• Spencer Low

Malay words of Portuguese origin

Updated: Nov 29, 2020

Malay was the lingua franca of Southeast Asia, and when the Portuguese took control of the trading port of Malacca, many words entered the Malay language.


When I was living in Brazil and learning Portuguese, I came across the word leilão (auction). For some reason, it reminded me of a Malay word, lelong, the meaning of which I'd forgotten. When I next called my mother I remembered to ask, and was told it meant – auction. I thought the words sounded too similar for this to be a pure coincidence, and sure enough, some etymological research revealed that the word lelong did indeed come from the Portuguese. Most people think that the Malay word for school, sekolah, is from the English "school", but in fact it comes from the Portuguese escola.


Here's a selection of common Malay words of Portuguese origin:


Portuguese Malacca by Ferdinand Magellan, ca. 1509-1512

  • almari: cupboard, from armário

  • baldi: bucket, from balde

  • bangku: bench, from banco

  • bendera: flag, from bandeira

  • bomba: fire brigade, from bomba meaning pump, whence the Portuguese bombeiro for fireman

  • boneka: doll, from boneca

  • bola: ball, from the identically spelled bola

  • garpu: fork, from garfo

  • gereja: church, from igreja

  • jendela: window, from janela

  • kebaya: traditional Malay/Peranakan/Indonesian blouse-dress, from cabaia, itself from the Arabic qabāiâ

  • keju: cheese, from queijo

  • kemeja: (western-style) shirt from camisa

  • kereta: car, carriage, from carreta

  • lelong: auction, from leilão

  • limau: lemon, orange, from limão

  • mentega: butter, from manteiga

  • meja: table, from mesa

  • minggu: week or Sunday, from domingo

  • pesta: party, festival, from festa

  • pita: tape, ribbon, from fita

  • roda: wheel, from the identically spelled roda

  • sekolah: school, from escola

  • sepatu: shoe, from sapato

  • tangki: tank, from tanque (originally as in receptacle for liquids)

  • tempo: tempo, time, break, interruption, from tempo

  • terigo: wheat, from trigo

  • tuala: towel, from toalha

  • tukar: exchange, from trocar

  • nanas: pineapple, from ananás


If anyone knows of other common Malay words that can be added to this list, please let me know!


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