But you’re a Sabahan!

My Bahasa Malaysia (BM) accent is always a question to people on this side of the country (Peninsular Malaysia, specifically, Kuala Lumpur). Different states have different accents and slangs and Sabah is no different! :)

Some Sabahan-induced words.

Sia/sa (saya; me), ko (kau; you), ndak (tidak; no), palui (bodoh; stupid), bikin panas (menyampah; annoying), sialan (sial; damn), bah (to say yes, to question, to ignore, to emphasis, to express annoyance… Okay, this word is versatile!) and many more!

Even our sentence structure is different!

English: “Hey, can you please be fast? If I miss the bus, you better watch your back!”

The formal BM: “Boleh cepat sikit? Kalau saya terlepas bas tu, nahas engkau!”

The conversational and conventional BM: “Eh, cepat sikit boleh tak? Kalau saye terlepas bas tu, nahas kau!”

The Sabahan BM: “Uinah… Cepat sikit boleh ka? Kalau tu bas kasi tinggal sa, jaga kau!”


English: “What’s wrong with you? You seemed different. Are you drunk? I’ll tell your mom…!”

The formal BM: “Kenapa dengan engkau ni? Kau nampak lain lah. Kau mabuk? Saya beritahu mak engkau!”

The conversational and conventional BM: “Kau ni kenape? Macam lain je. Kau mabuk eh? Saya bagitau mak kau…”

The Sabahan BM: “Kenapa ko ni? Macam lain-lain? Ko mabuk ni kan? Naaaa. Sia kastau mami kau…”


(And by the way, there are MORE ways to say these sentences, especially in conversational and Sabahan BM depending on which part of the country/state you’re from.)

Well, you get the idea!

Whenever I ‘turn on’ my Sabahan accent/slang, not many people can understand me and they’ll ask me over and over again until I ‘make sense’. It’s either that or they will look at me differently, trying to pin point where I’m from. The complain I get is that I speak too fast when I don’t. I guess it’s just hard to catch something [an accent] you rarely hear.

Repeat what I say until I ‘make sense’? Uhm.

So in order to avoid this confusion, I pretty much pick up on the BM spoken in KL and adopt it in my daily life. It’s not really hard to pick up since I grew up being exposed to the accent thanks to the national TV and cinema. But seeing that I don’t really practice it that often since my main language in KL is English, I get tongue tied and nervous whenever I start speaking BM.

I do get several people (all of which are non-Sabahans) asking me why I speak in the Semenanjung accent when I’m from Sabah.

“You should just speak in your own accent/ slang!”

I tried and failed miserably. Some made fun of me, some made me repeat myself over and over again and some get annoyed with me and start telling me to “speak Malay, the ‘REAL’ Malay”. I became more of an entertainment magnet where people would just look at me in awe and ask me to pronounce several words in my ‘native’ accent.

But there are times when I just get so tired speaking in the conventional BM accent that I just speak in my own Sabahan accent. I made sure my words are clear, I speak in a slow paced and I try to leave out any Sabahan-induced words.

But the question still stands;

“Why don’t you just converse in Sabahan BM? Isn’t it the same? A little word change wouldn’t hurt right?”

I guess the answer to that is that when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Trust me, I’ve tried to speak in the Sabahan BM around my friends before, but it’s pretty hard to switch and ‘hold on’ to one accent when the other person speaks in a different accent. It’s either they follow me and speak in an Indonesian accent (because the Sabahan accent has some similarities in terms of intonation with the Indonesian language) or I’ll automatically follow them.

Some of my friends keep on speaking in the Sabahan accent even when they’re surrounded with a whole bunch of non-Sabahan friends. Talk about self control! I respect them, especially since I know that it’s mighty hard!

But of course, when around Sabahan friends or non-Sabahan friends that I’m close with and used to hearing me speaking in my Sabahan accent, I’d usually (and comfortably) fall back to my Sabahan accent and be all, “Finally! Someone I can talk in BM with!”

Okay, enough ranting. Point is, I am proud of being from Sabah and I love the Sabahan accent because it’s hilarious and our slang is fucking awesome. Speaking in a different accent doesn’t make me any less Sabahan. I’m still a Sabahan. As long as I know my roots and know when to ‘bounce back’ when I surround myself with other Sabahans, it’s all cool.

Like I said in my Accent post, no use condemning anyone when they speak in a different accent. They have their reasons, we all do.

Picture has no relation to post. HAI!

Author: Jasmine

Jasmine is from tropical Borneo. She loves traveling, fashion and all things lifestyle.

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