Arguably one of the first things most foreigners notice when talking to Malaysians is the use of the word lah tagged at the end of the sentence and after certain words; seemingly at random.
I can almost guarantee that if you are walking the streets of any western country, and you hear in plain English, “So expensive-lah”, the person who just dotted his or her sentence with a lah is Malaysian (or Singaporean, but close enough).
So what is Lah?
The urban dictionary defines lah as “a suffix of no standard meaning used by Malaysians in their very own version of the English language (affectionately named Manglish) to spice up sentences and to express very different meanings according to the way it is said.”
It’s not exactly clear where this “lah” comes from and how it found its way into the English spoken by Malaysians. So it could have originated from Malay, Chinese or any of the local dialects or languages.
Foreign students will find it quite baffling at first. Sure, these Malaysians are speaking English but what on earth is that strange note that they place at the end of their sentences every so often? It does take some getting used to.
To Lah or not to Lah.
If you are new to the country, you may find some difficulty as to exactly when to pepper your speech with lah. Just going lah, lah, lah every first or third word doesn’t quite qualify. Neither will ending every sentence with lah. Malaysians will be able to sniff you out in a second and tell that somehow, sorry-lah, you just don’t make the grade. For example, try saying the following sentence aloud:
“I-lah tell you-lah how-lah many times-lah but-lah you never-lah listen.”
Any true blue-blooded Malaysian would cringe and tell straight-away that any person who speaks like that is an impostor.
The use of lah is, in fact, quite an art for those who were not born into the language. Here are a few sophisticated variations of its use:
“No fun-lah, you!” (You’re really no fun at all!)
“You see-lah, like that also you cannot do!” (Can’t you even do such a simple thing?)
What are the functions of the lah? What are the rules regarding its usage? Unfortunately, like The Matrix, one cannot be told how to use it. You have to see it for yourself.
Really. You can’t learn it formally. It’s an acquired taste. Like durian. Only less smelly. You’ve got to be around for some time, and gradually you’ll pick it up.