Learning Malay by Accident


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — One benefit of having visited Indonesia first is that I already knew the Malay word for coffee — “kopi” — which came in handy for an early-morning trip to scope out the city.

Josh had mentioned that often English words appropriated into Indonesian transposed P’s and F’s, which is explains why “kopi” resembles our “coffee.” Presumably, this is also why photocopy warungs advertise with signs that read, “potokofy.”

Or perhaps “coffee” derives from “kopi“?

Bahasa Indonesia, the official language of the 17,000-island archipelago, closely resembles Bahasa Malaysia, the Malay tongue. As such, various simple street signs that visitors would encounter were immediately recognizable after having spent some (though certainly not enough) time in Jakarta, Java and Bali.

“Orang” (human, and from where we get “orangutan“), “masuk” (closed) and “keluar” (exit) were among the easiest to recognize.

Ordering a breakfast in the local language felt routine now, even if my limited Malay vocabulary meant I had nasi goreng as my first meal of the day.

Good thing I liked rice.

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