01 December 2016

Language in Brunei book

In my previous post, I discussed the quandary I had in preparing a News Item for our Faculty website − specifically, whether to feature pictures of important people or to focus more on the contents of the presentations at our recent Brunei-Malaysia Forum.

I faced a similar decision regarding the News Item (see here) for the launch of our book The Use and Status of Language in Brunei Darussalam, recently published by Springer. Should I show pictures of people attending the launch (as is the custom in Brunei)? Or should I focus instead on some of the chapters in the book?

In the end, I went for the first option, partly because there were other books being launched. But now I would like to focus on the contents of some of the chapters, particularly those written by students.

Chapter 4, by Susilawati Japri, analyses the language of shop signs in a modern shopping centre in Brunei. Now, by law, all signs are supposed to include the name in Jawi, and the Jawi is supposed to be twice the size of other scripts. Here is a sign that includes Jawi, though it does not seem to be twice the size of the Rumi script:

However, not all shops follow these rules:

In fact, the research reports that 42% of the shops in the three shopping malls in the Times Square Area (near Brunei's international airport) do not include Jawi.

In my next posts, I will outline the contents of chapters written by three more students.

27 November 2016

Brunei-Malaysia Forum

In my previous post, I discussed the tendency for local news reports to highlight the participation of members of the Royal Family or other dignitaries in events that they attend. It is similar for reports about conferences or seminars, in which the Guest of Honour is invariably mentioned, and also the Keynote Speakers, but the other individual presentations may get less coverage. Furthermore, there are usually lots of pictures of people, but I think it would be more interesting to see a few charts or other details from some of the presentations.

In preparing a 'News Item' for our Faculty website regarding our recent Brunei-Malaysia Forum (see here), I faced a quandary: should I show a picture of all the important people lined up, as is the usual practice? Or should I focus more on the contents of some of the presentations?

In the end, I adopted a compromise: I included the obligatory picture of the important guests:

But, after that, I showed some Figures from student presentations, two from UBD students and two from the University of Malaya.

The first is from the presentation by Blessing Gweshengwe of UBD entitled 'Is there congruity between the conventional poverty measures & contemporary conceptualisation of poverty?'

The second is from the presentation by Mahazril ‘Aini Yaacob and Dr Siti Hajar Abu Bakar of the University of Malaya entitled 'Can we own a home? Road to independent living'

The third is from the presentation by Nur Muhammad Sufi Bin Redzwan of UBD entitled 'A Comparison of Rhoticity between Brunei and Singapore English'.

Finally, this figure is from the presentation by Manimegalai A/P Ambikapathy and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Hasmah Zanuddin of the University of Malaya entitled 'Visual Framing of the “Lahad Datu” conflict coverage in Malaysian mainstream newspapers'.

(If you want to know more about these presentations, you'll have to access the website.)

I hope that, by starting with a picture of important people and then focusing on student presentations, I have achieved a balance but also managed to celebrate the participation of students.

22 November 2016

Performance at ISB

On page 1 of Media Permata of 18 November 2016, there are the following two pictures with a four-line caption below them, describing the performance of a band at ISB:

On page 1 of the Borneo Bulletin on the same day, there are two similar pictures (one of them is clearly shared with Media Permata) describing the same event.

Though the event is the same, there are some interesting differences in the text describing it. Here is the Malay version in Media Permata:

Yang Teramat Mulia Pengiran Muda ‘Abdul Muntaqim dan Yang Teramat Mulia Pengiran Anak Muneerah Muneerah Madhul Bolkiah kelmarin berkenan berangkat menyaksikan persembahan pencaragam Armada ke-7 Tentera Laut Amerika Syarikat (AS) dan Angkatan Bersenjata Diraja Brunei (ABDB) di Teater Sekolah Antarabangsa Brunei (ISB). Berangkat sama ialah Yang Amat Mulia Pengiran Anak ‘Abdul Haseeb dan Yang Amat Mulia Pengiran Anak Raqeeqah Raayatul Bolqiah. – Berita Lanjust di Muka 3

And here is the English version in the Borneo Bulletin:

Some 800 students enjoyed an electrifying performance by the US Navy 7th Fleet Band, supportedby the Roya Armed Forces (RBAF) Band, yesterday, at the International School Brunei (ISB) Theatre. Among those who attended the musical performance were Yang Teramat Mulia Pengiran Muda ‘Abdul Muntaqim ibni Duli Yang Teramat Mulia Paduka Seri Pengiran Muda Mahkota Pengiran Muda Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah and Yang Teramat Mulia Pengiran Anak Muneerah Muneerah Madhul Bolkiah binti Duli Yang Teramat Mulia Paduka Seri Pengiran Muda Mahkota Pengiran Muda Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah – (Full Report on Page 3)

The main differences between them are as follows:

  • The Malay version foregrounds the royal prince and princess; in contrast, the English version only introduces them in the second sentence.
  • The Malay version has a shorter version of their names, not listing their father's name; in contrast, the English version gives their full names, including their father: ibni/anak Duli Yang Teramat Mulia Paduka Seri Pengiran Muda Mahkota Pengiran Muda Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah.
  • The Malay version lists two additional royal attendees: Yang Amat Mulia Pengiran Anak ‘Abdul Haseeb and Yang Amat Mulia Pengiran Anak Raqeeqah Raayatul Bolqiah; in contrast, the English version does not.
  • The Malay version only mentions the royal attendees; in contrast, the English version states that 800 students enjoyed the performance.
  • The Malay version omits any comment on the quality of the performance; in contrast, the English states that it was 'electrifying'.

Given the importance of the Royal Family in Brunei, it is not surprising that the Malay version foregrounds the attendance of the prince and princess. And it is also not surprising that more royal persons are listed in the Malay version.

The shortening of the names in the Malay but not the English is a little surprising. Perhaps that was done to ensure there was enough space to include the extra two people.

18 November 2016

Borrowings into Malay

On page 13 of the Media Permata of 18 November, there is a short article (sourced from the Malaysian Bernama organisation) with the heading:

Jangan terlalu banyak guna kata pinjaman - Dr Rais Yatim

which can be translated as:

Don't use too many borrowed words - Dr Rais Yatim

Dr Rais Yatim is a Malaysian politician, and he was making a speech urging the avoidance of borrowed words primarily from English. It is rather ironic, therefore, that the article includes the following words of Malay, all of which are borrowed from English: proses, sistem, buku, akademi, and tradisional.

Is it possible to avoid borrowings entirely? Are there indigenous words that could have been used instead of these borrowings? I suspect it is not possible to avoid all borrowings. But perhaps he is right that people should try to avoid using too many, and they might be encouraged to use an indigenous word when there is a suitable candidate.

An alternative viewpoint is that borrowings into Malay don't matter. Maybe one of the strengths of Malay is its ability to absorb words from other languages (a bit like English, really). So perhaps, instead of decrying too much borrowing, we should celebrate the ease with which Malay borrows words from English.

The Streisand Effect

The Streisand Effect describes a situation where efforts to prevent access to data have the opposite effect and actually increase access to that data. (It arises from an incident in 2003 when Barbara Streisand tried to prevent people from accessing photographs of her beach-front property; but as a result of her efforts, lots and lots of people now access those photographs. See the Wikipedia article, which helpfully shows a nice picture of Barbara Streisand's house.)

On page 1 of the Media Permata of 18 November 2016, there is an article with the headline:

Laporan meganews306 tidak benar

which might be translated as:

The report on meganews306 is not true

The article states that a report on the website www.meganews360.com about His Royal Highness Prince 'Abdul Malik is not true. Now, I have no idea what this report is about, so I suppose I'd better go to the website and find out.

This raises a question about what we should do when inaccurate reports are published. Should we try to deny them, and thereby incur the risk of making the report more widely known? Or should we keep quiet and let the inaccurate report remain unchallenged? I have no answer to this dilemma.

03 November 2016

Initialisms in Malaysia

I have previously mentioned the frequent occurrence of Malay-English initialisms in Brunei (e.g. here). Here are some Malay-English initialisms from a single article on page 6 of the 2 November 2016 edition of Berita Harian, a newspaper published in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. See if you can figure out what the English expansion of each initialism is:

  • Jawatankuasa Kira-kira Wang Negara (PAC)
  • Teknologi Maklumat dan Komunikasi (ICT)
  • Makmal Pengurusan Nilai (VML)
  • Persekitaran Pembelajaran Maya (VLE)

All of them except ICT had me stumped, and I had to search the Internet to figure them out. Here are the answers:

  • PAC : Public Accounts Committee
  • ICT : Information and Communication Technology
  • VML : Value Management Lab
  • VLE : Virtual Learning Environment

I guess they are not a problem if you see them often and so become familiar with them. But they had me stumped, and it was hard for me to understand the article without being able to expand them.

01 November 2016


Just like most universities around the world, academics at UBD are judged by their publications, and in particular by the number of times they are cited. And Scopus is the key platform for determining these things.

The problem with Scopus is that it focuses on journal articles and tends to overlook books, and for the social sciences, books and book chapters can be vitally important. But quite beyond that, Scopus is seriously flawed

I recently checked my Scopus listing, and I was surprised to see a book review shown. Now, I write quite a lot of book reviews, often in top journals, but they have never been shown in Scopus before. So it was a nice surprise to see this one listed. The screen shot of my three most recent Scopus entries is shown here:

However, on looking more closely, I realised that it is not actually a book review; it is a corrigendum to a book review.

What happened is this: I wrote a book review and it was published in the Journal of the International Phonetic Association. Subsequently, it was discovered that I had typed the name of one of the editors wrongly, and in the next issue of the journal, a correction was published (a corrigendum). And that is what is listed in Scopus!

How awful is that? I make a mistake, and as a result I get an extra listing in Scopus!

I considered deleting it, but then I thought that it is such a neat illustration of how awful Scopus is that I'll just leave it.

31 October 2016


I was listening to the midday news on RTB Nasional FM today, and once again I heard Calais pronounced as /kʌlaɪs/ rather than the expected /kæleɪ/. Given the frequency with which this name crops up at the moment, as the French police are trying to clear the migrants camped there, one would have thought that RTB announcers might try and get it right.

Or maybe the standard pronunciation in Malay actually is /kʌlaɪs/. Given the reasonably close association between pronunciation and spelling in Malay, perhaps the norm is to closely follow the spelling for all foreign names.

However, if that is the case, surely it should be /tʃʌlaɪs/ rather than /kʌlaɪs/, as 'c' is always pronounced as /tʃ/ in Malay.

29 October 2016


I have sometimes previously discussed the tension between use of a native word of Malay and an equivalent borrowed word (e.g. petua vs. 'tips'). Sometimes the relevant authorities promote an indigenous word even when speakers actually use a borrowed word.

This is from a news item broadcast by Berita Suria in Singapore on 6 March 2015. The speaker, Ahmad Md Tahir, a local writer, says that, in order to promote their works, "there must be cooperation between writers, publishers, lovers of language, students and organisations."

The words at the bottom suggest he uses the indigenous word pertubuhan; but in fact, he uses the borrowed word organisasi. It is interesting that Berita Suria think it is appropriate to replace organisasi with pertubuhan even though most people would accept the former as a word of Malay, given that it is generally included in Malay dictionaries and its pronunciation and spelling have been adapted for Malay.

28 October 2016

Raspberry Picking

My granddaughter, Elsie, aged 5 and a half, loves to write. Here is a little story she wrote on yellow stick-it sheets while we were visiting in July

While she does not know the spelling of some words, such as 'lady' and 'bush', she is pretty good at guessing, based on the pronunciation. And I have to admit that I had to look up 'raspberry' in a dictionary to find out how to spell it. (Why is there a 'p' in the middle?). Here is the second sheet.

Note that 'behind' and 'frightened' follow the pronunciation quite closely, even if they deviate from standard spelling. It is hardly surprising that she omits the slient 'gh' in 'frightened'.

One rule of phonics that she has not yet learned is that 'c' followed by 'e' or 'i' is always pronounced as /s/. No doubt she will learn this rule one day, and then she will no longer put a 'c' in 'basket'.

Here is the third sheet:

One other rule of phonics that she has not yet learned is that a short vowel, as in the first syllable of 'happened', needs to be followed by a doubled letter; on the basis of this rule, 'hapend' would be pronounced with /eɪ/ rather than /æ/. This is another rule that she will one day learn.

Here are the fourth and fifth sheets:

Overall, her spelling is pretty impressive, and she makes an excellent attempt to spell words that she does not know. At school, they are now taught phonics, and when she is reading, she is really good at sounding out words she has not seen before and guessing what they are. It seems that the teaching of phonics can be quite helpful in enabling children to read and write.

16 October 2016

Faux Amis - prestasi

Faux Amis ('false friends') are words that involve a shift in meaning after they have been borrowed from one language to another. Or, more technically, they are words that have the same etymological root but a different meaning in two languages. For example, in French, the word librarie means 'bookshop', not 'library', and abuser means 'take advantage of', not 'abuse'. It is easy to make mistakes as a result of faux amis when speaking a foreign language.

In Malay, I find concrete things not too different to handle. For example, it is quite easy to remember that bonet refers to the back of a car, not its front. However, I have more trouble with abstract concepts.

The word prestasi presumably comes from the English 'prestige'. However, it means 'achievement' rather than 'prestige'. I always stumble over it, even though it is quite a common word. For example, on page 13 of Media Permata of 15 October 2016, I had to pause when reading the paragraph that started:

Dengan prestasi yang semakin meningkat, ...

which might be glossed as:

With achievements that are constantly increasing, ...

15 October 2016

UBD Convocation

At the UBD Convocation yesterday, I was interested to hear how many English words occurred in the Sultan's titah, which you would expect to be entirely in Malay. I noted the following, though I am sure there were more: marketability, employability, life-long learning, knowledge-based society, relevance, professional and global. That is in addition to the following, which might all nowadays be regarded as words of Malay: program, ekonomi, institusi, inisiatif, graduan, identiti, kualiti and senat.

Are there no Malay equivalents for these terms? Although it is no doubt possible to express marketability in Malay, it's probably true that there is no easy equivalent; so use of the English word is more efficient.

Some people might decry the lack of indigenous words for these concepts; others might celebrate the flexibility of Malay that allows it to absorb words from other languages so easily. Anyway, perhaps marketability soon will be regarded as a word of Malay (in which case, presumably, it will be spelled with a final 'i').

05 October 2016

gramar and grampar

This is a picture drawn by my granddaughter, Elsie, aged 6.

Note how she spells Grandma and Grandpa. She is following the way she says the words quite accurately: she has a non-rhotic accent, so it is not surprising that she spells /ɑː/ at the end of both words as 'ar'. Secondly, she omits the /d/ in both words, and then the /n/ is next to a bilabial sound (/m/ or /p/), so it gets assimilated to [m].

Her spelling of these words shows quite a sophisticated ability to spell out words that she has probably never seen written. One day, she will no doubt learn the standard spelling. But, in the meantime, her ability to guess the spelling of words based on her pronunciation is quite impressive.

Goodness knows what happened to my hands; but she accurately shows that I don't have much hair!

10 September 2016

/æ/ vs /eɪ/

In my phonetics class yesterday, I asked my students to transcribe 'complicated'; and half of them used /æ/ instead of /eɪ/ in the third syllable. The fact that they cannot differentiate between /æ/ and /eɪ/ confirms that speakers of English in Brunei tend to merge the TRAP and FACE vowels.

Why should this be? It is quite different form Singapore, where people tend to have a close monophthong for the FACE vowel, and this vowel is quite distinct from the TRAP vowel. (The latter tends to be merged with DRESS, and both are pronounced as [ɛ].)

The first thing to notice is that there is a systematic link between /æ/ and /eɪ/ in English. For example, 'vane' has /eɪ/ while 'vanity' has /æ/, and the same is true for 'sane'/'sanity', 'profane'/'profanity', 'nation'/'national' and many other pairs of words. And it is not surprising if some speakers use the same vowel in both the base form of the word ('vane', 'sane', etc) and its derivative ('vanity', 'sanity', etc.). Furthermore, there are a few words in which there is variability: in both 'patent' and 'patriot', some speakers have /æ/ while others have /eɪ/.

However, this does not explain why there is a different pattern in Singapore and Brunei. And for this, we must consider the dominant indigenous languages.

Most Singaporeans are Chinese, so we would expect their English to be influenced by Chinese. Now, Chinese has lots of words with the /ei/ diphthong, such as 给 (gěi, 'give') and 黑 (hēi, 'black). However, there is no such diphthong in Malay. In Malay, /ai/ can occur at the end of words such as cukai 'tax' and sungai 'river' (though we can actually argue that these are monophthongs followed by an approximant; see here), but the /ei/ diphthong does not occur.

Then we might note what happens to English words with /eɪ/ when they are borrowed into Malay. In most cases, /a/ is used: radio, status, stadium, agensi and templat all have /a/ while the original English has /eɪ/ (though there are some exceptions: kek 'cake' and ejen 'agent' bother have /e/ rather than /a/).

Next, we might note that, according to my dictionary, 'plate' becomes plat in Malay (as in plat nombor), while 'plaque' becomes plak, so we can see that though the vowel is different in these two words in English, it is the same in Malay.

It seems that it is probably this influence from Malay, particularly the way that English words are borrowed into Malay, that influences the pronunciation of English in Brunei.

05 September 2016


I've previously mentioned the problem of adjectives and verbs ending in 'c'. If you want to add 'ed' or 'ing' to 'panic' or picnic', you need an extra 'k', so we get 'panicked' and 'picnicking'.

But what about words like 'chic'? What is its comparative form (meaning "more chic")? If you write 'chicer', it looks like the 'c' is pronounced as [s]; but 'chicker' is no good. So it is basically not possible to write the comparative of 'chic', even though the word can be said.

And if 'to mic' is a verb (meaning "to put a microphone on someone"), what is its progressive form? If someone is doing it to you, are they 'micing' you? Or maybe 'micking' you? Neither one works.

I just saw another example of this in a BBC report of a football game between Wales and Moldova. If 'arc' is a verb (meaning "to move in an arc"), what is its progressive form (or, in this case, its derived adjective)?

The BBC used 'arcing', but that does not work for me, as 'c' followed by 'i' must be pronounced as [s], not [k]. But what alternative is there? It seems that 'arcking' isn't quite right.

So there doesn't seem to be an easy solution. I guess the rule that 'c' followed by 'e' or 'i' is always pronounced as [s] now has a few exceptions.

31 August 2016


In the new Gadong Health Centre, the walls of the waiting rooms are decorated with pictures and advice on healthy eating, ways to protect your teeth, and various other things. All of it is in Malay, except 'tips' in this heading (which might be translated as 'tips for healthy teeth for your children'):

I'm not sure why the English words 'tips' is used when there is a perfectly good Malay word petua. I don't think there is anything specialist or unusual about petua, so it seems strange to use the English word instead.