25 January 2009

Brunei Malay

Brunei Malay is an informal language, used between friends and among family members, and as such it is mostly spoken and almost never written. The only place I have seen any signs written in Brunei Malay is along the forest walk at Bukit Mentiri, where there are a series of jokey signs attached to the trees. An example is:

The only words here that might be regarded as Standard Malay are macam ("like") and faham ("understand"). It looks like kita is a Standard Malay pronoun, but in fact it means "you" rather than "we" (as it would in Standard Malay).

A rough translation is: "You look like you are not tired; so now do you get it?"

The pronunciation of the word nggalih ("tired") starts with a velar nasal, which we write phonetically as /ŋ/, the sound that occurs at the end of the English word sing. As such, it should really be spelt with 'ng' at the start (as that is how /ŋ/ is represented in Malay). This illustrates that Brunei Malay is a spoken language, and people who try to write it may struggle with the spelling. We might regard nggalih as a spelling error, except that it is not certain what that means in the absence of fixed rules of spelling.