Volume 11, No. 3 
July 2007

  Radiah Yusoff

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Translating Kinship Terms to Malay
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  Translation Journal

Language & Communication

Translating Kinship Terms to Malay

by Radiah Yusoff


In the Malay culture, the kinship term is used as one of the forms of address when speaking to others, especially when speaking to family members and close, intimate friends. Using the correct and proper choice of kinship term is of utmost importance in this culture. One can be accused of being rude and be labeled as 'kurang ajar' in Malay, which is literally translated as 'insufficiently taught,' if one were to use an inappropriate choice. The kinship term has been widely used in the Malay subtitles of movies and dramas shown on Malaysia TVs or at the local cinemas. For this paper however, the writer will only look at some of the kinship terms used in the Malay subtitles of selected Korean movies and dramas and show whether they are appropriately or inappropriately used to reflect the culture of the targeted audience.


allyu or 'Korean Wave' had started to arrive at the Malaysian shore after 'Winter Sonata,' a serial drama with Choi Jin-woo and Bae Yong-joon as the main actors, was shown by a local network. Since then, many Korean dramas and movies have been shown on Malaysian TVs and at the local cinemas.

Since the invasion of the Korean Wave, Korean kinship terms and honorifics, such as 'oppa' and 'onni' have crept into the vocabulary of local Malaysians, especially among the young ones. (Look at Excerpt 1 and 2.) In the subtitle for the Korean dramas and movies, these terms are sometimes correctly and sometimes incorrectly translated to Malay.

Excerpt 1


Excerpt 2


Kinship Terms

Kinship terms are words that are used to designate a family member who is connected to other family members by blood, marriage, adoption, or fostering (Biology-Online.org, 2007, Farlex, 2007, Schwimmer, 1998). For example, the English term 'aunt' (or more specifically a younger or elder sister of one's father or mother) could be translated to 'Mak Long,' 'Mak Ngah,' 'Mak Uda,' 'Mak Lang,' 'Mak Teh,' 'Mak Cik,' or 'Mak Su,' depending on several factors:

    1. the birth order of the aunt with respect to the birth order of the mother or father in their respective family with the first born female child being almost always assigned as 'Mak Long' and the last born female child as 'Mak Su' - 'Long' is usually a marker for first-born child in most Malay dialects, while 'Su' is a marker for the last-born child;
    2. the total number of children in the respective family of the mother or father, causing certain terms to be dropped if, for instance, the number of children in the family is two;
    3. the dialect used in the respective family of the mother or father, causing certain terms to have more than one ways of pronunciation, such as /maksu/, /ucu/, /busu/, or /moksu/ for the last-born female child.

Figure 1 shows some of the Malay terms used for one's parents, one's parent's female or male sibling, one's female or male older sibling, and one's female or male younger sibling. The terms in parentheses are optional, while the terms in curly brackets are not exclusive, as there are more terms available for one to choose. The choice is highly dependent on several sociolinguistic factors, such as age, gender, formality, and location.

Figure 1

There is a generic term for the 'aunt,' which is 'mak cik.' Some families use this term with or without the name of the person, such as 'Mak Cik Sofiah,' 'Mak Cik Sofi,' or 'Mak Cik Piah' if the given name for the 'aunt' is 'Sofiah.'

Awang Sariyan (2007: 5) states that, in the Malay culture, a nephew or niece who is of the same age as or older than the sister of one's parent should address the sister as 'mak cik' or any other kinship terms that reflect the birth order of this particular sister as a mark of respect. An aunt is placed higher in the family hierarchy than the nephew or niece, irrespective of the nephew, niece, or aunt's age.

However, the usage of this 'mak cik' term can be ambiguous as it can also be used to refer to

    1. any women who do not have any familial ties to the family,
    2. any women who are of the same age as one's parents, such as a female neighbor or a female family friend, or
    3. any women who is married to one's father
      1. who practices a polygamous marriage or
      2. who marries this/these woman/women after divorcing one's mother.

Thus, when 'mak cik' is used, an outsider has to figure out whether this 'mak cik' is a blood-related person or merely a friend, a stranger, or a neighbor.

The Malay kinship terms are also used as the first and second substitutes when one is referring to oneself or another person. For example, "Aku nak kau belikan aku DVD 'The Host' kat Bukit Jambul" (literally: 'I want you to buy me 'The Host' DVD at Bukit Jambul') can be substituted with "Along nak Angah belikan Along DVD 'The Host' kat Bukit Jambul." 'Aku' is the first person pronoun which can be substituted with 'along' if 'aku' is the first-born child in the family, and 'kau' is the second-person pronoun which can be substituted with 'Angah' if 'kau' is the second-born child.

The use of the kinship terms 'along' and 'angah' shows a relationship which is as close, intimate, and personal as the one shown by 'aku-kau' between siblings in a family, but the use of 'along-angah' has a higher degree of politeness and is much less 'vulgar' or 'rough' than 'aku-kau' (Nor Hashimah Jalaluddin, 2005: 136).

Malay has two forms of address which can be categorized into two forms:

    1. 'bentuk-bentuk halus atau hormat' (literally: refined/polite or respect forms), such as 'saya' and 'awak' and
    2. 'bentuk-bentuk tidak hormat atau kasar' (literally: non-respect or vulgar/rough forms) (Nik Safiah Karim, 1990: 95-97).

Kinship terms, such 'along' and 'angah' can be placed under the 'bentuk-bentuk halus atau hormat' category, while the pronouns 'aku' and 'awak' under the 'bentuk-bentuk tidak hormat atau kasar' category.

(The writer borrows the term 'respect' from Harrison (2001), 'non-respect' from Cheran (2004), 'vulgar' or 'rough' from Schonfeld (1999). These terms might or might not reflect the true nature of what really exists in the Malay psyche when dealing with forms of address and kinship terms. Nonetheless, the writer feels that the terms are much more acceptable than some other choices given by the bilingual dictionary that the wri writer is currently using.)

Because of the complexity of the Malay kinship terms, a translator must carefully study the system of this target language in order to ensure that she or he uses the most appropriate and polite first or second person pronoun substitutes when translating into Malay.

Examples of Kinship Term Usage in Malay Subtitles

Basically, the translator of Malay subtitles manages to use the accurate and appropriate kinship terms. We will look at four selected subtitles to show the accuracy and appropriateness of the kinship term usage.

  1. Pak Cik, ada yang tak kena ni! Apa? (My Little Bride. Disc 1)
    (literally: 'Uncle, something is not right! What?)
  2. Pak Cik Nam! # Kepala saya sakit betul. (Love, So Divine, Disc 1) (literally: 'Uncle Nam! # My head really aches.')

    'Pak Cik' in Subtitle 1 and 'Pak Cik Nam' in the Subtitle 2 are correctly selected by the translator to match 'Samchon' and 'Samchon Nam' which are being used in the Korean dialogue of their respective movies. 'Samchon' is 'uncle' or literally means 'one's father's brother' in English (Leon of Leon's EFL Planet, 16 February 2007; Life in Asia, 1999-2007).

    In Malay, one can use the generic term 'Pak Cik' to refer to the younger or older brother of one's father or mother. However if the birth order of the 'uncle' is clearly defined, then terms, such as 'Pak Long,' 'Pak Ngah,' 'Pak Uda,' 'Pak Lang,' 'Pak Teh,' or 'Pak Su,' can be used. And in some subcultures of Malay, one can add the name of the brother after the kinship term 'pak cik,' such as ''Pak Cik Aziz' (Pakcik + name of brother). This form can be seen in Subtitle 2 which has the name 'Nam' after 'Pak Cik.'

    Coincidently, the addition of a name, like 'Nam' or 'Sofiah,' to a kinship term in Malay is similar to that of the Korean, as Korean also places the name after the kinship term: [kinship term + name], not [name + kinship]. Another coincidence is that both Malay and Korean allow the use of generic kinship terms, such as 'pakcik,' 'makcik,' 'samchon,' and 'harabeoji,' to be used to address a second person who is about the same age as one's parent or grandparent (Leon of Leon's EFL Planet, 16 February 2007; Wikipedia, 6 December 2006)

    'Harabeoji' is 'grandfather' or literally means 'one's parent's father' in English (Life in Asia, 1999-2007; Wikipedia, 6 December 2006). The correct usage of Malay kinship term is 'atuk,' which matches the literal meaning of 'harabeoji,' can be seen in Subtitle 3.

  3. Atuk, Atuk! Bangun, Atuk !' (My Little Bride, Disc 1)
    (literally: 'Grandpa, Grandpa! Wake up, Grandpa!')

    It seems that the terms which refers to the literal meaning 'one's parent's father' is almost always translated in most subtitles as 'atuk,' a clipped version of the standard form 'datuk.' And 'datuk' is almost always reserved for movie or drama characters who were bestowed the datukship by the king, sultan, or the governor. This can be seen in the English subtitle of Malay dramas or movies shown on the local networks. It is also found that other Malay dialect kinship terms which are assigned to a grandfather, such as 'wan,' 'tok ki,' 'tok ayah,' or 'pak tua,' are almost always never used in a Malay subtitle. (See Nor Hashimah Jalauddin, 2005: 46 for other kinship terms in the Malay dialects for 'one's parent's father.')

    In Subtitle 4 and 5, 'eomma' (literally: 'mother') is perfectly matched with 'ibu' and 'emak' respectively, two of the many terms assigned to 'one's female parent' (see Figure 1). However, in Subtitle 4, the second person pronoun 'kamu' (literally: 'you') is used to address a mother. This is really inappropriate and impolite. In the Malay culture, one is not allowed to 'kamu' (literally: address as 'you') one's parent. 'Kamu'-ing one's parent, who is definitely older in age, does not show respect to the elderly. The most appropriate and polite way is to use the kinship term 'ibu' as a substitute for the second person pronoun 'kamu.' See 4a.

    One could be accused of being 'biadap' (literally: 'rude') or 'kurang ajar' (literally: 'insufficiently taught') for using an inappropriate and improper form of address. And in an oral communication, one will definitely be reprimanded for not showing some kind of respect to the elders. This is not unique to the Malay culture only, as other cultures too promote respect to the elders (Georgia Department of Education, 2005-2006; Indianchild.com, 2001; KoreanWiz.Org, 2001-2007a; UNICEF)

  4. Inappropriate:
    Ibu...saya boleh dapat lelaki yang sesuai # saya sendiri, untuk berkahwin, // dan hidup bahagia selama-lamanya // Saya takkan hidup tanpa tujuan seperti kamu. (Oh! Happy Day, Disc 1)
    (literally: 'Mom, I can find a man that suits # me on my own, to get married, // and live happily ever after // I will not live aimlessly like you.')
    1. Appropriate:
      Ibu...saya boleh dapat lelaki yang sesuai # saya sendiri, untuk berkahwin, // dan hidup bahagia selama-lamanya // Saya takkan hidup tanpa tujuan seperti ibu.

  5. Appropriate:
    Mak, saya tak boleh (My Tutor Friend, Disc 1)
    (literally: 'Mom, I can't)

    According to Nor Hashimah Jalaluddin et al (2005: 136), even the use of 'saya' in situations shown by Subtitle 4 and 5 lessens the degree of politeness to an elderly kin like one's mother. It is better to use the kinship term that reflects the birth order of a child when addressing one's parent, as one's parent is definitely much older than oneself. In the case of Subtitle 4 and 5, the more polite term would then be:

    1. 'along' to reflect the fact that 'saya' in Subtitle 4 and 5 is the first child in family, without indicating the gender of the child (See 4c and 5b) or
    2. 'kak long' to also reflect the gender of the child, which is female, by using the clipped version of 'kakak,' which is 'kak' (See 4d and 5c).
    3. Appropriate:
      Ibu...along boleh dapat lelaki yang sesuai # along sendiri, untuk berkahwin, // dan hidup bahagia selama-lamanya // along takkan hidup tanpa tujuan seperti ibu.
    4. Appropriate:
      Ibu... kak long boleh dapat lelaki yang sesuai # kak long sendiri, untuk berkahwin, // dan hidup bahagia selama-lamanya // kak long takkan hidup tanpa tujuan seperti ibu.
    5. Appropriate:
      Mak, along tak boleh
    6. Appropriate:
      Mak, kak long tak boleh

    Other instances of ignoring the use of kinship terms as a form of addressing an older second person who is related can also be seen in Subtitle 6 and 7. Two other forms of the second person pronoun--'kau' (literally: 'you') in Subtitle 6 and 'awak' (also literally: 'you') in Subtitle 7 have been used to address one's grandfather and one's parent. The most appropriate, accurate, and polite way is to use the kinship term 'atuk' (literally: 'grandfather) or 'ayah' (literally: 'father') as a substitute for the second person pronoun 'kau' and 'awak' respectively. See 6a and 7a. Just like with 'kamu'-ing, one should also not 'kau'-ing or 'awak'-ing an elder, especially if that elder is blood-related.

  6. Inappropriate:
    Atuk, bangun, Atuk ! Kau tak boleh mati ! (My Little Bride, Disc 1)
    (literally: 'Grandpa, wake up, Grandpa! You can't die!)

    1. Appropriate:
      Atuk, bangun, Atuk ! Atuk tak boleh mati !

  7. Inappropriate:
    Awaklah berambus. (My Tutor Friend, Disc 1)
    (literally: You go!)
    1. Appropriate:
      Ayahlah berambus.

    The usage of 'berambus' in 7 and 7a is actually deemed impolite when speaking to one's parent. But the writer will not discuss this aspect in detail here. It would suffice to say that the proper alternative for 'berambus' is 'go' with an exclamation--'Ayahlah pergi!'--to reflect the tone of the context in which the subtitle represents.

    As stated earlier in this article, kinship terms can also be used to address a second person who is older than oneself and who is not connected either by blood, marriage, adoption, or fostering. Subtitle 8 is shown for a Korean dialogue between a boy and a female friend of his older brother. The translator should have selected the clipped kinship term of 'kakak' (literally: 'sister')--'akak' or 'kak'--, instead of 'kau' which is more appropriately used when addressing another person of the same age. See 8a.

  8. Inappropriate:
    Kau sangat cantik (My Tutor Friend, Disc 1)
    (literally: You are very beautiful)

    1. Appropriate:
      Akak / Kak sangat cantik.

    A problem also arises when dealing with the form of address for the first person. In Subtitle 9, 'ibu' is perfectly matched with 'eomma' (literally: 'mother'). However, in the same subtitle, the first person pronoun 'aku' (literally: 'I') is used to refer to oneself when speaking to a parent. This is really inappropriate and impolite. In the Malay culture, one is not allowed to 'aku' (literally: to 'I') one's parent. Instead, one should use the more polite and formal first person pronoun 'saya,' or one can resort to selecting a proper kinship term, which in this particular case is 'along' as the character is a first-born child of the family. See 9a and 9b.

    And to further expand some information on culturally sensitive aspects of Malay, even 'hei'-ing one's parent could be considered as impolite in some subcultures of Malay. Thus, 9 should be more appropriately translated to 9a or 9b depending on the degree of politeness that needs to be shown by the translator or by the context in which the subtitle represents.

  9. Appropriate:
    Heiibu ! Boleh aku simpan jambak bunga ni
    (literally: Hey mom! Can I keep this bouquet')
    (My Little Bride, Disc 1)

    1. Appropriate:
      Ibu ! Boleh saya simpan jambak bunga ni
      'saya'-1st person pronoun]
    2. Appropriate:
      Ibu ! Boleh along simpan jambak bunga ni
      ['along'- kinship term]


With more Korean movies and dramas being broadcast on Malaysian TVs and at the cinemas, the translator should be aware of the complexity of the culture of both the source language (i.e. Korean) and target language (i.e. Malay). The translator should take some time to study the differences and similarities of the systems for the kinship terms of the two cultures in order to produce good, quality Malay translation that will reflect his or her understanding of the diversity of languages and cultures in Malaysia and Asia, which in this case is Korea.

Selected References

Abdullah Hassan dan Ainon Mohd. 2001. Teori dan Teknik Terjemahan. Kuala Lumpur: PTS Publications & Distributors Sdn Bhd.

Amat Johari Juhari Moain. 1985. Sistem Panggilan Bahasa Melayu: Satu Analisis Sosiolinguistik. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

Awang Sariyan. 2007. Santun Berbahasa. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

Biology-Online.org. 2007. Kinship. http://www.biology-online.org/dictionary/Kinship. [2 March 2007]

Cheran, Elango. 2004. Commands. http://www.unc.edu/~echeran/paadanool/unicode/lesson13.html [29 April 2007]

'Daydream Believer...=D.' 2004-2006. http://miaka03.multiply.com/tag/rain. [17 February 2007.]

DeathBerry. 23 October 2003. http://deathberry.blogspot.com/2003_10_01_deathberry_archive.html. [29 March 2007]

Encarta® World English Dictionary [North American Edition] & Microsoft Corporation. 2007a. Synonym for vulgar - antonym for vulgar - Thesaurus - MSN Encarta. http://encarta.msn.com/thesaurus_/rough.html. [29 April 2007]

-----. 2007b. Synonym for vulgar - antonym for vulgar - Thesaurus - MSN Encarta. http://encarta.msn.com/thesaurus_/rough.html. [29 April 2007]


Farlex. 2007a. Kinship. In The Free Dictionary. http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/kinship. [2 March 2007]

Farlex. 2007b. Foster Child. In The Free Dictionary. http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/foster+child. [2 March 2007]

Georgia Department of Education. 2005-2006. Respecting Our Elders'.' In GeorgiaStandards.Org. http://www.glc.k12.ga.us/BuilderV03/LPTools/LPShared/lpdisplay.asp?LPID=37539 [1 March 2007]

Harrison, Alec J. 2001. Xavante Morphology and Respect/Intimacy Relationships. http://www.sil.org/americas/brasil/PUBLCNS/ANTHRO/XAVHONOR.pdf and http://www.sil.org/americas/brasil/EnglTcPb.htm [29 April 2007]

Holmes, Janet. 2001. An Introduction to Sociolinguistics (2nd. Edition). Harlow, England: Longman.

Hwang, Shin Ja J. 1991. 'Terms of Address: In Korean and American Cultures.' In Intercultural Communication Studies 1: 2:1991. http://www.trinity.edu/org/ics/ICS%20Issues/01%20ICS%20I%202/ICS-1-2-Hwang.pdf. [1 March 2007]

Indianchild.com. 2001. Respect your elders--care and respect our elders.' In Indian Child. http://www.indianchild.com/respect_your_elders.htm [1 March 2007]

KoreaWiz.Org. 2001-2007a. 'Understanding Korean Dramas--Part 1.' http://www.koreanwiz.org/understand.html. [1 March 2007.]

KoreaWiz.Org. 2001-2007b. 'Understanding Korean Dramas--Part 2.' http://www.koreanwiz.org/understand2.html. [1 March 2007.]

Leon of Leon's EFL Planet. 16 February 2007. Korean Lessons. http://efl.htmlplanet.com/kor_lesson.htm. [2 March 2007]

Life in Asia. 1999-2007. 'Family.' In Life in Korea. http://www.lifeinkorea.com/Language/korean.cfm?Subject=family. [1 March 2007]

Morin, Izak. 2006. Translating Pronouns and Proper Names: Indonesian versus English. In Translation Journal, Volume 10, No. 1, January 2006. http://accurapid.com/journal/35pronouns.htm [12 February 2007]

Nik Safiah Karim. 1990. Beberapa Persoalan Sosiolinguistik Bahasa Melayu. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

Nor Hashimah Jalaluddin, Harishon Radzi, Maslida Yusof, Raja Masittah Raja Ariffin, Sa'adiah Ma'alip. 2005. Sistem Panggilan dalam Keluarga Melayu: Satu Dokumentasi. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

Schonfeld, Alexander. 1999. Manisfestations of Gender Distinction in Japanese Language. http://www.coolest.com/jpfm.htm. [29 April 2007]

Schwimmer, Brian. 1998. Kinship Terminologies. http://www.umanitoba.ca/anthropology/tutor/kinterms/index.html. [12 February 2007]

Shin, Gi-Hyun. 2001. 'Apjonpeop and an emerging new politeness strategy in contemporary Korean.' http://www.arts.monash.edu.au/korean/ksaa/conference/papers/25gihyunshin.PDF#search='korean&pronoun&name.' [17 February 2007]

Szarkowska, Agnieszka. 'On teaching Forms of Address in Translation.' In Translation Journal, Vol.9, No.2, April 2005. http://www.accurapid.com/journal/33address.htm. [17 February 2007]

UNICEF. 'We must respect our elders but DO THEY EARN IT???!!!!.' In Voices of Youth. http://www.unicef.org/voy/discussions/showthread.php?t=919. [1 March 2007]

Wikipedia. 22 February 2007. 'Korean Wave.' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_wave. [1 March 2007.]

Wikipedia. 6 December 2006. Korean Pronouns. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_pronouns. [1 March 2007]

"Yo! Newbie In The House~ (.: Super Junior :. Knock Out Forum" http://z13.invisionfree.com/Knock_Out/ar/t2205.htm. [30 March 2007]


Love, So Divine, 2005, dir. Hur In-Moo, Encore, Korea, 2 discs.

My Little Bride, 2004, dir.Kim Ho-Jun, Korea Pictures & Culture Cap Media, Korea, 2 discs.

My Tutor Friend, 2003, dir. Kim Kyung-Hyung, CJ Entertainment, Korea, 2 discs.

Oh! Happy Day, 2003, dir. Yoon Hag-Yeol, Cinema Service, Korea, 2 discs.