Semai language

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Native to Peninsular Malaysia
Ethnicity 42,400 Semai people (2008)[1]
Native speakers
10,000 (2007)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 sea
Glottolog sema1266[2]

Semai is a Mon–Khmer language of western Malaysia spoken by about 44,000 Semai people. It is perhaps the only Aslian language which is not endangered, and even has 2,000 monolingual speakers.

One notable aspect of Semai phonology is its highly irregular pattern of expressive reduplication, showing discontiguous copying from just the edges of the reduplicant's base, thus forming a minor syllable.

Examples of words in Semai:

English Malay Semai
I Saya Eng
Eat Makan Cak
Drink Minum Ngaut
Bathe Mandi Mehmu
Clean Bersih Parlain
Good Bagus Bor
Chicken Ayam Bafung/Fung
Rice Beras Cengroy
Mushroom Cendawan Cenai
Why Kenapa Jalek
How Bagaimana Rahalook



Oral vowels
Front Central Back
Close i iː ɨ ɨː u uː
Close-mid e eː o oː
Open-mid ɛ ɛː ə ɔ ɔː
Open ɑ ɑː
Nasal vowels
Front Central Back
Close ĩ ĩː ɨ̃ ɨ̃ː ũ ũː
Mid ɛ̃ ɛ̃ː ə̃ ɔ̃ ɔ̃ː
Open ɑ̃ ɑ̃ː


Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive voiceless p t c k ʔ
voiced b d ɟ ɡ
Nasal voiced m n ɲ ŋ
preploded ᵇm ᵈn ɟɲ ᶢŋ
Rhotic ɾ~r
Lateral l
Fricative s h
Approximant w j


  1. ^ a b Semai at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Semai". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

Further reading

  • Diffloth, Gerard. 1976a. Minor-Syllable Vocalism in Senoic Languages. In Philip N. Lenner, Laurence C. Thompson, and Stanley Starosta (eds.), Austroasiatic Studies, Part I, 229-247. Honolulu: The University of Hawaii Press.
  • Diffloth, Gerard. 1976b. Expressives in Semai. In Philip N. Lenner, Laurence C. Thompson, and Stanley Starosta (eds.), Austroasiatic Studies, Part I, 249-264. Honolulu: The University of Hawaii Press.
  • Hendricks, Sean. 2001. Bare-Consonant Reduplication Without Prosodic Templates: Expressive Reduplication in Semai. Journal of East Asian Linguistics 10: 287-306.
  • Phillips, Timothy C. 2013. Linguistic Comparison of Semai Dialects. SIL Electronic Survey Reports 2013-010: 1-111.

External links

  • RWAAI (Repository and Workspace for Austroasiatic Intangible Heritage)
  •[email protected] Semai in RWAAI Digital Archive
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