Is my eyesight failing me? Or is seeing double just part of the adventure of living on this island?
I’ve been studying bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language) since I arrived, and although my ability to speak and understand is improving, I’m far from fluent.
Nevertheless, my greatest joy in learning this language has been in discovering what are technically known as “reduplicated” or “cloned” words. Just my luck, here are THREE examples in ONE photo!
One chicken is ayam; more than one are ayam-ayam.
One book is buku, but two or more are buku-buku.
Anak means child, so anak-anak are children.
You can find dozens if not hundreds of these doubled, cloned or reduplicated words in bahasa. These are among my favorites:
Kupu-kupu is butterfly
Kelip-kelip is a firefly… so is kunang kunang.
Awang-awang are clouds.
Pelan pelan means go slow.
Mohon means to ask, but mohon-mohon is a plea, as in begging.
Layang means overpass… Layang-layang is a kite. Smart and poetic, right?
Sama-sama, which literally translated into jointly or together, in everyday language means you are welcome.
Gado-gado, which translates into hodgepodge, is actually a traditional Indonesian dish with steamed vegetables and peanut sauce.
There are countless such conjunctions: Alat-alat.Undang-undang.Kira-kira. Kadang-kadang. Kue-kue. Tas-tas.
Some of these combinations are meaningful in ways that diehard linguists would surely appreciate:
Oblok-oblok, in its literal sense, translates to a dish consisting of leftovers. But in everyday usage, that phrase means the offspring of an interethnic marriage. Humorous metaphors abound.
Ngut-ngut (where the g is guttural, nearly silent) means twitch. Something slightly onomatopoeic about that…!
In my two years of basic (but burgeoning!) bahasa, I’ve decided that this (also seen in the photo above) is the most soulful example of reduplication: hati-hati means caution, as in be careful. And hati on its own? Would you be surprised to learn that it means… heart?! The Indonesian language meisters certainly knew how to infuse their words and phrases with double meanings.
I was reminded of the uniqueness of these gems yet again when today’s “word of the day” reached my inbox. In addition to my pitiful attempts to study from a language book and English-Indonesian dictionary, the daily “word” – sent out by hello-indonesia.com – is one of the tools I use to build my vocabulary. Today’s word was: mata = eye. I also learned that cuci mata = window shopping (literally, eye wash!)
But it was the note that accompanied the one-word lesson that I loved most:
Note: It is generally understood when using the word “mata” that people have two… This is important to know since the usual way of doubling a word to indicate plural if it is not otherwise indicated in the sentence does not apply to the word “mata” because… mata-mata = spy.
How I LOVE this language, let me count the way-way 😉