Pahang Malay

Pahang Malay
بهاس ملايو ڤهڠ
Base Pahang
Native to Malaysia
Region Pahang
Ethnicity Pahang Malays
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None

Pahang Malay (Standard Malay: Bahasa Melayu Pahang; Jawi: بهاس ملايو ڤهڠ) is a dialect of Malay language spoken in the Malaysian state of Pahang. It is regarded as the dominant Malay dialect spoken along the vast riverine systems of Pahang, but co-exists with other Malay dialects traditionally spoken in the state. Along the coastline of Pahang, Terengganu Malay is spoken in a narrow strip of sometimes discontiguous fishermen villages and towns.[1] Another dialect spoken in Tioman island is a distinct Malay variant and most closely related to Riau Archipelago Malay subdialect spoken in Natuna and Anambas islands in the South China Sea, together forming a dialect continuum between the Bornean Malay with the Mainland Peninsular/Sumatran Malay.

Nonetheless, the essential unity of Pahang and Terengganu Malay is demonstrated by the number of shared lexical, synctatic, and phonetics innovations. Both varieties along with Kelantan Malay, have been classified under the subgroup of the East Coast dialect of Malay peninsula, due to their possible common origin.[2]

Pahang Malay is known for its sharp rise and fall of tone and quick flowing accent. It exhibits a number of differences from the Standard Malay, particularly in phonology and vocabulary.[3] Even though it also shares a lot of similarities with standard Malay, the dialect in its purest form remains unintelligible to standard Malay speakers. There are a number of sub-dialects of Pahang Malay identified by linguists, but the form spoken in the vicinity of Pahang's royal capital, Pekan, is considered as its 'standard sub-dialect'.[4]

The dialect is traditionally written in Jawi script, but its role as the main writing language has been replaced with Standard Malay written in Rumi. A local radio station, Pahang FM, broadcasts in this dialect.[5]


Pahang Malay is natively referred to as base Pahang (/basɘ pahãŋ/; Standard Malay: bahasa Pahang, بهاس ڤهڠ), or cakak Pahang (/tʃakaʔ pahãŋ/; Standard Malay: cakap Pahang, چاكڤ ڤهڠ). However, in academic writings, it is alternatively known as bahasa Melayu Pahang or dialek Pahang. The term Pahang itself originated from the name of the state which in turn derived from the name of Pahang River, where the early civilisation in the state could have developed from.[6] There have been many theories on the origin of the name Pahang. A local lore mentioned that it is derived from the corruption of the name Mahang tree (Macaranga).[7] On the other hand, William Linehan relates the early foundation of the state to the settlers from ancient Khmer civilisation, and claims its naming origin to the word saamnbahang (Khmer: សំណប៉ាហាំង) meaning 'tin', which abundantly found in the state.[8] The earliest literary reference to the name 'Pahang' was from the chronicle of Liu Song dynasty, Book of Song, that records about two consecutive envoys received from the kingdom of 'Pohuang' (alternatively 'Panhuang') between 449 and 457 CE.[9]


There are at least two theories on the origin of Pahang Malay. Asmah Omar identifies the settlements near the estuary of Pahang River and its adjacent areas, where the early civilisation of Pahang could have begun, as the place of origin of the dialect before it was diffused inland.[10] This area includes Pekan, the historical capital of Pahang, which the subdialect of Pahang Malay spoken in the area is named after. This theory is consistent to the known details of Malay settlement patterns in Southeast Asia. Until the 19th century, the Malay population was riverine and maintaining inter-communal link by river and maritime routes.[11]

Another theory by Tarmizi Harsah, suggests that the dialect originated from Ulu Tembeling, in deep hinterland of Pahang. The theory is based on the study of a variant spoken in Ulu Tembeling, also known locally as cakap ulu ("the upstream speech") or base lama ("the old language").[12] Although it retains part of the general characteristics of Pahang Malay, the dialect of Ulu Tembeling has the special feature of consonantal diphthongisation at the end of words, which is one of its kind among Malay dialects of the peninsula. Another unique feature of the dialect is that it retains several phonological characteristics of Ancient Malay language, for example the use of vowel *i and *u, and the addition of glottal consonant at the last position in words ending with vowels.[13] However, Tarmizi's theory went against the commonly accepted Malay settlement patterns which began at river mouth and coastal areas before dispersing inland.


Pahang Malay is almost exclusively spoken within the state of Pahang, though there are sizeable migrant communities of its native speakers in urban areas like Klang Valley, and other states of the peninsula. Nevertheless, within the state of Pahang, there are at least two other distinct Malay varieties traditionally spoken. Coastal Terengganu Malay, a relative variant with shared lexical, synctatic, and phonetics innovations, is spoken in narrow strip of sometimes discontiguous fishermen villages and towns along the coastline of Pahang.[14] This complicated spatial layering of different Malay variants, often within a few kilometres radius between hamlets of Pahang Malay speakers along the riverine systems and the Terengganu-speaking coastal fishermen villages, is influenced by the historical movement of Terengganu Malays to that area. For centuries, the coastal line stretching from Terengganu border to the Endau of Johor, was the heaven for temporary settlements of fishermen from Terengganu and Kelantan who came there during fishing season. Over the time, a well established communities began to develop in areas like Beserah, Kuala Pahang, and Kuala Rompin.[15] Another dialect not related to Pahang Malay, is spoken in Tioman island of Pahang and Aur Islands of Johor, and most closely related only to Sarawak Malay, spoken across the South China Sea in northwest Borneo.[16] Despite the existence these foreign and isolated Malay variants, Pahang Malay remains as the de facto official dialect of the state, predominantly spoken along the lining of its vast riverine systems.


Due to high divergences of the sub-dialects of Pahang Malay, their classifications remain unclear so far. Among the earliest attempt to classify these sub-dialects was by Asmah Omar who conducted her study based on the daerah (district). She enlisted 8 sub-dialects of Pahang Malay, namely the dialects of Pekan, Benta, Raub, Ulu Tembeling, Rompin, Temerloh, Kuala Lipis and Bentong. She also named the sub-dialect spoken in the vicinity of Pekan, including the state capital, Kuantan, as the 'standard sub-dialect' and the major source for other sub-dialects spoken inland. Her view is based on the prestige of Pekan and Kuantan as the main economic, cultural and administration centres of the state.[17]

Other scholars like Collins and Tarmizi Harsah provided an alternative method in this dialectal study, focusing on the geographic units of river basins and coastal strips, rather than on the existing political boundaries.[18][19] This is based on the fact that the spread of these sub-dialects is independent of the political divisions of current Malaysian states. On the other hand, both river basins and coastal strips are the features of topography that have greatly shaped the earliest patterns of migration and settlement in the Malay world of Southeast Asia.[20] Based on this, Tarmizi Harsah identified three main variants of Pahang Malay, spoken along the lining of three main rivers of Pahang; Pahang River, Jelai River and Lipis River. He classified these variants further into two main sub-dialects; Hulu Pahang ('Upper Pahang') consisting Lipis and Jelai rivers variants, and Hilir Pahang ('Lower Pahang') consisting Pahang River variant.[21]



In general, like many other dialects of Malay language, the differences between Pahang Malay and the Standard Malay are recognized through changes in phonology at the end of the words. The unique identity of Pahang Malay can be traced in three features of phonology; vowels before consonant [± coronal], alveolar trill and diphthongs /-ai̯/ and /-au̯/. The contrast between coronals and non-coronals is among the first feature recognised by Collins (1983, 1998) and Ajid Che Kob & Mohd Tarmizi (2009). Although this feature is shared among all sub-dialects of Pahang, there are still different vowel realisation patterns found among those variants.[22] These varied patterns are demonstrated in the following tables.

Vowel realisation patterns with coronal consonants[23]
Word Standard Malay Pahang Malay Meaning
Jelai RiverLipis RiverPahang River
kanan/kanan/[kanɛ̃][kanɛ̃][kanæ]right (direction)
Vowel realisation patterns with non-coronal consonants[24]
Word Standard Malay Pahang Malay Meaning
Jelai RiverLipis RiverPahang River
abang/abaŋ/[aba][abãŋ][abãŋ]older brother
minum/minum/[minũː][minũː][minɔ̃]drink (verb)
senyum/səɲum/[səɲnũː][səɲnũː][səɲɔ̃ə]smile (verb)
hidup/hidup/[idoʔ][idoʔ][idɔʔ]live (verb)

The Standard Malay alveolar trill /-r/, at the end of words, is usually omitted in most Malay dialects. But the omitted sound will always be replaced with certain phonetic forms, either through the elongation of consonant or de-articulation of schwa. Both forms exist in Pahang Malay and described by linguists as 'very obvious'. Elongation of consonant can be seen in the use of [ɐː], [ɔː] and [ɛː] in sub-dialect spoken along the Jelai River, while de-articulation of schwa is shown by sub-dialects spoken along the Pahang and Lipis rivers that utilise ə], ə] and ə].[25]

Word Standard Malay Pahang Malay Meaning
Jelai RiverLipis RiverPahang River

Common diphthongs found in Standard Malay, /-ai̯/ and /-au̯/ are not exist in Pahang Malay, as both are monophthongised instead. This does not means that there are no diphthongs in the dialect at all. Pahang Malay acquired its diphthongs through the diphthongisation of monophthongs, for example vowel sounds /-i/ and /-u/ are diphthongised into [-ij] and [-uw]. This phenomenon is considered common among many Malay dialects. The following table shows some monophthong realisation for diphthongs /-ai̯/ and /-au̯/ in Pahang Malay.[26]

Word Standard Malay Pahang Malay Meaning
Jelai RiverLipis RiverPahang River
petai/pətai̯/[pətɜ][pətɜ][pətɜː]Parkia speciosa
semai/səmai̯/[səmɛ̃][səmɛ̃][səmɛ̃ː]to sow


The following are some differences in vocabulary between Pahang Malay and Standard Malay.

Standard Malay Pahang Malay Meaning
anda semuawokme/aokmeyou (plural)
baikibeleto repair
bekas plastikmolorplastic container
beritahuroyek/kaboto tell
berjalan beriringanberlimborwalking side by side
berpeluh banyakberjejetsweating heavily
bertikam lidahbertonyeh/bertakiverbal argument
buang air besarronoh/perotdefecation
kalah teruklengitseverely defeated
kebas kakisesemut/senyornumbness of the foot
koyak rabakberjelobeiragged
lari lintang pukangbercemperideirunning helter-skelter
letihkehut/kohot/tok rottired
pengotorhabatdirty person
beg plastikjabirplastic bag
suruhnyerayato order
telekungmahanea white shawl worn by Muslim women while praying
tipupedo'ohto lie
yang inihok nithis one
yang ituhok tuthat one
Standard Malay Pahang Malay Meaning
sangat busukbusuk melantongvery stinky
sangat cantiklawo matvery beautiful
sangat cerahngerlangvery fair
sangat hitamitang legangvery dark
sangat manismanis meletiangvery sweet
sangat masammasang menaungvery sour
sangat pahitpahit lepangvery bitter
sangat tawartawor hebervery insipid
sangat tebaltebal bakutvery thick
sangat wangiwangi merohongvery fragrant



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