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When I accepted a contract for a job post in Malaysia in 2007, I was only sure of one thing about the country – Bahasa Malaysia is being spoken in the progressive Islamic country. It was my first time to be out of the country and it was a headache trying to get past the language barrier.

I grew up in Cagayan de Oro City and learned to speak the Visayan dialect first before other languages – Tagalog or Filipino, English and later Spanish. Some words in some dialects have Malay origins so it was not surprising to see some similarities. Here are some basic words I first learned in Bahasa Malaysia which share homonyms in my dialect:

1. Selamat vs Salamat

– Selamat in Bahasa Malaysia can either refer to “be safe” or “welcome” depending on which words follow it. You will be greeted by “Selamat Datang”, which means “Welcome”, upon arrival in the award-winning Kuala Lumpur International Airport and LCCT-KLIA. Even “datang” sounds like Tagalog’s “dating” or “arrival” in English. Go figure.

Salamat in Filipino basically means “Thanks” or “Thank you”. Make sure you don’t mistake Selamat for Thank You as Malaysians have a different word for the latter – it’s Terima Kasih.

2. Jalan-jalan

– During my first month in Malaysia, the word “jalan-jalan” kept popping up in questions from my former officemates who were curious what I would do on weekends. It simply means going out or going anywhere, be it a short stroll or malling or whatever. Jalan means street so it’s common to see “Jalan Telawi” or “Jalan BK 7” etc in street signs. This has a similarity to the vernacular word “dalan”, which means street. The only difference is we don’t say “dalan-dalan” when referring to activities such as malling or gallivanting.

3. Sikit-sikit

– “Sikit-sikit” in Bahasa Malaysia is just like “muy poco” in Spanish. Malaysian cab drivers would instantly know from my stammer that I wasn’t one of them and they would get a kick out of asking me, “Do you understand Malay?” to which I would then sheepishly reply with, “Sikit-sikit”. On the other hand, “sikit-sikit” in Visayan means “too close”.

4. Sama-sama

– In Malay language, it is courteous to reply “Sama-sama” when someone tells you “Terima Kasih” (“Thank You”). In Tagalog, it takes on a different connotation alluding to unity or accomplishing goals as one unified group.

5. Undang-undang

– “Undang-undang” in Malay means “laws” or “regulations”, but “undang” in Visayan means “stop”.

It’s obvious it was a very common occurrence throughout history that some words got lost in translation. This pretty much explains why some words from the same origin slowly lose their meaning as they get assimilated to a different dialect or language.

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