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The Meaning of Lah: Understanding "Emphasis" in Malay (Bahasa Melayu)

Cliff Goddard
Oceanic Linguistics
Vol. 33, No. 1 (Jun., 1994), pp. 145-165
DOI: 10.2307/3623004
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3623004
Page Count: 21
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The Meaning of Lah: Understanding "Emphasis" in Malay (Bahasa Melayu)
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Abstract

The meaning of the illocutionary particle lah, a salient feature of Colloquial Malay, as well as of Malaysian and Singapore English, has proved notoriously difficult to pinpoint. For instance, with declaratives it may convey either "light-heartedness" or an "ill-tempered" effect, and it may either "soften" or "harden" a request. In this article the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) approach of Anna Wierzbicka is applied to the analysis of lah. This involves developing a translatable reductive paraphrase explication. According to the proposed explication, which is the length of a short paragraph, lah offers an explanation of the speaker's illocutionary purpose, which is roughly to correct or preempt a misapprehension or misunderstanding of some kind. The explication is shown to be flexible enough to predict the diverse effects that lah itself may convey in combination with other elements of an utterance, once Malay cultural norms of verbal interaction are taken into account.

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