Malaysian Mandarin

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Malaysian Mandarin
Mǎláixīyà Huáyǔ
Chinese characters (Simplified, Traditional)
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) is a variety of Mandarin Chinese spoken in Malaysia by ethnic Chinese in Malaysia. Malaysian Chinese tend to perceive the Mandarin Chinese is a variation of Standard Mandarin (Putonghua); however, it is a Mandarin dialect in its own right. Its closest linguistic cousin is not Standard Mandarin, rather it is Singaporean Mandarin, the variety widely used in films like Tiger Woohoo!, Nasi Lemak 2.0 and movies created by Singaporean movie director Jack Neo.[dubious ]

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 "惹兰武吉甲洞" (rělán wǔjí jiǎdòng) in local Chinese printed media, the local Chinese almost never use rělán wǔjí jiǎdòng 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 and Kota Kinabalu, they are preferably referred respectively as Ānsùn (安顺) (which refers to "Teluk Anson", Teluk Intan's former colonial name), Fúróng (芙蓉) and Yàbì (亚庇).


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.

In comparison with Standard Chinese, Taiwanese or even 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". 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/); and the "er" phoneme (as in 儿 or 二) is usually pronounced as /ə/ (instead of /ɚ/).


As of 2014, 93% of ethnic Chinese families in Malaysia speak varieties of Chinese, which includes Mandarin.[1]

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".[2]

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.


  • Angela, 你们不是应该要拿那个 'form' (表格) 先, 然后才去四楼那个 'counter' (柜台) 的咩/meh(吗)? (Angela, do you need to get that form before going to the counter in 4/F?)
  • 刚刚从 Penang (槟城) 回来, 那里的 traffic (交通) '死伯' (很) 够力(始料不及的), '敢敢' (竟然) 跟你塞两个多小时 '那种', 现在 '讲真的' 我很倦 (sien) 了. (I just come back here from Penang, and the traffic is unexpected, which dare to get me congested for more than 2 hours!. Now, really, I'm pissed!)
  • 黑色 body (体) 的那个跟它 '马是' (也是) 一样的, 我看你们重 '砍' 了, 又. (The one with black body is the same (product) also. It seems that you bid the price up again!)
  • Eh, 你要不要我帮你叫 Cab (出租车)? (Eh, do you want me to help you call a cab?)
  • 唉, 讲到这件事我就很 '死伯' 不爽. (Ai! I'm pissed whenever someone mentions this (certain event.))
  • 哇, 你不倦 (sien) 我都倦咯. (Wow, you're not bored at all? I'm already over it.)

咩 (meh) is influenced by Cantonese language and usually used in questions. In Standard Mandarin, it simply means the onomatopoeia of a goat's sound or a goat's bleat (baa). (Pronounced as "Miē")

See also[edit]

Variants of Mandarin Chinese:


  1. ^ 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 on 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."
  2. ^ [The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Languages & Literature by Prof. Dato' Dr Asmah Haji Omar (2004) ISBN 981-3018-52-6.]

External links[edit]