Malaysian Mandarin

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Malaysian Mandarin
Mǎláixīyà Huáyǔ
Simplified Chinese characters, Traditional Chinese characters
Official status
Official language in
Regulated byChinese Language Standardisation Council of Malaysia
Language codes
ISO 639-3

Malaysian Mandarin (simplified Chinese: 马来西亚华语; traditional Chinese: 馬來西亞華語; pinyin: Mǎláixīyà Huáyǔ; Wade–Giles: Ma3-lai2-hsi1-ya4 Hua2-yü3) is a variety of Mandarin Chinese spoken in Malaysia by ethnic Chinese in Malaysia. Today, Malaysian Mandarin is the lingua franca of the Malaysian Chinese community.[1]

Malaysian Mandarin speakers seldom translate local terms or names to Mandarin when they speak. They would prefer to verbally use Malay place names in their original Malay pronunciation: for instance, even though the street name "Jalan Bukit Kepong" is written as "武吉甲洞路" (Wǔjí Jiǎdòng lù; 'Bukit Kepong Road') in local Chinese printed media, the local Chinese almost never use Wǔjí Jiǎdòng lù in daily conversations. There are exceptions, for example Taiping, since this name is derived from the Chinese language, when people mention this place when speaking local Mandarin, they always use its Mandarin pronunciation, "Tàipíng", instead of using its Malay pronunciation, which is closer to "Taipeng". Another example is when a place's Chinese translation varied vastly with its native Malay name, for example: for Teluk Intan, Seremban, Kota Kinabalu and Bau, they are preferably referred respectively as Ānsùn (安顺) (which refers to "Teluk Anson", Teluk Intan's former colonial name), Fúróng (芙蓉) Yàbì (亚庇), and Shilongmen (石隆门).


A Malaysian man speaking Mandarin with a Malaysian accent

Malaysian Mandarin's phonology is closer to the Mandarin accents of Southern China, than towards the Beijing standard pronunciation, due to the influence of other dialects such as Cantonese and Hokkien.[2]

In comparison with Standard Chinese, Taiwanese or Singaporean Mandarin, Malaysian Mandarin is clearly distinguished by its relatively tonally 'flat' sound as well as its extensive use of glottal stops and the "checked tone."[3] This results in a distinct "clipped" sound compared to other forms of Mandarin.

  • The phonemes "j", "x", and "h" (as in 级 ji, 西 xi, and 汉 han) tend to be pronounced as /t͡s/, /s/, and /h/ (rather than /t͡ɕ/, /ɕ/, and /x/)
  • the "er" phoneme (as in 儿 or 二) is usually pronounced as /ə/ (instead of /ɚ/)
  • the "i" phoneme (as in 吃, 十, or 日) is usually pronounced as /ɨ~ə/ (instead of /ɹ̩~ɻ̩/)
  • the "r" phoneme (as in 然) is usually pronounced as /ɹ/ (similar to English, instead of /ʐ/)


As of 2014, 93% of ethnic Chinese families in Malaysia speak varieties of Chinese, which includes Mandarin.[4]

Early Ming and Qing immigrants[edit]

The majority of ethnic Chinese people living in Malaysia came from China during the Ming and Qing dynasties, between the 15th and early 20th centuries. Earlier immigrants married Malays and assimilated to a larger extent than later waves of migrants – they form a distinct sub-ethnic group known as the Peranakans, and their descendants speak Malay.

The majority of immigrants were speakers of Hokkien (Min Nan), Cantonese, Hakka, Teochew, and Hainanese. In the 19th century, Qing immigrants to Malaya had no single common language and were mostly uneducated peasants, and they tended to cluster themselves according to the ethno-linguistic group, usually corresponding to their place of origin, and worked with relatives and other speakers of the same language. In 1879, according to Isabella Bird, a visitor to the tin mining boomtown of Taiping, Perak, "five topolects of Chinese are spoken, and Chinamen constantly communicate with each other in Malay, because they can't understand each other's Chinese".[5]

The Chinese languages spoken in Malaysia have over the years become localized (e.g. Penang Hokkien), as is apparent from the use of Malay and English loan words. Words from other Chinese languages are also injected, depending on the educational and cultural background of the speaker (see Education in Malaysia and Rojak language). Mandarin in Malaysia has also been localized, as a result of the influence of other Chinese variants spoken in Malaysia, rather than the Malay language. Loan words were discouraged in Mandarin instructions at local Chinese school and were regarded as mispronunciations.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

Variants of Mandarin Chinese:


  1. ^ Lian, Kwen Fee (1 July 2006). Race, Ethnicity, and the State in Malaysia and Singapore. BRILL. p. 111. ISBN 978-90-474-0946-5.
  2. ^ Khoo, Kiak Uei (1 March 2017). "Malaysian Mandarin variation with regard to Mandarin globalization trend: Issues on language standardization". International Journal of the Sociology of Language (244): 65–86. doi:10.1515/ijsl-2016-0057. ISSN 1613-3668. S2CID 151899075. Today, though recent studies showed the spread of Mandarin to replace Chinese dialects as the lingua franca among Chinese populations in Malaysia (Wang 2012), due to the unique dialectal groupings of Chinese populations among many townships nationwide, Chinese dialects still maintain their strongholds as regional languages, not dismissing the fact that they still remain as the most widely used household language (Khoo 2012).
  3. ^ Khoo, Kiak Uei (1 March 2017). "Malaysian Mandarin variation with regard to Mandarin globalization trend: Issues on language standardization". International Journal of the Sociology of Language (244): 65–86. doi:10.1515/ijsl-2016-0057. ISSN 1613-3668. S2CID 151899075. Third, rusheng, also known as 'checked tone', a shortened syllable that ends with an abrupt stop, commonly exists in southern Chinese dialects, but not in Mandarin, including Putonghua. However, Malaysian Mandarin, heavily influenced by Cantonese and Hokkien word sounds, has many words pronounced in a checked tone.
  4. ^ Saiful Bahri Kamaruddin. "Research Found Malaysian Chinese Do Not Give Due Attention To Bahasa Malaysia Usage Archived 11 March 2015 at WebCite" (Archive). National University of Malaysia. 27 May 2014. Retrieved 11 March 2015. "She also found 93% of Malaysian families of Chinese origin speak Mandarin with many different combinations of dialects and currently 53% of the respondents speak Chinese dialects with their parents compared with 42% in 1970."
  5. ^ [The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Languages & Literature by Prof. Dato' Dr Asmah Haji Omar (2004) ISBN 981-3018-52-6.]

External links[edit]