky'

Many of the words used in Sarawak Malay nowadays were borrowed from many languages such as English. Some English words that have been borrowed and have undergone significant pronunciation changes are as follows:

English loanword Original English


eksen 'action'
bol 'ball'
kaler 'colour'
kapet 'carpet'
pancet 'punctured'
henpon 'handphone'
moto 'motor'
prempan 'frying pan'
uren 'orange'
raun 'round'

Word formation

The word formation rules of Sarawak Malay are very different from those of the standard Malay language. Without prior exposure, most West Malaysians have trouble following Sarawakian conversations. Sabahan is also different from Sarawak Malay, however they do share some lexicon, such as the word Bah, which is used to stress a sentence. E.g.: Don't do like that - "Iboh polah kedak ya bah." It is similar in use to "lah" in Singlish and in West Malaysia. E.g.: Don't do like that 'lah'. Some words in Sarawakian Malay have a similar pronunciation of ai as ei, as in some districts of Perak: serai > serei, kedai > kedei. Some Sarawakian Malay verbs have a final glottal stop after a vowel or in place of final /r/: kena > kenak, air > aik, beri > berik. like in the Aboriginal Malay languages of West Malaysia.

Many words in Sarawak Malay diverge from the original pronunciation and some are totally different. E.g.:

English Bahasa Malaysia Bahasa Sarawak[6]
Sweeping Menyapu Nyapu
Coconut Kelapa / Nyiur Nyior[7]
More Lagi lagik/ Agik/Gik
Road Jalan Raya Jeraya
Clever Pandai Pandei
Teach Mengajar Ngaja
Yes Ya aok
Cat Kucing Pusak
Dog Anjing / Asu (less used) Asuk
Chicken Ayam / Manuk (archaic) Manok
Knife Pisau ladin (Malay/Melanau) Dandin/ pisok

Colloquial and contemporary usage

Contemporary usage of Bahasa Sarawak includes contemporary Malay words or incorporated from other languages, spoken by the urban speech community, which may not be familiar to the older generation. E.g.: SMS language. E.g.:

English Bahasa Sarawak SMS Text
You Kitak ktk
me Kamek kmk
No Sik x
Message Mesej msg
Nothing Sikda xda
why kenak knk


  1. ^ "Sarawak, a land of many tongues". Borneo Post. 23 December 2010. Retrieved 14 January 2020.
  2. ^ a b Nabilah Bolhassan (2019). "Dialek Melayu Sarawak dan Bahasa Melayui Baku:Satu Kajian Perbandingan". Malaysian Journal of Social Science (in Malay). 4: 12–14 – via KUIM.
  3. ^ Nabilah Bolhasan (2019). "Dialek Melayu Sarawak dan Bahasa Melayu Baku:Satu Kajian Perbandingan". Malaysian Journal of Social Science (in Malay). 4: 14–18 – via KUIM.
  4. ^ The Sound of the Sarawak Malay language / dialect (UDHR, Numbers, Greetings, Words & Sample Text), archived from the original on 2021-12-21, retrieved 2021-07-31
  5. ^ "Personal Pronouns in Melayu Sarawak". Borneo Dictionary. Retrieved 2021-07-31.
  6. ^ Daftar kata dialek Melayu Sarawak : dialek Melayu Sarawak-bahasa Malaysia, bahasa Malaysia-dialek Melayu (in Malay) (2 ed.). Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. 1998. ISBN 9836263241.
  7. ^ In Indonesian Language: Kelapa means "coconut", Niyur means "coconut tree".