(English) respect = (Malay) hormat?

Let’s look at the English concepts of ‘respect’ and ‘respecting other people’ and the Malay concepts of hormat and menghormati.

In terms of etymology the English concept of ‘respect’ is derived from the Latin respicere, which means ‘to look back at’ or ‘to look again’ so it represents

“a particular mode of apprehending the object […] as it really is in its own right, and not seeing it solely through the filter of one’s own desires and fears or likes and dislikes.” (Dillon)

In this context it is interesting to note that

hormat seems to apply more to the way one should behave towards other people, rather than how to view them, as indicated by Goddard’s observation that “it is important to menghormati  ‘show respect’ for others” (Goddard 2000: 95).

In Australian English, in stark contrast with the Malaysian cultural norm, “to explicitly ‘show respect’ would imply that the speaker assumes that the addressee would be gratified by this kind of display, with consequent negative evaluation” (Goddard 2006: 70).

From an American point of view, it may be that the concepts of “respect and self-respect are deeply connected” (Dillon), an attitude which is confirmed in interactions with Australians, whose

“apparent indifference to how one appears to others [implies] an attitude of disrespect or indifference to that other person” (Goddard 2006: 93).

While ‘hormat’ is defined as “deference that is owed to a social position” (Kessler 1992: 147, quoted in Goddard 2000: 95), in English respect is often paid to others based on the sole qualification of being a fellow being, thus making it possible for General Ripper to comfort his secretary with the words

“I deeply respect you as a human being” (in Dr. Strangelove).

This also makes it possible for children to demand the ‘respect’ of their parents when making decisions, in line with the Anglo ideal of “personal autonomy” (Wierbizbicka 1991: 80-88, quoted in Goddard 2000: 83).

Lastly, we have the expression “to pay one’s last respects” in English, again denoting an act performed quite independent of the social worth of the recipient, which may not be the case with hormat.

Based on these brief considerations, it may be said that in English the stress falls first on the attitude and then on the behaviour of ‘showing respect’, while in Malaysian the verb menghormati points to the prescribed behavior (or the speech act) itself (cf. Goddard 2000: 96).


Goddard, Cliff. 2000. ‘Cultural scripts and communicative style in Malay(Bahasa Melayu)’ Anthropological Linguistics, vol.42, (1), 2000. 81-106.

Dillon, Robin S., “Respect”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2009/entries/respect/&gt;.

Goddard, Cliff. 2006. ‘Lift your game Martina!: – deadpan jocular irony and the ethnopragmatics of Australian English.’ In Cliff Goddard (ed.), Ethnopragmatics: understanding discourse in cultural context. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

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