Research on Malay Idioms Example

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1830 Words
Date:  2022-05-09

The aim of this literature review is to demonstrate the similarities and differences of English and Malay idioms, especially in structure and syntactic modifications. The review will first discuss Malay and English idioms separately before drawing comparisons of the two. Finally, the review will discuss on the translation of idioms.

Is your time best spent reading someone else’s essay? Get a 100% original essay FROM A CERTIFIED WRITER!

2.1.2 Malay idioms


There are several definitions of idioms according to different scholars, but they gravitate towards the same basic concepts. Amin et al. (2014: 71) give three definitions of idioms. One is that idioms are an aggregation of multiple words found in the vocabularies of various languages Amin et al. (2014: 71). Another definition is that idioms are phrases whose deeper meanings cannot be derived by mere addition of its constituent parts. Finally, idioms can be described as an assembly of words to come up with meanings that are different from the literal meanings of the individual words Amin et al. (2014: 71). These definitions concur with Yoan and Hyun (2010: 1) assertion that idioms are word combinations that carry figurative meaning. Ibrahim (2013: 51) goes on to explain that a Malay idiom is a conveyor of poetic imagination together with rhetoric elements. According to Deli (2015: 90), Malay idioms are basically composed of two to three words in contrast to English idioms which can consist of much more words. Some examples of common Malay idioms include panjang tangan which means a "penchant for stealing" and otak beku which means "dumb person" Amin et al. (2014: 71).

Yoan and Hyun (2010: 1) assert that idioms are similar to other phrases and word plays but differ in that idioms are rigid. The word order of the idioms cannot be changed or replaced without eradicating their intended meaning. Amin et al. (2014: 70) in fact describe idioms as word combinations that have fixed expressions and are arranged uniquely to avoid derivation of meaning from the constituent words individually. This position is propagated further by Sew (2015: 13) who coins the term "literary freezes" for idioms. The author attributes the frozen nature to the unique combination of numbers and words in the construction of idioms. He identifies the concept of "partitive reference" in some idioms arising from weaving numbers and words together Sew (2015: 14). A good example is in the idiom dua kali emphat which means "two factions acting in the same negative way" Sew (2015: 14). The literal meanings of each word in the idiom are "two" for dua, "four" for emphat, and "multiplication" for kali. The numerical increase depicted in the phrase helped to enhance the delivery of the intended meaning of the idiom. Another example of a numerical- based idiom is satu dijentik sepuluh rebah which means that "criticizing one person can affect the whole group that the person belongs to" Sew (2015: 18). According to the findings of the research conducted by the author, he established the relationship between positive and negative numerical serializations in idioms and the cultural background. For instance, the findings showed that sequential ascending or descending order of numbers in numerical idioms were associated with positive attributes Sew (2015: 18). The results confirmed initial beliefs that Malay idioms provoke dedicated thought into cultural practices and intellect Sew (2015: 13).

Role of Malay idioms

Idioms are unique components of any language. Native Malaysians pride themselves in use of idioms and proverbs in their quotidian conversations Amin et al. (2014: 70). The Malay language is now a critical part of their society and is a symbol of identity. Yoan and Hyun (2010: 4) view idioms as socialisation tools in the Malay language. They are used to communicate ideals and thoughts among the natives thus serving as a symbol of cultural wisdom. Other benefits of using idioms in conversations are adding life to what would instead be long boring talks, the use of softer words to portray certain figurative images, capturing the attention of the listeners, and adding emphasis to the idea being communicated Yoan and Hyun (2010: 4). Idioms are also important tools for preserving literature of a particular society by stimulating the speakers to continue using the language Amin et al. (2014: 70).

Idiomatic expressions are good indicators of the speakers' traditions, norms, social, and historical backgrounds according to Yoan and Hyun (2010: 1). This is one of the main reasons why non-Malaysians find it difficult to comprehend Malay idioms. They are constructed based on the culture and environment of the natives. Thus, one must be intimate with the customs of the natives to understand most of their idioms. The hidden meanings further complicate the ability of non-natives to interpret them Ibrahim (2013: 51). Non- compositional idioms are especially more difficult to decipher since the meaning of each word in these idioms does not contribute to the final meaning Deli (2015: 90).

The Structure of Malay Idioms

As discussed earlier, Malay idioms are mainly two to three-word phrases. The word combinations involve nouns, adjectives, and verbs.

Noun + Noun simpulan bahasa

They include kaki ayam (chicken feet) to mean someone without shoes, buaya darat (land crocodile) to refer to a con artist, bapa ayam (father chicken) to mean a pimp, kaki botol (foot bottle) to refer to a habitual drunk, and kuku besi (iron nails) to refer to a despot Tajuddin (2010: 158).

Verb + Noun simpulan bahasa

They include pelawa ayam (invite chicken) which also means a half-hearted invite. Malaysians use this expression to turn down an invite that they do not regard as sincere Tajuddin (2010: 159). It is similar to the expression senyum kambing. Other commonly used idioms with this structure are ambil hati (take liver) to show that one is offended by one thing or another Tajuddin (2010: 159). Pasang telinga (fix ear) is also a popular Malay idiom composed of a verb and noun. It means "to eavesdrop" Tajuddin (2010: 159).

Adjective + Noun simpulan bahasa

Phrases composed of adjectives and nouns are arranged either in an adjective + noun approach or a noun + adjective manner. Lipas kudung (maimed chicken) refers to people who do things very quickly Tajuddin (2010: 160). Muka papan (wooden face) used as an idiom shows people who cannot be easily offended Tajuddin (2010: 160). Another example of an idiom is ringan lidah (light tongue) which is used to represent people who love talking a lot.

Verb + Noun + Adjective simpulan bahasa

The first three categories showed the two-word structure of Malay idioms. This fourth and final structural classification illustrates three-word Malay idioms. They include mendukung biawak hidup (carrying a live iguana) to portray an act of kindness to a bad person Tajuddin (2010: 160). This expression also incorporates the use of animals in deriving idioms. It also advances the proposition that idioms are conceived from the perceptions of the people. In this case, Malays give iguanas evil attributes. Lepaskan anjing tersepit (release of a captured dog) is also another illustration of the three-word structure Tajuddin (2010: 160). The expression has a deeper meaning of giving aid to an ungrateful individual. The Malaysian people thus viewed a dog as an ungrateful animal.

2.1.3 English Idioms

English idioms, also known as idiomatic expressions, are phrases whose meanings are not understood by an addition of the constituent words Barzegar and Askari (2015: 109). This is similar to Malay idioms. Another similarity is that the individual words comprising the idioms cannot be substituted with other words without altering the meaning Yusifova (2013: 133). The author, however, notes that idioms can be modified to some extent. The changes can either be in the grammatical or lexical forms of the idioms. Thyab (2016: 107) reports that the English language has at least 25000 idioms. These are considerably more than the number of idioms collected in any other individual language in the world. The author also notes that idioms fall squarely under the category of figurative languages Thyab (2016: 107). This is because idioms do not have literal meanings as implied by their elements. They instead have a hidden meaning which is dependent on the imagery created by the words used Al-Khawaldeh (2016: 119).

Thyab (2016: 106) gives an example of an expression of imagery by the carrot and stick idiom. At first glance, this phrase has the simple literal meaning of just a carrot and a stick. Native English speakers, however, will derive a deeper meaning from the expression because it provokes the image of dangling a carrot in front of a donkey using a stick. It is assumed that the one holding the stick is riding the donkey's back. When the donkey moves forward to eat the carrot, the carrot will seemingly move forward too. The donkey is thus left in a continuous motion due to the rider's tactic of carefully dangling the carrot. This idiomatic expression is used to show that one can encourage people to do something for him/her if there is a promise of a reward Thyab (2016: 106). It can also imply the act of tricking people into performing a certain action by promising them a reward that will never be. Other examples of English idioms that employ figurative language include spill the beans, kick the bucket, raining cats, and it is not rocket science Thyab (2016: 107).

The examples above show that idioms are useful tools in communication. Fluency in using idioms demonstrates proficiency of the English language according to Al-Khawaldeh (2016: 119). The carrot and stick expression clearly shows that only natives of the language understand it. English idioms have several standout features. One is that the expressions were formed in a non-arbitrary way according to Thyab (2016: 108). This is one of the reasons why the idiomatic expressions are used both in non-formal and formal situations. It also gives a valid explanation to why idioms commonly reflect the cultures of the native speakers and English idioms are no different. An expression such as go off the rails which means 'getting out of control' is based on the traditional English culture of horse racing Thyab (2016: 108).

English idioms have special lexical features according to Salamah (2015: 294). Yusifova (2013: 134) goes on to advance the proposition by giving an example of the expression kick the bucket. The lexical units of the idiom include kick (verb), the (article), and bucket (noun). Each lexical unit must be maintained in the idiom to preserve its figurative meaning. The same idiom also gives another feature of English idioms; that is idioms are processed as a discrete unit to decipher their meanings. For instance, the expression kick the bucket means 'to die' Salamah (2015: 294). The three words must be intact to extract the meaning of the idiom.

Even though idioms are "frozen" expressions, it is possible to make syntactical changes to English idioms without altering the meaning. The modifications enable the idioms to be used in different sentence structures. Some of the changes include:

a)Tense changes

Some examples include put yourself in his shoes (empathize with someone), vanished into thin air (disappeared), and have been made a scapegoat (sacrificed) Yusifova (2013: 135).

b)Plural forms

Some examples include go into detail/go into details which means 'to explain or investigate a matter comprehensively' and in deep water/in deep waters which also means a 'to be in trouble' or 'to get to the bottom of a particular investigation' Yusifova (2013: 135).

c) Passivation

The same author also notes that idioms can be converted into the passive form. Some of the common examples of modifying idioms in this way include his leg was pulled by John to mean 'John tricked him', the beans w...

Cite this page

Research on Malay Idioms Example. (2022, May 09). Retrieved from

Free essays can be submitted by anyone,

so we do not vouch for their quality

Want a quality guarantee?
Order from one of our vetted writers instead

If you are the original author of this essay and no longer wish to have it published on the ProEssays website, please click below to request its removal:

didn't find image

Liked this essay sample but need an original one?

Hire a professional with VAST experience!

24/7 online support

NO plagiarism