The linkage of Malay (and Indonesian) with Tagalog

In order to read part 2, click here.


Because of 300 years of Spanish colonial rule, Tagalog has a large amount of Spanish vocabulary. However before the arrival of the Spaniards, Tagalog had vocabulary from other languages such as Chinese languages, Sanskrit and, of course, Malay.

Not only do Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia share cultural, genetic, geographic, economic and historical ties with the Philippines but also in language too. This is mainly because the languages are part of the Austronesian family. The older Austronesian languages came from Taiwan and later spread out into the Malay Archipelago, the Pacific Islands and as far as Madagascar.

Although, the Tagalog people of Manila would’ve gotten Malay words after being connected politically with Brunei. Not only was Tagalog influenced by Malay but a number of other Philippine languages were also influenced by Malay. But for this article, I will focus on Tagalog mainly because that is the Philippine language I’m most familiar with.

Vocabulary comparisons

Although there are more than 5000 Tagalog words of Spanish origin, there are more than 3000 words of Malay or Indonesian origin.

NOTE: There are some words in Tagalog that are same/similar to Malay or Indonesian however those words may have come via other languages especially Sanskrit.

Here are some words both found in Tagalog and Malay and mean the same thing.

Word English
anak child
balik to return
gunting scissors
kami we (excludes 2nd person)
kambing goat
kanan right
langit sky
lima five
mahal expensive
mata eye
sakit sick
saksi witness

If the Malay/Indonesian word has a ~u, replace it with an ~o in Tagalog.

Tagalog Malay/Indonesian English
Ako Aku I (informal in Malay)
abo abu ash
bato batu stone
payong payung umbrella
pinto pintu door
takot takut fear

If the Malay/Indonesian word ends with ~i, replace it with ~oy or ~ay in Tagalog.

Tagalog Malay/Indonesian English
apoy api fire
baboy babi pig
matay mati to die

If the Malay/Indonesian word has a ~e, replace it with a ~a in Tagalog.

Tagalog Malay/Indonesian English
katok ketuk to knock
(ma)lambot lembut soft
pandak pendek small
sarap sedap delicious

If the Malay/Indonesian word has a ~r, replace it with a ~l in Tagalog.

Tagalog Malay/Indonesian English
balita berita news
kulang kurang less
libo ribu thousand
sulat surat letter

Here are some false friends between Malay/Indonesian and Tagalog.

Tagalog Meaning Malay/Indonesian Meaning
bawang garlic bawang onion
dapat to have to do dapat to manage to do
gulay vegetables gulai curry
hari king hari day
ito this itu that
lagi always lagi again
salamat thank you selamat safe
sama-sama together sama-sama you’re welcome
sandok ladle senduk spoon
saya happy, skirt saya I (formal)
suka vinegar suka to like
suso breast susu milk

Even when either the Malay and/or Indonesian word is of Portuguese origin, the Tagalog word would be of Spanish origin for the same meaning.

Tagalog Spanish Malay/Indonesian Portuguese English
bandila bandera bendera bandeira flag
iskwela escuela sekolah escola school
keso queso keju quejo cheese
kotse coche kereta(M) carreta car
mantekilya mantequilla mentega manteiga butter
lamesa (la) mesa meja mesa table
sabon jabón sabun sabão soap
sapatos zapatos sepatu(I) sapatos shoes
tinidor tenedor garpu garfo fork

Here are other words in Tagalog that are similar to Malay and/or Indonesian that mean the same thing.

Tagalog Malay/Indonesian English
basa baca to read
bili beli to buy
buwaya buaya crocodile
hangin angin wind
itim hitam black
pasok masuk to enter
pulo pulau island
puti putih white
suka cuka vinegar
tanghali tengah (half) hari (day) noon
taon tahun year

Here are other words in Tagalog of Malay and/or Indonesian origin that mean the something different.

Tagalog Malay/Indonesian English
dalamhati dalam (inside) hati (liver) grief
luwalhati luar(outside) hati (liver) glory

This is an abridged list of the Tagalog words similar to Malay or Indonesian as there are bound to be more words. Chances are that if you know Spanish and Malay/Indonesian, then learning Tagalog wouldn’t be much of a problem when it comes to vocabulary.


48 thoughts on “The linkage of Malay (and Indonesian) with Tagalog

  1. sorry to double-post, but after realising your very impressive language list, but what do you think about the (mostly accidental) similarities between spanish and malay? there seems to be a surprisingly large number of false friends between spanish and malay (even with just a most transient contact in the 2 languages) ? Just to write out a few:
    and generally the somewhat frequent occasions when individual words of the 2 languages sounds like it would slot right into the other

    • Hi niming,

      Hmm, interesting observation

      Word – Spanish meaning – Malay meaning
      anda – walk – you
      dia – day – he/she
      dan – they give – and

      To be honest with you, they are probably not loanwords or cognates but just coincidences. If these were loanwords, they would have similar meanings. But as you can see, the meanings are far from similar to each other.

      • hello niming and jonny: i suppose anda (in indonesian) does not come from spanish, but from arabic (since there is a strong islamic influence in the southern philippines, malaysia, and western and central indonesia). in arabic, the original word would be anta, which is the singular masculine pronoun ‘you’ (the feminine being ‘anti’)

      • You’re right that Malacca was colonised by the Portuguese so those words probably came from it.


  2. Very cool! And what about Arabic words? I would think there would be words of that origin in both languages, but maybe I’m tarantado:) (Btw, does that latter word have a Spanish origin?)

    • Hi, nick.
      Both Tagalog and Malay share the Arabic word/s “salamah” or “salaam”. “Salamat” in Tagalog means “Thank you” while “selamat” in Malay means “peace” or “safe”. If you think about it, when you thank someone, it’s like wishing them safety or peace. Both Malay and Indonesian have way more Arabic words than Tagalog, especially when most of Malaysia and Indonesia are Muslim while Tagalog have lots of Spanish loanwords because of Spanish influence in both language and Catholicism in the Philippines. There was a time when Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines were culturally connected to each other but then the Spaniards came to the Philippines and changed it a lot.

      BTW “Tarantado” is a Tagalog word of Spanish origin meaning something like “confused” or “foolish”.
      I hope I helped.

      • ‘as far as i know, there i1s a slight difference in the use of the word ‘selamat’ in indonesia. when used alone, it means “congratulations!” but exists in combination in expressions like ‘selamat pagi’ (good morning) or ‘ ‘selamat malam’ (good evening/night)

    • Ok, maybe. In Malay/Indonesian, it’s “bodoh” while in Tagalog it’s either “bobo” or “gago”. “Bobo” sounds closer tho. Thanks.

      • interesting. but if you learn more local dialect of some states in Malaysia the similarities are even interesting. Standard Bahasa Malaysia for an example the dog cat and chicken are anjing kucing and ayam but for Sarawakian Malays it’s called asu’ pusa’ and mano’ which is

        similar to Tagalog. In some local sarawakian dialect the word kenal (BM) which mean to know or know you equal to tagalog kilala is kelala (Iban Dayak) or kilala’ in Kedayan (similar to Bruneian).

      • Hi Al,

        Very interesting observations. I’m not familiar with Sarawak Malay as opposed to Bahasa Malaysia or Indonesian which I’m more familiar with. Thanks. This does reflect the geographical, historical, cultural and political connections the Philippines share with Brunei and Borneo. 🙂

  3. I just want to add that the word “sama-sama” in Indonesian can also mean together (same as tagalog). so it is not only used as “you’re welcome”. for example “kita pergi sama-sama” means “we’re going together”. and the word gagu in indonesian (similar to gago in tagalog), can also mean mute person and maybe sometimes be used as a derogatory term.

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  5. Correction …

    Senduk is not a spoon in Malay but a ladle, spoon is “sudu” … susu also means “breast” in Malay but it is now archaic or almost fall to disuse .. dapat in Malay means “to have” or “to earn” or “to be able to” … also the word “sama-sama” literally means “together” and it is still used generally to mean so in both Malaysia and Indonesia .. and “sama-sama” used as “you’re welcome” actually means “no need to thank me but we should be mutually (together) thankful”

    As for the vinegar .. In Malay, vinegar is pronounced cuka ( read :chu-ka ) .. even in the Malaysian state of Sabah the locals have this tendency to pronounce every “ch” sound as “s”, due to localization of Malay with native dialect … For example “Boss, macam mana cuti saya ? ” (how’s my leave application, sir?) to “Boss, masam mana suti saya ?”. So I believe there would be tonnes of similar words deemed “false friends” only because of this reason alone i.e alteration due to localized pronunciation …

    To add to the similarity vocabs :

    Kerbau = Water Buffalo
    Bilis = Anchovy

    • Thanks for this.

      kerbau = kalabaw
      bilis = dulis

      Good to know that Tagalog’s sandok and Malay’s senduk actually means the same thing. Also how “dapat” in both languages have to do with obligation.

      Terima kasih/Salamat/Thanks

  6. im filipino and speak 4 regional dialects here in are the additional words that have same meaning in bahasa malay/indonesia..adah(ilocano), ini(bicol),nasi(kapampamgan), ikan(ilocano), makan(ilocano), lain(bisaya),kamu(bisaya)..i always believe that we speak same language before our country were colonized by spanish…

    • Thanks Jim,

      This article was mainly comparing Malay/Indonesian with Tagalog but it’s good to see more comparisons with other Philippine languages.

    • Dude, we already spoke different languages even before the arrival of Spaniards, Portuguese, Dutch, Brits, Americans, Arabs, Indians, Chinese etc in the Malay Archipelago (present day Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore). Malay or Old Malay was used as a court and trade language in the Philippines esp during the time of Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms in pre-Spanish Philippines. But during the reign of these kingdoms, our different Philippine languages (as well as languages of Malaysia and Indonesia) already existed.

    • hey, jim… agreed that there are words in bahasa indonesia or bahasa melayu that are similar to words in areas north of manila. i’m more familaiar with indonesian, thus the labels in parethesis: ada (indonesia) = adda (ilocano), wada (kankana-ɜy, in benguet and mountain provinces)… jalan (indonesia) = dalan (ilocano) = danan (kankana-ɜy)… hujan (indonesia) = ulan (tagalog) = udan (kankana-ɜy)… esa (indonesian/javanese) = isa (tagalog) = ɜːsa (kankana-ɜy)… tɜːllu (indonesian/javanese) = tatlo (tagalog) = tulò (kankana-ɜy)… awak (body, indonesian/javanese) = awak (kankana-ɜy)… enam (indonesian) = anim (tagalog) = ɜːnnɜːm (ilocano) = ɜːnɜːm (kankana-ɜy)… empat (indonesian) = papat (javanese) = apat (tagalog) = upat/ɜpat (kankana-ɜy)… sepulo (indonesian) = sampo (tagalog) = simpu (kankana-ɜy) = sampulo (ibaloi/inivadoy, benguet)… there’s more…

  7. A great article.
    I found out that President of the Philippines called Pangulo in Tagalog. Similar to Penghulu or Panghulu in Malay language but now it refer to the Chief of Villages a non political leadership. For the higher ranks (political based) most of the title derieved from Sanskrit and Arab ie Perdana Menteri (PM).
    I think the basic word is Ulu or Hulu equal to Head. For example in Malay, head of the river called Ulu or Hulu. Similar to the head of a dagger or machete etc called Hulu Keris or Hulu Parang etc. It seem that ulu/hulu predate kepala (modern Malay for head). Just a thought.

  8. I am from the Philippines and I spoke two Bicol languages and Tagalog which are all Austronesian/ Malayo-Polynesian languages like Malay. I would also like to clarify that NOT ALL Malay-looking words in the Philippine languages came from Malay because they could only be cognates since they are related languages within the AUSTRONESIAN language family. Here are the list of Bicol cognates of Malay and their meaning in parentheses:
    DANGAN (Bicol Albay: and)/ DENGAN (with)
    DAN (Bicol Miraya: and)/ DAN (and)
    AYO (Bicol Miraya: there is, there are)/ ADA (there is, there are)
    BASA (read)/ BACA (read)
    BADO (dress)/ BAJU (dress)
    BALAY (Bicol Miraya: house)/ BALAI (public building)
    BA’GO (new)/ BARU (new)
    BAYAD (to pay)/ BAYAR (to pay)
    maBUGAT (heavy)/ BERAT (heavy)
    BISARA (to speak)/ BICARA (to speak)
    BULAN (moon)/ BULAN (moon)
    DALAN (road)/ JALAN (road, path)
    BUKA (to open)/ BUKA (to open)
    BAKO (Bicol: no), BUKUN (Bicol Miraya: no)/ BUKAN (no)
    BUTA (blind)/ BUTA (blind)
    DANAO, DANAW (lake)/ DANAU (lake)
    DAHON (Bicol: leaf), DAWN (Bicol Miraya: leaf)/ DAUN (leaf)
    LUWAS (Bicol: outside), LUWAN or LUAN (Bicol Miraya: outside)/ LUAR (outside)
    TIMBANG (weigh)/ TIMBANG (weigh)
    DUWA (two)/ DUA (two)
    ANOM (Bicol: six), UNUM (Miraya: six)/ ENAM (six)
    HALAGA (price)/ HARGA (price)
    HILAW (unripe fruit or undercooked food)/ HIJAU (green)
    ITOM (black)/ HITAM (black)
    aRAYO (far)/ JAUH (far)
    IKADUWA (second)/ KEDUA (second)
    PALAPA (coconut fronds)/ KELAPA (coconut)
    KAMBAL (twins)/ KEMBAR (twins)
    KUTING (kitten)/ KUCING (cat)
    LABI (too much, more, many)/ LEBIH (more)
    INOM (to drink)/ MINUM (to drink)
    maPAIT (bitter)/ PAHIT (bitter)
    PUNO (full)/ PENUH (full)
    PILI (to choose)/ PILIH (to choose)
    PUTI (white)/ PUTIH (white)
    SALA (wrong)/ SALAH (wrong)
    SANTAN (caramelized sugar and carabao or coconut milk)/ SANTAN (coconut milk)
    DIKIT, DIIT, SADIKIT, SADIIT, SADIT (a little)/ SEDIKIT (a little)
    SADIRI (oneself)/ SENDIRI (oneself)
    SINING (art)/ SENI (art)
    TSUPER (fr. Sp: driver)/ SOPIR (fr. ?Port: driver)
    aTAMAN (adopted member of the family)/ TEMAN (friend)
    TUNONG (be quiet, stop), TUNINONG (quiet, calm) / TENANG (quiet, calm)
    IYO (yes)/ YA (yes), IYO (I read this also means YES in Moluccan Malay or Manado Malay. I cannot remember though which of the two has the “iyo” for yes.)

    • Hi Lester,

      Very interesting! Shows even more connections between the Philippines and the Malay Archipelago. Thank you so much for the list.

      I’ve always wanted to learn more about the Bicol languages. Can I get the resource of those words from your list? Were they from a resource or from your own knowledge?

    • hello, Lester. here’s more similarities and false friends: dangan (ilocano, north philippines) = handspan, measure… bàsa (ilocano) = wet, same in indonesian… bado is clothes (ilocano)… balai (indonesian) = balay (ilocano) = baley (ibaloi/inivadoy, benguet province)… jalan (indonesian) = dalan (ilocano) = danan (kankana-ɜy, benguet province)… bukan (not, indonesian) = baken (kankana-ɜy)… buta (blind, indonesian) = na-buta (something’s in my eye, kankana-ɜy)… dekat (near, indonesian) = dekket (nearby, glued; ilocano)

  9. Interesting! I am a Malay of Malaysia from the state Kedah in northern Peninsular Malaysia (near Thai border). Some Tagalog words that spell differently from standard Malaysian Malay words are also local words in local Malay spoken in northern Peninsular Malaysia, e.g. we in Kedah (and other parts of north Peninsular Malaysia) also say ‘katok’ (knock) and ‘pandak’ (small, short) although we also use the standard Malay words of ‘ketuk’ and ‘pendek’.

  10. First put aside the language borrowed from the languages ​​of Spanish, English, Sanskrit and Arabic etc.
    Then make a comparison between Malay / Indonesian and Tagalog (also from other languages ​​in the Malay archipelago including the Merina from Madagascar) Of course you can find similarities, so it is not surprising because the Malay/Indonesian and Tagalog is derived from the ancient Austronesian languages. They do not borrow it, but that’s the language they inherited.

    • It is not always easy to distinguish which Tagalog words are of 100% Malay/Indonesian origin (chances are it may be the other way around). The words from both languages in the lists would ultimately be of Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian or Chinese origin due to those influences in that area. I could only think of both Tagalog and Malay pronouns and numbers that are mostly Austronesian.

      I only focused on Bahasa Malay/Indonesian and Tagalog for this article. If I were to make comparisons between other languages ​​in the Malay archipelago and Madagascar, it will be a totally different article. Finding resources for those will be challenging.

  11. jonny, salam kenal. saya orang filipina, asli kota pergunungan (baguio city). kamu dari mana? bagaimana kamu bisa berbahasa indonesia? …(o iya, di indonesia “saya” itu lebih formal, kalau “aku” untuk orang-orang yang sudah kenal atau teman dekat – mungkin beda di malaysia)

    • hi wrsurya,

      saya juga orang filipina tetapi saya tinggal di australi sekarang. saya juga sudah belajar bahasa indonesia di sekolah di australi.

      terima kasih dan “salamat”

  12. Hi, Jonney! Interesting topic! I’ve been searching for this kind of discussion. I also have a piece of information about some similar words and false friends.
    (mly – tglog – english_mly/english_tglg)
    ingat – ingat – remember / be careful [in Malay, ‘beringat’ or ‘beringat-ingat’ means ‘careful’ too]
    sakit – sakit – ill, painful, pain
    tolong – tulong – help
    tanggap – tanggap – assume, presume / accept
    bangun – bangon – get up (from sitting down and /from sleep)
    sikat – sikat – hair comb / sunrise, famous
    manok – manok? – chicken [Sarawakian Malay uses this on regular speech. Malay: Ayam]
    pusak – pusa – cat [Sarawakian Malay. Malay: Kucing]
    baru, baharu – bago – new [in some Malaysian dialect, we use guttural R like French one, which makes baru sounds closer to bago]
    (ber)sama – (ka)sama – with
    tahun – taon – year
    menangis – manangis – to cry / to mourn, to weep
    melukut – malungkot – sad (not sure, obsolete one. still used in idioms) / sad
    kambing – kambing – goat
    bahagi – bahagi – distribute, divide / to share

    There might be some inaccurate info in my sharing. Please correct it if it does. By the way, for standard Peninsular Malay pronunciation, those which is e in Malay and a in Tagalog (like: menangis, manangis) is pronounced with schwa e. Also, for some words spelled with u in Malay and o in Tagalog, and is followed by consonant, it is pronounced with closed o, close to Tagalog ones (like: tahun is ta-hon, not ta-hoon, masuk (enter/get in), is ma-sok, not ma-sook). I am happy to share this with people who really cares about our relation. 😀

    • Hi Irfan,

      Thank you very much for this analysis. I’m glad you too are interested in the connection between the two languages.

      Keep them coming!

  13. I found this article very insightful for the most part. And just to clarify, some of the words that you said were originally from Malay aren’t. As I saw in another post, they might be just cognates. There’s no use in saying Language A took a word from Language B if they were already related languages in the first place. And for another detail, it wasn’t Malay that influenced Tagalog (I think you were referring to Filipino, since Tagalog, the other dialect/language, sounds more different from the examples you have given), instead it was really the old languages of the Northern Malay Archipelago (specifically starting from Formosa/Taiwan). Then it spread to the Southern parts of the archipelago, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, et cetera. For one last point to make everything clear, most of the words or vocabulary that you have stated that are of Malay/Indonesia origin aren’t for the most part borrowed words. They’re cognates, and if you are going to say otherwise, well, we don’t really have proof of the borrowing of these vocabulary.

    • Hi Javier,

      Thank you for your insight.

      You’re right that some of the cognates may not be originally Malay but possibly from either Arabic, Sanskrit, Chinese languages or Portuguese. It is also true that some of these cognates of the two languages would’ve descended from the older Austronesian languages starting from Taiwan. They are also the ancestors of other languages in Indonesia, Philippines, Madagascar and the Pacific Islands.

  14. thanks for this article. i am actually very curious of our languages. i speak tagalog. I find it very interesting.

  15. Hi, apa kabar? Saya seorang filipini dari Sambuangan. Saya seorang suluk ( tausug ) In my obsevation the southern filipinos dialect has more similarities in bahasa melayu and indonesi that the northern filipinos. Sinama, Tausug, Yakan, maguindanaoan etc bears resemblance to the Bahasa of malaysia amd indonesia. Example house: rumah melayu, luma sinama.. mankind: manusiya melayu, manusia tausug, smile: senyum melayu, uyum in tausug, sinama, yakan.. love one: kekasih melayu, kakasi tausug and more.. one observation to this similarity is the geographical proximity of sulu, basilan and tawi tawi to the brunei and malysian peninsula which speak bahasa melayu.. thats why its posible to see and meet some filipinos who are fluent in bahasa melayu and indonesi as it serves as their second language as they speak it more often than tagalog. So if you are interested on learning a language, as a filipino its best to learn bahasa.. as its one of the major language spoken in the nusantara melayu which consist of millions of people.. if you are good in bahasa, then you dont have to worry living in indonesia, malaysia, singapore, and brunei as these country shares almost the same language.

    Magsukul! Gracias! Thankyou! Salamat! Terimah kasih!

    • Hi Akong Kong,

      Thank you for your observation.

      There are also still some words in northern languages like Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Kapampangan and Bikol that have similarities to Malay words. However, it’s great that you’ve given some examples from the southern languages, which I wouldn’t have known. You may be right that due to geographical proximity the southern languages have acquired some more Malay vocabulary.

      Personally I’ve studied Malay/Indonesian and I’m still interested in learning it again.


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