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Forbidden Words

Inspired by a workshop that I attended on 10 Jan 2015, this is a developing list of Malay words that I do not want to use in my translation works but are frequently used in informal settings.


Explanation: There is no past, present or future tense form in the Malay language. Malay speakers know tenses intuitively. The tendency for untrained translators is to literally translate, say, past tense in English with addition of the word ‘telah’ in front of the verb. Drop ‘telah’ or use it only when it is completely necessary.


Explanation: There is no such word as ‘ianya’ in the Malay language. You can run a check in the greatest Malay online dictionary here.

di mana, dimana

Explanation: ‘Di mana’ is not a translation of ‘where’ in the middle of a sentence, at least for now (if DBP says otherwise about using this form resulting from widespread usage amongst Malay speakers or in law). It is supposed to be used in a question only.

The spelling of ‘Dimana’ is totally incorrect as ‘mana’ is not a verb. Translators need to creatively construct sentence in Malay when ‘where’ or ‘when’ or ‘who’ or ‘how’ words are being used.

 adalah, ialah

Explanation: The use of ‘adalah’ or ‘ialah’ as equivalent to ‘is’ or ‘are’ is a contentious issue amongst Malay language experts. Malay speakers use them liberally but the language authority prescribes its grammatical rule. My tendency is to drop them while creatively construct the resulting translation.


Explanation: ‘Kenapa’ is an informal word for ‘mengapa’ which is a corresponding word to ‘why’. Avoid using ‘kenapa’ in your translation.


One of my teachers (or sifu or cikgu) has many more.

I will update this page regularly with more words that I discourage myself to use in my translation work.