"Why Do Malaysians Say 'Lah'?" — Looking At The History Behind Everyone's Favourite Word
If you're Malaysian, there is a 100% chance you use 'lah' for almost all your sentences when you talk
Whether you grew up in the city or the kampung, you can confirm spot another Malaysian based on how they talk. Specifically how they emphasise 'lah' at the end of every sentence. :P
'Lah' is a single word that can carry many different meanings
According to the International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL), 'lah' can be a form of affirmation, dismissal, exasperation, or exclamation in different contexts. It often comes at the end of the sentence to really drive the point home. Like this point I'm making right now, lahhh!
But beyond its meaning, the word 'lah' also comes with an interesting backstory.
'Lah' most likely came about from a combination of different languages
Malaysia lived under British rule between the 18th and 20th centuries. According to Culture Trip, this shared history also spurred the influx of Chinese and Indian immigrants at the time, leading to the development of a diverse speech community under British Malaya.
The combination of speech patterns produced by the Malays, Chinese, and Indians prompted a colourful blend of various languages mixed together with English, which slowly morphed into its own unique language, which we now know as Manglish (Malaysian English).
There is no official finding on when the word 'lah' specifically came to be. But one possible theory is that it originates from the Cantonese word, 'lah' (啦), which is placed at the end of a sentence in imperatives to make it sound more like a request than an order.
It possibly has Tamil origins as well, as 'lah' is still used widely in Southern Tamil Nadu (Thirunelveli, Kanyakumari district) in the same manner. 'Lah' has also impacted the Malay language as a suffix to emphasise or soften a point.
Wherever 'lah' originally came from, there's not doubt that the word has evolved and massively impacted the main languages used in Malaysia.
Here are a few different ways of how the word 'lah' has become a staple in the Malaysian vocabulary:
- Tunjuk ajar lah (Malay): Asking someone to teach you something, lah is used to emphasise request
- Bu yao zhe yang lah (Mandarin): Asking someone to 'don't be liddis!' lah is used to emphasise persuasion
- Hurry lah: Asking someone to speed up, lah is used to emphasise urgency
Born out of borrowing phrases and expressions from different languages in Malaysia, 'lah' is a word that transcends cultures and traditions
Nice history lesson, lah.
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