Find out which Tagalog words are borrowed from our Southeast Asian neighbors!


As Filipinos, we often say that Tagalog is influenced by the Spanish, Chinese and Malay language, but how many of us actually realize just how similar Tagalog, Malay and the Indonesian language are?

It has always been taught in our schools that we have borrowed words from our Southeast Asian neighbors. In fact, bahasa Melayu (Malay languange) and bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian languange) are mutually intelligible. It means that Malaysians and Indonesians (and people from Brunei) will be able to instantly hold decent conversations with each other except for a number of word differences or slangs. The real fun part though is knowing what these words are and how it’s changed its usage or spelling in our language, most notably, Tagalog. Even more interesting is that the Tausug dialect (also my father’s dialect) also shares a lot of words with the bahasa Melayu.

Unfortunately, I am not well-versed with the dialect of my father and neither is my father familiar with bahasa Melayu, so I had to message my brother-in-law, who is also a Tausug and working in Malaysia, to ask him for examples of similar words between Tausug and bahasa Melayu. We’ve come up with a few interesting choices.

Ready to be amused? Keep on reading and learn 18 basic words (and so much more) that have the same roots (or similar sounding to) in bahasa Melayu and bahasa Indonesia.


1 Battle of the Sexes

  • lelaki-lalaki-man/male

This is one of those amusing single-letter changes and it may take a few times to get used to hearing LE-laki instead of LA-laki that we are so often used to. Meanwhile, in Indonesia, a man is called ‘pria.’ If you think it sounds like one of the latest cars in a Toyota series, that’s alright because I thought so too.

For the women, however, the words are completely different. Malaysians and Indonesians use ‘perempuan’ while Filipinos use ‘babae.’

2 More fun ‘single-letter changes’

  • tolak-tulak-push
  • payung-payong-umbrella
  • tolong-tulong-help
  • beli-bili-buy

I must admit that I still giggle like a kid whenever I see the written forms of these words in bahasa Melayu or Indonesia.

3 Want to haggle the price?

  • mahal-mahal-expensive
  • murah-mura-cheap

If you’re a Filipino, don’t even open your mouth in the marketplace and instead get a local Malaysian or Indonesian to haggle for you because Filipinos may look like locals but we don’t talk or sound like one. If you do want to talk, you might like to avoid using the words, ‘mahal’ and ‘mura’ because the shopkeepers can understand you (and probably judge you for being cheap or stingy).

4 The curious case of the ‘R’

  • sandar-sandal-lean
  • bayar-bayad-pay

Close enough.

5 Know your body!

  • mata-mata-eyes
  • kuku-kuko-nails
  • telinga-tenga-ears
  • muka-mukha-face

The last two are interesting since they show a chain of several words in bahasa Melayu and Indonesia that sounds similar to Tagalog words but have completely different meanings!

  • bibir-labi-lips > mulut-bibig-mouth
  • belakang-likod-back > pinggang-balakang-hip > piring-pinggan-plates

6 Tall or short?

  • pendek-pandak-short

However, the Malaysian and Indonesian word equivalent of ‘tall’ is ‘tinggi’ (in Tagalog, ‘matangkad’).

7 It’s pretty black and white

  • hitam-itim-black
  • putih-puti-white

Like cats and dogs. In fact, ‘cat and dog’ in Malaysia and Indonesia is ‘kucing dan anjing’ (in Tagalog, ‘pusa at aso’).

8 Feeling thirsty?

  • minum-inom-to drink

The noun of ‘minum’ is ‘minuman’ and in Tagalog, the noun of ‘inom’ is ‘inumin.’ However, the Tagalog word for ‘to eat’ is different from that of Malaysian and Indonesian (makan-kain-to eat).

9 “To the left, to the left”

  • kanan-kanan-right

Sorry to disappoint you guys, but our ‘left’ (in Tagalog, ‘kaliwa’) is ‘kiri’ in bahasa Melayu and bahasa Indonesia. (Who sang Beyonce’s song in their head while reading this though?)

10 Ouch

sakit-sakit-painful / sick

Unfortunately, pain is universal.

11 Count to ten!

  • empat-apat-four
  • lima-lima-five
  • enam-anim-six

Don’t ask me what happened to the rest of the numbers.

12 How does it taste?

  • asam-asim-sour
  • manis-tamis-sweet
  • asin-maalat-salty > garam-asin-salt

For those who love food and talk about it.

13 Oh, darling

  • cinta-sinta-love / darling

Of course, this list is incomplete (for all my fellow Filipinos) if I didn’t include something related to love. Interestingly, love, just like pain, is also universal.

14 We’re open!

  • buka-bukas-open

Malaysians and Indonesians say, ‘tutup’ when they are closed (in Tagalog, ‘sarado’).

15 Now on Tausug words…

  • kahwin-kahwin-wedding
  • bahasa-bahasa-language
  • kilat-kilat-lightning
  • napas-nafas-breath
  • jantung-jantung-heart
  • taih lalat-tahi lalat-mole

The last one practically means ‘fly’s poop’ (‘taih’ being poop and ‘lalat’ being the fly), what a funny way of describing a mole.

16 Tricky words

  • otot—muscle

If you are Filipino, you will immediately know why this tricky word is funny and a bit embarrassing. And yes, I purposely left out the Tagalog word equivalent from this selection. Basically, ‘utut’ is ‘fart’ in Tagalog.

17 European influence

  • meja-mesa-table
  • sepatu-sapatos-shoes

In Malaysia, ‘shoes’ is called ‘kasut.’

Just like the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia have been colonized by foreigners too. But unlike the Philippines being colonized by Spaniards for three hundred and thirty-three years, it was the Portuguese who colonized our neighbors.

18 If you already didn’t know…

The rambutan fruit that Filipinos love to eat, the name itself, has its roots to the Malaysian and Indonesian language as the word for hair or ‘rambut,’ hence the name for the hairy looking fruit is rambutan!

Similar to orangutans, ‘orang’ is the word for ‘person’ and ‘hutan’ is the word for ‘forest!’


I’d like to end this article with a sentence my 5 year old nephew (Filipino kid growing up in Malaysia) once said as he fell to the ground, “Ah, masakit lah, I jatuh on the floor!” (Ah, it’s painful lah, I fell on the floor). What a mix!

If you have more (and there are a lot more), comment down below! #

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