Challenges of English to Malay Translation

  • The Malay language belongs to Austronesian Language Family while English is an Indo-European language.
  • The strength of English lies in its prepositions. The strength of Malay lies in its affixes.
  • As English and Malay are two languages not closely associated, there remains great grammatical and heritage divides thus English to Malay translation is very challenging for translators!
  • While English values gender to distinguish between male and feminine, Malay makes none. If the translator is Malaysian converting for an English-speaking audience or vice versa, she should make this mental adjustment when translating from a gender specific to a non-gender specific dialect.
  • Malay does not use plurals, while English relies heavily upon the singular and dual not only in nouns but in the way that nouns and verbs connect.
  • The lack of plurals in Malay represents an even larger challenge when converting from Malay to English. As a translator, not only do I have to understand by inference and syntax (is it referring to a singular piece or a group of pieces), I have to make the needed adjustments in English to ensure the verb conforms to being either singular or plural!
  • The most important dispute to English to Malay translation is the distinction in the way each dialect expresses tense or time. English verbs are highly inflected for time, meaning they change: i.e. I am, I was, I will be.
  • Making the difficulty even more demanding is the detail that English furthermore employs supplementing phrases, for demonstration: I run, I have run, I will have run, I will run, I ran.
  • In Malay, tense is demonstrated by the use of adverbs such as tomorrow, now, some time, or not ever.
  • In English, we would state ‘I ran yesterday’. A literal Malay translation would be ‘I run yesterday’. The Malay language doesn’t correspond to the English language in terms of simple past tense and present perfect tense.
  • There are other more subtle differences between the two dialects engaging syntax (word order) and sentence structure.
  • For example, let’s talk about copula. The copula ‘be’ is vital in English to connect the predicate with the subject of a sentence (three forms of copula ‘be’ in present and past tense, where ‘is’, ‘am’, are used for third person singular and ‘are’ function for the plural ones).
  • Changes occur when the tenses are in the past, where ‘was’ is used for singular subject and ‘were’ is for plural subject. This language and grammatical complexity does not apply in the Malay language as the syntactic structure does not exist in the Malay language.
  • In Malay, there are two forms of copula which is ‘ialah’ and ‘adalah’ which looks similar to English copula but they are unnecessary because they bear no relationship to the tense or aspect feature.
  • The formation of copula ‘be’ in Malay and English is a ‘divergent phenomena’ where one copula ‘be’ in Malay is applicable in various forms of copula ‘be’ in English in different complexity level.
Check out my English-Malay translation examples where I explain how I tackle some translation challenges.

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