Southern Thailand - The Jawi Language

Southern Thailand - The Jawi Language

Bahasa Jawi – ภาษายาวี – بهاس جاوي

Chances are if you pick up a copy of today’s newspaper in Thailand, there will be something warranting a front page story coming from the south – and in particular the three provinces of Patani, Yala  and Naratiwat.  The history of these three provinces is fascinating and  indeed varies depending on where you glean your history from.  There are  many documents out there to give us a broader perspective of what has occurred  in that region over the years and give us an insight into the minds of the  people that live there now.  Much of this information is accessible to  anyone that can read Bahasa Melayu or Bahasa Indonesia.  Many other  documents that would normally be accessible to these people remain hidden as  they are ‘encoded’ in the Jawi script.  This article will hopefully  provide some tools for people with any knowledge of Bahasa Melayu or Bahasa  Indonesia to develop skills in reading the Jawi script and hopefully open them  up to a new world of information that has up until now been laying right beneath their nose.

So how do you pronounce it?

Depending on who says it, you will get a number of  different responses.  In Thai, the writing is ยาวี  pronounced ‘yawee’.  In Malay / Indonesian, it is written / pronounced  ‘Jawi’.  Other written forms include Chowie, Djaoi, Djau, Djaui, Djawi,  Dyao, and Dyawi (see link).

What does Jawi mean?

Again, depending on who you ask, the responses will  vary.  If you ask a Thai, many of them will tell you that there is  คนยาวี (khon yawi – ‘Yawi people’) and  ภาษายาวี (Phasa yawi – Yawi  Language).  Nowadays, when people refer to ‘Jawi’, it is usually referring  to the Arabic Script based system of writing the Malay language.

The following is an exerpt from Hamdan Abdul Rahman’s  book “Panduan Menulis dan Mengeja Jawi” (publisher – Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka  1999).  I have transliterated it into the Jawi Script as well as  translated it into English.  Once you have read through this entire  article, you might want to come back to this section with your new reading  skills and have a crack at decoding the Jawi script version back into Bahasa  Melayu.

—– Book Excerpt —-

Bahasa Melayu –  بهاس  ملايو – Malay

“Sudah ditakdirkan  Allah bahawa di kalangan  bangsa Melayu ini, suku kaum yang lebih besar  bilangannya  adalah  suku kaum Jawa. Jadi merekalah yang membentuk kumpulan Melayu terbesar di tanah  Arab pada zaman dahulu. Akibatnya orang-orang Arab menganggap semua manusia  berkulit sawa matang dari Alam Melayu ini sebagai orang Jawa.

Seterusnya segala  yang bersangkutan dengan  orang Melayu disifatkan sebagai Jawi. Orangnya dikenali sebagai orang Jawi,  Tanahnya dikenali sebagai tanah Jawi dan bahasanya dinamakan bahasa Jawi dan  tulisan yang digunakan dalam media persuratannya dinamakan tulisan  Jawi.Kitab-kitab agama islam yang diterjemahkan ke Bahasa Melayu terutamanya  dalam abad ke-17 Masihi, semuanya merakamkan bahawa penulisnya telah menerima  titah raja, wasiat guru atau pesan ayah supaya dia menterjemahkan kitab  tertentu ke dalam bahasa Jawi; bukan bahasa Melayu.Secara Berturutan perkataan  Jawi ini mula-mulanya merupakan nama tanah, iaitu Alam Melayu, kemudian menjadi  nama bahasa, dan sekarang menjadi nama tulisan pula”

Bahasa Jawi –  بهاس  جاوي  – Jawi

سودهدتاقدركنالله بهاوا د  كالڠن بڠساملايو اين، سوكو قوم يڠلبيه بسر بيلڠنڽ اداله سوكو قوم جاوا.  جادي مريكله يڠ ممبنتوق كومڤولن ملايو تربسر د  تانه عرب ڤد زمن دهولو. عقيبتڽ اورڠ-اورڠ عرب مڠڠڬڤ سموا مأنسي بركوليت ساوا  ماتڠ دري عالم  ملايو اين سباڬاي  اورڠ جاوا.

ستروسڽ سڬالا يڠ برسڠكوتن دڠناورڠ ملايو  دصيفتكن سباڬايجاوي. اورڠڽدكنلي سباڬاياورڠ جاوي،تانهڽ دكنليسباڬاي تانهجاوي دان بهاسڽ ديناماكن بهاس جاوي دان  توليسن يڠ دڬوناكندالم ميدياڤرسورتنڽ ديناماكن توليسن جاوي.كتاب-كتاب  اڬام اسلام يڠ  دترجمهكن ك بهاس ملايو تراوتماڽ دالم ابد ك-١٧ مسيحي، سمواڽ  مراكامكن بهاوا ڤنوليسڽ  تله منريما تيته راج، وصية ڬورو اتاو ڤسان ايه سوڤاي دي  منترجمهكن  كتاب ترتنتو ك  دالم بهاس  جاوي; بوكن  بهاس  ملايو.سچارا  برتوروتن ڤركاتان  جاوي اين  مولا-مولاڽ مروڤاكن نام  تانه، ايايت  عالم ملايو، كمودين منجادي نام بهاس، دان  سكاراڠ منجادي نام توليسن ڤولا

Bahasa Inggris –  بهاس  ايڠريس – English

It has been deemed by Allah that the largest ethnic  group inhabiting the land known as Melayu be the Javanese.  It is these  same Javanese that in times gone by formed the largest Malay group in the Arab  lands.  The result is that Arabs will call all those of tanned skin from  the Malay world ‘Javanese’.

Moreover, all that is associated with those from  Malay is regarded as ‘Jawi’.  The people are known as ‘Jawi’, the land is  known as the land of ‘Jawi’ and their language is named ‘Jawi’ – and the  writing system that is used in literature is the ‘Jawi’ script.  Islamic  works that are translated into the Malay language, especially since the 17th  century, have recorded that the author had received a decree from the king,  scholars or elders, that the writings be translated into Jawi; not Bahasa  Melayu.  From such instructions, ‘Jawi’ started to be used as the name of  the entire land that is ‘Malay’, then the name of the language, and now also  the name of the writing”

— End of Book Excerpt —

So there you have it!  The word used to describe  the land, people, language and writing system known to Thais as ‘Yawi’ –  ยาวี stems from a misunderstanding of the Arabs in the  17th century that all who came from the Malay region of the world  are Javanese.  The word ‘Java’ in Sanskrit actually means speed – but I  don’t know if all my Javanese friends who seem to live by the motto of ‘jam  karet’ – ‘time is rubber’ (you can stretch it!) are aware of this J.

Learning the Script

There are some great websites out there that can help
you on your journey of learning the Jawi script.  is a site entirely dedicated to using / teaching and promoting the Jawi  script.  There are some great tools there including Jawi fonts and  keyboard add-ins for your computer and even a ‘Jawi’ converter (  ).  Just type in your Malay into the top text box, click ‘Terjemah  Sekarang’ (translate now) and PRESTO – you have the Javi version below in  Unicode text.  You can cut and paste this text into any document.

Just make sure you are using a Unicode font rather than just plain Arabic  fonts, as there are a number of modified letters in Jawi that don’t appear in  the normal Arabic letter table.  That goes for this webpage as well.   If your browser is not showing some empty boxes for some of the letters, you  may have to go and adjust your default font to ‘Arial Unicode MS’, or some  other Unicode font.

Here’s the alphabet:


Character Isolated Initial Medial Final Name
ا alif
ب ba
ت ta
ث tsa
ج jim
ح hha
چ ca
خ kha
د dal
ذ dzal
ر ra
ز zai
س sin
ش syin
ص shad
ض ﺿ dhad
ط tho
ظ zho
ع ain
غ ghain
ڠ nga
ف fa
ڤ pa
ق qaf
ك kaf
ڬ gaf
ل lam
م mim
ن nun
و wau
ۏ va
ه ha
ي ya
ڽ nya

For those Arabic speakers, the first thing that you  notice is that the normal ‘balance’ of Arabic words of cons + vowel + cons etc.  is thrown out the window.  There are also some special letters like  ڽ  (nya),  ڬ  ‘g’,  ڤ  ‘p’ and  چ  ‘ch’ that appear often in Jawi writing.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Arabic script,  I would suggest that you go out and buy some children’s books that teach the  Arabic script so that you can practice tracing the letters in all their  forms.  It shouldn’t take more than an hour or so to learn the  letters.

You’ll notice that vowels are often left out.   Other times, vowels like ‘e’ and ‘i’ are all written as  ي.  ‘u’ and ‘o’ tend to become  و.

Speeding your Reading Up

Prefixes and Suffixes

Anyone familiar with Bahasa Melayu or Bahasa  Indonesia, would be well aware that prefixes and suffixes are in abundance to  change, stretch, add or expound on the meanings of the root words.  If you  can start to subconsciously see some of these affix and ‘common word’ frames,  you will find that your reading speed will take a turn for the better.

Here are some common affixes and words that might help:


Melayu Affix Jawi Meaning (rough – not exhaustive) Sample Jawi Meaning
me- Active verb menemui منموءي Meet with
me – kan ﻣ ﻨ Transitive verb menemukan منموكن Cause to meet
ber – بر ‘have’ verb bertemu برتمو To meet
ter –  (i) تر ‘unitentionally acted upon’ verb tertemui ترتموي Happened to have been encountered by
– an ان Noun from root – Something that is ‘___’ temuan تموان A meeting of
ke – an ﻛ   ان Noun of ‘’, or suffering the effect of ‘ ketemuan كتموان A meeting of
– kan كن Make ‘_’ happen – imperative verb temukan تموكن Cause to meet
di – (i) د Is ‘_’ by (passive voice) ditemui دتموي Is met by
per – ڤر Actor in ‘ber’ verb pertemu ڤرتمو Person / agent in a meeting encounter
pe – ڤ Actor of a ‘me’ verb pendengar ڤندڠر Listener (based on dengar – listen)
per – an ڤر  ان Noun based on the ‘ber’ verb pertemuan ڤرتموان A meeting
memper – ممڤر To make even more ‘_’ so mempebesar ممڤبسر Enlarge (based on besar – big)
memper – kan ممڤر
كن Transitive verb of ‘memper’ memperbesarkan ممڤربسركن Transitive form of Enlarge


Melayu Word Jawi English Translation
Dan دان And
atau اتاو Or
oleh اوليه By
ini اين This
itu ايت That
begini بڬيني Like this
begitu بڬيتو Like that
disini دسيني Here
disitu دسيتو There
orang اورڠ Person
Tai تاي Thai
Melayu ملايو Malay
Indonesia إندونيسيا Indonesia
Jawi جاوي Jawi
Bahasa بهاس Language
Saya ساي I
Kamu كامو You
yang يڠ ‘which’ or ‘that is’
Patani ڤتنا Patani
Yala يلا Yala
Naratiwat ناراتيوة Narathiwat

I hope that his guide has been helpful to getting  better acquainted with the world of “Jawi”.  For the Thais that are  reading this, maybe taking some time out to learn the script and even some of  the language can be your first step in bridging the gap between our brothers  and sisters down south.



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Written by

Stuart Jay Raj