Brunei Malay

Brunei Malay
Bahasa Melayu Brunei
Native to Brunei, Malaysia
Ethnicity Bruneian Malay, Kedayan
Native speakers
(270,000 cited 1984–2013)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 kxd
Glottolog brun1242[2]
  Area where Brunei Malay is spoken

Brunei Malay (Bahasa Melayu Brunei) is the most widely spoken language in Brunei and a lingua franca in some parts of East Malaysia, such as Labuan, Limbang, Lawas, Sipitang and Papar.[3][4] Though Standard Malay is promoted as the official language of Brunei, Brunei Malay is socially dominant and it is currently replacing the minority languages of Brunei,[5] including the Dusun and Tutong languages.[6] It is quite divergent from Standard Malay to the point where it is almost mutually unintelligible with it. Although the idea that Brunei Malay might be classified as a creole language has been discredited, it does bear considerable similarities to East Indonesian Malay-based creole languages.


The consonants of Brunei Malay are shown in the following table.[4]

Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosivep    bt    d  k    ɡ  
Fricative  s       h   
Nasal   m   n   ɲ   ŋ  
Trill/Tap     r      
Approximant   w     j    
Lateral Approximant     l      

Some analysts exclude /w/ and /j/ from this table on the basis that they are 'margin high vowels',[7] while others include /w/ but exclude /j/.[3]

All these consonants can occur in initial position except /h/. While /h/ can occur in final position, its absence from initial position means that Standard Malay hutan ('forest') is utan in Brunei Malay, and Standard Malay hitam ('black') is itam.[4]

All the consonants can occur in word-final position apart from the palatal sounds /tʃ dʒ ɲ/ and the voiced plosives /b d ɡ/ (except in a few borrowed words such as mac ('March') and kabab ('kebab')).[3]

Brunei Malay has a three-vowel system: /i/, /a/, /u/.[3][8] Acoustic variation in the realisation of these vowels is shown in the plot on the right, based on the reading of a short text by a single female speaker.[4]

While /i/ is distinct from the other two vowels, there is substantial overlap between /a/ and /u/. This is partly because of the vowel in the first syllable of words such as maniup ('to blow') which can be realised as [ə]. Indeed, the Brunei Malay dictionary uses an 'e' for the prefix in this word, listing it as meniup,[9] though other analyses prefer to show prefixes such as this with 'a', on the basis that Brunei Malay just has three vowels.[10][7][3]


Brunei Malay, Kedayan and Kampong Ayer can be regarded as different dialects of Malay. Brunei Malay is used by the numerically and politically dominant Brunei people, who traditionally lived on water, while Kedayan is used by the land-dwelling farmers, and the Kampong Ayer dialect is used by the inhabitants of the river north of the capital.[11][12] It has been estimated that 94% of the words of Brunei Malay and Kedayan are lexically related.[13]

Common Bruneian Malay words

Bruneian Malay Meaning/Note
Aku First person singular
Peramba First person singular when in conversation with a Royal Family Member
Awak Second person singular
Awda From '(si) awang' and '(si) dayang'. It is used like the Malaysian word 'anda'.
Kamu Second person plural
Ia Third person singular
Kitani First person plural (inclusive)
Kita To be used either like 'kitani' or 'biskita'
Si awang Male third person singular
Si dayang Female third person singular
Biskita To address a listener of older age. Also first person plural
Cinta To address a loved one
Ani This
Atu That
(Di) mana? Where (at)?
Ke mana? Where to?
Lelaki Male (human)
Perempuan Female (human)
Budiman A gentleman
Kebawah Duli His Majesty
Awu Yes
Inda No
To close (a door etc.)
Makan To eat
Suka To like
Cali Funny (adj.), derived from Charlie Chaplin
Siuk cf. Malaysian ‘Syok’, Singaporean ‘Shiok’
Lakas To be quick, (in a) hurry(ing) (also an interjection)
Karang At a later time, soon
Tarus Straight ahead; immediately
Manada Used as a term when in a state denial (as in 'No way!' or 'It can't be')
Baiktah 'Might as well...'
Orang putih Generally refers to a white Westerner.
Kaling Refers to a Bruneian of Indian descent. (This is generally regarded as pejorative.)[14]

1 "Bini-bini" is exclusively used in Brunei to refer to a lady. In Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, it is an informal way to refer to one's wives or a group of married women.

Example sentences

  • "Ia atu bini-bini." = She is a lady.
  • "Sudah kau makan?" = Have you eaten?
  • "Awda mendapat cabutan bertuah." = You have received a lucky draw.


The vocabulary of Brunei Malay has been collected and published by several western explorers in Borneo including Pigafetta in 1521, De Crespigny in 1872, Charles Hose in 1893, A. S. Haynes in 1900, Sidney H. Ray in 1913, H. B. Marshall in 1921, and G. T. MacBryan in 1922, and some Brunei Malay words are included in "A Malay-English Dictionary" by R. J. Wilkinson.[15][16][17]


  1. Brunei Malay at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Brunei". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Clynes, A. (2014). Brunei Malay: An Overview. In P. Sercombe, M. Boutin, & A. Clynes (Eds.), Advances in Research on Linguistic and Cultural Practices in Borneo (pp. 153200). Phillips, ME: Borneo Research Council.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Deterding, D., & Ishamina, A. (2017). Brunei Malay. Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 47(1), 99-108. On-line Version
  5. McLellan, J., Noor Azam Haji-Othman, & Deterding, D. (2016). The language situation in Brunei Darussalam. In Noor Azam Haji-Othman, J. McLellan, & D. Deterding (Eds.), The use and status of language in Brunei Darussalam: A kingdom of unexpected linguistic diversity (pp. 916). Singapore: Springer.
  6. Noor Azam Haji-Othman & Siti Ajeerah Najib (2016). The state of indigenous languages in Brunei. In Noor Azam Haji-Othman, J. McLellan, & D. Deterding (Eds.), The use and status of language in Brunei Darussalam: A kingdom of unexpected linguistic diversity (pp. 1728). Singapore: Springer.
  7. 1 2 Mataim Bakar. (2007). The phonotactics of Brunei Malay: An Optimality Theoretic account. Bandar Seri Begawan: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Brunei.
  8. Poedjosoedarmo, G. (1996). Variation and change in the sound systems of Brunei dialects of Malay. In P. Martin, C. Ozog, & Gloria Poedjosoedarmo (Eds.), Language use and language change in Brunei Darussalam (pp. 37–42). Athens, OH: Ohio University Center for International Studies.
  9. Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Brunei. (2007). Kamus Bahasa Melayu Brunei (Edisi Kedua) [Brunei Malay dictionary, 2nd edition]. Bandar Seri Begawan: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Brunei.
  10. Jaludin Chuchu. (2000). Morphology of Brunei Malay. Bangi: Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
  11. Gallop, 2006. "Brunei Darussalam: Language Situation". In Keith Brown, ed. (2005). Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (2 ed.). Elsevier. ISBN 0-08-044299-4.
  12. Wurm, Mühlhäusler, & Tryon, Atlas of languages of intercultural communication in the Pacific, Asia and the Americas, 1996:677
  13. Nothofer, B. (1991). The languages of Brunei Darussalam. In H. Steinhauer (Ed.), Papers in Austronesian Linguistics (pp. 151172). Canberra: Australian National University.
  14. Najib Noorashid (2016). The ‘K’ word referring to Indians in Brunei. Paper presented at the Brunei-Malaysia 2016 Forum, Universiti Brunei Darussalam, 16–17 November 2016.
  15. Martin, P. W. (1994). Lexicography in Brunei Darussalam: An overview. In B. Sibayan & L. E. Newell (Eds.), Papers from the First Asia International Lexicography Conference, Manila, Philippines, 1992. LSP Special Monograph Issue, 35 (pp. 59–68). Manila: Linguistic Society of the Philippines.
  16. Uhlenbeck 1958, p. 8.
  17. Sidhu 2009, p. 283.

Further reading

A Vocabulary of Brunei Malay H. B. Marshall Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society No. 83 (APRIL, 1921), pp. 45–74 Published by: Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society Stable URL: Page Count: 30

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