15 January 2017

Playing extracts

One of my problems with this blog is allowing you to hear extracts of speech. While I can make pictures and videos available, speech seems to be more problematic. But let's see if the following code enables you to listen to this recording of the 'North Wind and the Sun' passage in Brunei Malay:

It seems to work! In future, maybe I'll be able to make more speech extracts available.

10 January 2017

Diphthongs in Brunei Malay

In my previous post, I discussed the number of monophthong vowels in Brunei Malay and suggested there are just three: /i, a, u/.

How about diphthongs? How many diphthongs does Brunei Malay have?

Some people would say three, [ai], [au], [oi]. Illustrative words are:

  • garai ('food stall')
  • palau ('dazed')
  • baloi ('worthwhile')

However, note that these three diphthongs can only occur at the end of a word. In cases in which they occur in the middle of a word (e.g. kain 'cloth', daun 'leaf'), these words actually have two syllables, so we can say there is a sequence of two monophthong vowels.

If a diphthong can only occur at the end of a word, with no following consonant, then we might say that it is a monophthong followed by an approximant. If words such as yang ('which') and wang ('money') can start with an approximant, we can also say that garai and palau end with an approximant.

On this basis, we analyse the three words above as: /garaj/, /palaw/ and /baluj/. So there are no diphthongs in Brunei Malay.

For further discussion of diphthongs in Brunei Malay and the chance to listen to these words, see here.

08 January 2017

Brunei Malay Vowels

How many vowels are there in Brunei Malay?

The simple answer is: three. /i/, /a/, /u/. However, things are not quite so simple. Indeed, the Brunei Malay dictionary (published by the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Brunei) shows prefixes with 'e' (indicating pronunciation as [ə]). As a result, while beli (to buy) is shown as bali in Brunei Malay, its prefixed form is shown as membali.

Is this right? If Brunei Malay only has three vowels, how can prefixes have [ə]? Shouldn't the prefixed form be mambali?

The problem is that the vowel in the prefix is often not as open as [a], especially among young speakers (perhaps influenced by Standard Malay, which has six vowels, including /ə/).

Here is a plot of the three vowels, measured from the reading of a short text by a young female speaker:

Note the substantial overlap between /a/ and /u/, much of which is caused by this prefix. If we plot the prefix separately, here shown as 'e', then the overlap is reduced:

However, in some cases the prefix is produced with a more open vowel, so there seems to be substantial variation.

For more information on the pronunciation of Brunei Malay and the chance to listen to the recordings on which the analysis was based, see here.

18 December 2016

Bhutan English

In my previous post, I discussed the pronunciation of 'monk' by our guide in Bhutan. In this picture, he is on the left, wearing traditional Bhutanese dress.

He asked me how to improve his pronunciation. In fact, his English was excellent, so I was reluctant to criticise anything; but seeing as he asked for feedback, I provided him with a brief overview of some of the non-standard features of his pronunciation, including 'monk' as [mɒŋk] even though I'm not sure that it matters too much. Here are a few of the other features, some of which might be a bit more important for maintaining intelligibility.

  • /b/ and /v/ are sometimes confused, so 'visit' might be [bɪzɪt]
  • complex consonant clusters can be simplified, so the /r/ is omitted in 'extract'
  • /ɑː/ is generally used when 'a' occurs in the spelling, even when /ɔː/ is expected, including the first syllable of 'always' and 'August'
  • stress is generally on the first syllable, even for verbs where it is expected on the second syllable, such as 'subdue' and 'converted'

So, which of these is important? Confusing /b/ and /v/ can be a problem, and so can consonant cluster simplification. But what about the others? I'm not sure that /ɑː/ in 'always' would ever be misunderstood, and perhaps stress placement is not too important in English in an international setting.

In fact, the most important advice I could give him was to slow down when using difficult words. And sometimes, intelligibility can be enhanced by avoiding imitating native speakers too closely. For example:

  • 'deity' is an unusual word, so it needs to be clearly three syllables, even if native speakers might often merge the first two syllables; the first time he said it, I heard 'dainty'
  • 'eighteen' and 'eighty' are easily confused; the best way to say 'eighteen' is to stress the second syllable clearly, even when native speakers do not! For example, in the phrase 'eighteen years', native speakers tend to shift the stress to the first syllable of 'eighteen', but in order to maintain intelligibility, it is best not to do this
  • 'guava' starts with the unusual cluster /gw/, and I heard it pronounced as [gɑːvə], which is not easy to understand; to avoid this, it might be best to make it three syllables: [guˈɑːvə] (so long as stress is placed on the second syllable)

I don't know if this advice was helpful. I suspect that, like most learners of English, he was a bit alarmed at my advice to avoid imitating native speech patterns.


Last week, I was in Bhutan. It was brilliant.

While climbing up to the Tiger's Nest temple (see above), at one point we were walking behind some monks, and this led me to ponder over the pronunciation of 'monk'.

The standard pronunciation is [mʌŋk], but our guide consistently pronounced it as [mɒŋk], using what might be called a spelling pronunciation. (He sees an 'o' in the spelling and pronounces it as [ɒ] rather than [ʌ].) This gives rise to the question: should he try and change his pronunciation?

There are a number of issues here:

  • Although the pronunciation of 'monk' as [mɒŋk] does not occur in native accents of English, it is probably quite common in New Englishes. For example, I suspect it is quite common in Indian English. (I have no evidence to support this, apart from the fact that our guide said that he was taught English by teachers from India.)
  • Use of spelling pronunciation for 'o' is quite common even in native accents. For example: 'comrade' once had [ʌ] in its first syllable but now it has [ɒ]; the city of Coventry similarly once had [ʌ] but now generally has [ɒ]; and the first syllable of 'constable' seems to be going through a similar shift. Maybe one day we will all be saying 'monk' as [mɒŋk] instead of [mʌŋk], so perhaps our guide is just ahead of us in this shift.
  • There seems little danger of [mɒŋk] being misunderstood, as there is nothing it might be confused with.

For these reasons, there seems little need for our guide to change his pronunciation of 'monk'. Indeed, there are more important things to focus on. I will discuss these in my next post.

07 December 2016

Language of the Courts

In my previous post, I highlighted one of the chapters contributed by a student in our new book, The Use and Status of Language in Brunei Darussalam, published by Springer. In this post, I would like to highlight one more chapter written by a student at UBD.

Chapter 10, by Hjh Masmahirah Hj Mohd Tali, is entitled 'Coutroom Discourse: A Case Study of the Linguistic Strategies in Brunei Draussalam Courtrooms'. The author attended eleven trials in the Magistrates' Court and also the High Court in Brunei, and she transcribed the interactions that took place. It is interesting to note that the language of the court is almost entirely English, but many of the defendants don't speak English. So everything has to be translated for them. As a result there are exchanges such as the following, where J is the Judge, I is the Interpreter, and D is the defendant (from page 148 of the book):

J : Now, do you agree that this ... this ... gambling ... this ... traffic light thingy is called gambling?
I : Adakah kita mengaku bahawa perjudian ... yang ... lampu isyarat ini dikirakan menjudi?
D : Ya
J : It's gambling is it?
D : Ya
I : Yes
J : All right.

It doesn't seem ideal that so much has to be translated into Malay, and also the Malay of the Defendant has to be translated into English. There is also the question of how accurate the translation is.

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, ...