engrok Semai
Native toPeninsular Malaysia
Ethnicity60,438 Semai people (2020)[1]
Native speakers
60,438 (2020)[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3sea

Semai (engrok Semai) is a Austroasiatic language of western Malaysia spoken by about 60,438 Semai people. It is one of the few Aslian languages which are not endangered, and even has 2,000 monolingual speakers. It is currently spoken by 3 main groups; the Northern Semai, Central Semai and the Southern Semai.


One notable aspect of Semai phonology is its highly irregular pattern of expressive reduplication, showing discontiguous copying from just the edges of the reduplicant's base, thus forming a minor syllable.


Oral vowels
Front Central Back
Close i ɨ ɨː u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ɛː ə ɔ ɔː
Open ɑ ɑː
Nasal vowels
Front Central Back
Close ĩ ĩː ɨ̃ ɨ̃ː ũ ũː
Mid ɛ̃ ɛ̃ː ə̃ ɔ̃ ɔ̃ː
Open ɑ̃ ɑ̃ː


Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive voiceless p t c k ʔ
voiced b d ɟ ɡ
Nasal voiced m n ɲ ŋ
preploded ᵇm ᵈn ɟɲ ᶢŋ
Fricative s h
Rhotic ɾ~r
Lateral l
Approximant w j


Examples of words in Semai include the following:

English Semai Malay
I Eng Saya
Eat Cak Makan
Drink Ngaut Minum
Bathe Mehmu Mandi
Clean Parlain Bersih
Good Bor Bagus
Chicken Bafung/Fung Ayam
Rice Cengroy Beras
Mushroom Cenai Cendawan
Why Jalek Kenapa
How Rahalook Bagaimana

In popular culture


  1. ^ "Basic Data / Statistics". JAKOA. Retrieved 30 October 2022.
  2. ^ Semai at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016) Closed access icon
  3. ^ "Asli". Cinema Online. Retrieved 3 February 2021.
  4. ^ Loh, Ivan (19 October 2017). "Semai Dialogue a First in Local Film". The Star. Retrieved 3 February 2021.

Further reading

  • Diffloth, Gerard. 1976a. Minor-Syllable Vocalism in Senoic Languages. In Philip N. Lenner, Laurence C. Thompson, and Stanley Starosta (eds.), Austroasiatic Studies, Part I, 229–247. Honolulu: The University of Hawaii Press.
  • Diffloth, Gerard. 1976b. Expressives in Semai. In Philip N. Lenner, Laurence C. Thompson, and Stanley Starosta (eds.), Austroasiatic Studies, Part I, 249–264. Honolulu: The University of Hawaii Press.
  • Hendricks, Sean. 2001. Bare-Consonant Reduplication Without Prosodic Templates: Expressive Reduplication in Semai. Journal of East Asian Linguistics 10: 287–306.
  • Phillips, Timothy C. 2013. Linguistic Comparison of Semai Dialects. SIL Electronic Survey Reports 2013-010: 1–111.