Speak Malay Like a Local – Lesson 8 : How to Address Strangers

Speak Malay Like a Local – Lesson 8 : How to Address Strangers

Uncle : Pak cik
Aunty : Mak cik
Elder brother : Abang
Elder sister : Kakak
Younger brother : Adik
Younger sister
Grandfather : Datuk
Grandmother : Nenek
Mister : Encik
Missus : Puan
Miss / Ms : Cik


1. Addressing a stranger older than you

  • Pak cik (Uncle) and Mak cik (Aunty) is appropriate for someone about your parents’ age. But be careful as some might get offended especially if they are unmarried, so try Bang and Kak first.
  • Bang (short form of Abang which means Elder brother) and Kak (short form of Kakak which means Elder sister) are the safest. It is usually used on someone not that much older than you, regardless of your age.
  • Tok/Atuk (short form of Datuk* which means Grandfather) and Nenek (Grandmother) – Unless they refer to themselves as such first, just don’t.

*Fun fact: Datuk and Dato also happen to be honorific titles conferred to both male and female Malaysians by Head of States and Sultans for services rendered to the country. The wife of a Datuk/Dato is called Datin.


2. A woman addressing a man

  • Abang is used in several ways in Malay language:
    • To call an elder brother
    • To call an elder male friend you have respect for
    • To call a husband
    • To a lesser extent, a term of endearment for a boyfriend
  • Some men get a kick out of hearing a woman call them Abang (because it sounds intimate) and might try to trick you into calling them that.
  • To avoid awkwardness or to maintain professionalism, address them as Encik (Mister). They’ll know you’re not there to play around.
  • But if you need a favour and don’t mind expending some feminine wiles, be my guest. Do expect emboldened response though.


3. Addressing a stranger younger than you

  • Adik (or Dik for short) is gender-neutral and can refer to either younger brother or younger sister.
  • The pronunciation for ‘i’ in Dik is like ‘a’ in ‘Date’. So Dik sounds like ‘Dake’ would in English. Go easy on the ‘d’ and ‘k’. Conversational Malay pronunciation is very relaxed and gentle with not much emphasis… anywhere.
  • Only use this term to call someone who clearly looks younger than you.


4. Addressing a stranger about the same age

  • Safest option would be Encik (Mister) or Cik (Ms).
  • This is applicable to adults.
  • Unfortunately, if you’re very young and still in school, Encik and Cik are not appropriate and might cause people to laugh at you.
  • Honestly, I always hear kids calling other kids they don’t know ‘Oi’ or ‘Hei’. It’s a bit rude, but it works.
  • In school, I had to keep asking people for their names because there are simply no alternatives.


5. BONUS – Excuse Me : Tumpang Tanya

  • While ‘Excuse Me’ in English is used in a wide array of situations, tumpang tanya is specifically used to ask a question.
  • You don’t say tumpang tanya if you’ve sneezed, or accidentally bumped into someone.
  • Tumpang tanya is a very polite way to ask permission from someone to impose on them a question.
  • Tumpang means to take shelter with someone or to impose on their kindness in any way.
  • Tanya means to ask.

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