24 February 2009

Mouse Trails

When a word from one language gets adopted into another language, we call this 'borrowing'. For example, lift is borrowed into Malay as lif. There are also a few borrowings in the other direction: orangutan comes from Malay (literally "forest person"), and so does amok.

In contrast, if a phrase is adopted from one language into another, but each item is translated word-by-word, we call this a 'calque'. There are quite a few calques from English into Malay. For example, kenderaan pacuan empat roda is a direct calque from the English four-wheel drive vehicle; and mengambil gambar seems likely to have come from take a picture.

A nice example of a calque in the other direction is found on the front page of the Borneo Bulletin of 17 February, 2009:

Mouse trails along the border pose a challenge to Brunei's law enforcement personnel as smuggling of contraband continues unabated.

It seems that mouse trails comes directly from the Malay jalan tikus. It offers a good example of how the English that is used in Brunei may be becoming nativised, in order to represent local conditions as well as social customs.

(My thanks to my UBD colleague, Adian Clynes, for showing me this example.)