07 May 2009

Standard Brunei Malay

Standard Brunei Malay is similar to Standard Malay in Malaysia and Singapore, but not identical. Here I will focus on pronunciation.

Two areas that show some variation are the occurrence of [r] and the pronunciation of the vowel at the end of a word such as saya ('I').

In Brunei, most speakers pronounce [r] wherever 'r' occurs in the spelling, including at the end of words such as benar ('true') and besar ('big'). However, some speakers in Malaysia, particularly in Johor and also in Singapore, only pronounce an [r] when it occurs before a vowel, such as in rendah ('low') or beras ('uncooked rice').

The vowel that is spelled with an 'a' at the end of words such as saya and masa ('time') is pronounced by some people in Malaysia as [ə], the mid-central vowel that occurs at the start of the English word ago and at the end of comma. In contrast, many speakers in Brunei use [ɑ], a more open vowel that is similar to the one that occurs in the English word calm.

The trouble with this is that [ə] at the end of saya sounds foreign and unnatural in Brunei while [ɑ] sounds uneducated. As a result, it seems that newsreaders opt for something halfway between, with the intention of sounding educated but not too unnatural.