Indonesian Homographs

Updated: Jul 22

In our last two articles, we covered Indonesian homophones & homonyms. 

Today, we will discuss Indonesian homographs. A Homograph is a word that has more than one meaning, and is pronounced slightly differently in different situations.


An example of an English homograph would be this word : BASS. It can refer to a musical string instrument. In this case the word is pronounced /beis/.

OR It can also refer to a saltwater fish, in which case the word is pronounced /bas/.


NOW LET’S LOOK AT SOME INDONESIAN HOMOGRAPHS.

1. APEL


If you pronounce this word /ˈap(ə)l/ , you are referring to a kind of fruit. This pronunciation originates from the Dutch language.

On a busy workday, you might tell your colleagues . . .


Saya tidak makan siang, saya akan makan apel saja.”

(I’m not having lunch today, I’m just having an apple.)


OR If you pronounce this word /ˈapɛl/ , you are talking about a romantic date.



For example . . .


Saya ada apel sabtu malam ini dengan Rosa.”

(I have a date with Rosa on Saturday night.)

2. KECAP


If you pronounce this word /ˈkɛtʃʌp/, you are referring to soya sauce. Indonesians enjoy “kecap manis” (sweet soya sauce) or “kecap asin” (salty soya sauce).

If your food lacks flavour, you might ask the waiter . . .

Boleh saya minta kecap manis?

(Can I have sweet soya sauce?)


OR if you pronounce this word /ˈkətʃʌp/, you are talking about someone eating with their mouth open, and producing a “smacking” sound.



If your not-too-polite friend is making this smacking sound in a restaurant,

you might want to say to him or her . . .

Makan pelan-pelan saja, kecapmu terdengar sampai ke mana-mana!!!”

(Just eat slowly, your smacking can be heard everywhere!!!)

3. MEMERAH


You may assume that this word has a connection to the colour red (merah) . . .

And you would be correct.


If you pronounce the word /məˈmɛ.rah/, we are speaking of something that reddens - something that turns red. For example :


If I embarrass my friend and he blushes, I might say . . .


Oh maaf, pipimu memerah.”

(Oh sorry, you’re blushing / literally, your cheeks are red.)


If my friend gets a sunburn, I might say . . .


“Hei, kulitmu memerah!

(Hey, you have a sunburn / literally, your skin is red.)


If our friend did not get enough sleep last night, and has bloodshot eyes,

you might say . . .

“Oh, matamu memerah!

(Oh, you have bloodshot eyes / literally, your eyes are red.)

OR if you pronounce this word /məˈmə.rah/, you are talking about squeezing moisture or liquid from something. For example :


If I am wringing out my wet clothes, I might say . . .

Saya sedang memerah baju saya.”

(I am wringing out my clothes.)


If I am milking a cow, I might say . . .

“Saya sedang memerah susu sapi.”

(I am milking a cow.)

4. TAHU


If you pronounce this word /tʌˈhu/, you are referring to tofu.

You could say . . .

Saya lebih suka tahu daripada tempe.”

(I like tofu better than tempe.)


OR if you pronounce this word /tʌu/, you are talking about knowing something.

For example . . .

Saya tahu kantor pos di mana.”

(I know where the post office is.)


And if you would like to use “tahu” and “tahu” in the same sentence, you could say . . .

Saya tahu di supermarket mana Anda bisa beli tahu.”

(I know a supermarket where you can buy tofu.)

To end this article on homographs,

let us leave with one of Indonesia’s most famous tongue twisters.

See if you can master this :

“Aku tahu aku suka tahu.”

(I know I like tofu.)



Selamat Belajar!!

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