20 February 2017


I wonder if the word majoriti has a shifted meaning from its source word 'majority'. Here is an extract from an article on page M9 of the Media Permata of 18 February, 2017:

Puak Khasi, yang bilangannya tidak sampai sejuta, adalah komuniti majoriti daripada 2.5 juta pwnduduk di Maghalanya.

which might be translated as:

The Khasi people, who number less than one million, are the majority of the 2.5 million residents in Maghala.

Er ... one million is not a majority of 2.5 million. The Khasi people might be the largest group in Maghala, but they are not a majority. Or perhaps majoriti has a shifted meaning.

18 February 2017

No Overtaking

Here's one of the weirdest signs I have seen in Brunei.

Let's now have a look at the wider picture, to see where these signs are placed.

In fact, they are at the top of the short access road to the satellite station behind the Radisson Hotel in BSB. While it is popular with walkers, some of whom do their morning exercise by walking up and down this hill a few times, and others use the road to head into the Tasek forest, there are almost never any cars on it. My estimate is that maybe two or three cars a day use this road.

Sure, it's a steep hill (which is why people looking for a bit of exercise like to use it). But as there are almost no cars on it, there is no opportunity to overtake. Ever.

So why is there a no overtaking sign there? My guess is that there is a regulation somewhere that all steep hills must have these signs, and someone has followed this regulation even though it makes no sense in this case. But who knows?

10 February 2017

Pronunciation of Tutong

I have been working on the pronunciation of the indigenous languages of Brunei, hoping to make recordings available for people to listen to. Here is my effort for Tutong, a recording of the following passage:

Masa Barui Utara samo Mato Aluh bagagut pasal inayih yo paleng kuat, ado dai urang parantau sabi. Ido setujui inayih yo mala’ gama’ nih nanggalkan jubah parantau ina’, iyo dai paleng kuat. Barui Utara mbepar sakuat-kuat nih. Tapi makin kuat nih mbepar makin kuat dai atin parantau ina ngimbit jubah nih. Barui Utara pun ngalah dirih. Tiru ina’ Mato Aluh mamancar sakuat kuat nih. Sabi parantau ina’ ndo tan terus banuka nih jubah nih. Jadi Barui Utara tapaksa dai ngakun alah yo Mato Aluh ina lebih kuat kod iyo.

Making this recording posed some interesting problems. The main one was that Tutong is not a written language, so getting a Tutong speaker to read a passage fluently was not easy. But it seems to have worked out OK.

Another issue is variation in Tutong. This speaker uses [ə] in words such as lebih ('more') where others might use [a]; and he also says paleng ('most') when others would say palyeng; but variation is always an issue, and this is modern Tutong as spoken by the younger generation.

01 February 2017

Rhoticity in Brunei English

Rhoticity involves producing the [r] sound whenever 'r' occurs in the spelling, including at the end of words such as 'car' and before a consonant in words such as 'park'. RP British English is non-rhotic, as there is no [r] sound in these words.

Early accounts of the pronunciation of Brunei English written in the 1990s make no reference to rhoticity, but it is not clear if Brunei English was non-rhotic at the time or if the occurrence of [r] was not regarded as important enough to merit discussion. And it is hard to get hold of recordings to check on the extent of rhoticity at that time.

More recent accounts suggest that about half of university undergraduates have a rhotic accent, and furthermore, it is believed that the incidence of rhoticity is increasing. But how can we check this?

My PhD student, Nur Raihan Mohamad, has recorded three groups of speakers: secondary school students, university undergraduates, and in-service teachers. If we find that the younger speakers are more rhotic than the older ones, this provides evidence that rhoticity is increasing. But there is a problem with this: the school students are less well-educated than the undergraduates, and it is possible that this has an impact on rhoticity.

However, there is an alternative approach. We now have recordings of university undergraduates made between 2007 and 2010 and some more recent recordings made in 2016, so we can compare these two sets of recordings and thereby find out if rhoticity is increasing.

One issue is that knowledge of whether the recording is older or more recent might impact on judgements. So I randomised the order of 21 early recordings and 21 more recent recordings, and then Nur Raihan listened to them and judged whether each speaker was rhotic or not. (She also tried to guess whether the recording was an early one or a later one, and she was basically unable to guess that correctly.)

The results of her listening are shown in this table:

These results clearly show that rhoticity in the more recent recordings is much higher than in the earlier ones: while about half of the earlier speakers had a rhotic accent (as expected), all but two out of twenty-one of the speakers in the more recent recordings were rhotic. This is really surprising: it is rare to find such a shift in patterns of pronunciation over just seven years.

To confirm the results, we asked another research student, Sufi Redzwan, to repeat the listening. And he got exactly the same results: about half of the early recordings were rhotic, while all but two of the more recent ones were. So it is confirmed that rhoticity has increased substantially over the past few years.

This work is written up as Nur Raihan (2017) – see here.

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.