30 April 2010

Throwing Rubbish

Opposite the Maggie Cafe on the bank of the Limbang River, I saw this sign, which tells you in three different languages not to throw rubbish, or face a fine of $500.

The first and third of these languages are not surprising: Malay (given that Limbang is in Malaysia and many of its inhabitants are Malays); and Chinese (seeing as there are lots of Chinese people in the town of Limbang).

But the second language is more unusual: Iban. I have never seen Iban written before, though I am told there are some books and magazines published in the language.

It is encouraging to see some official support for the Iban language, even if it is only an admonishment not to throw rubbish.

Sunset in Limbang

I just went for a brief trip to Limbang, the small town located in the strip of Sarawak (Malaysia) that separates the two parts of Brunei. Here is a view of the sunset over the Limbang River.This reminds me of a picture I took a few years ago in Vientiane (Laos) of the sun setting over the Mekong River.One notable difference is that lots of people were gathered to watch the sunset over the Mekong, with stalls set up to sell snacks and drinks; but only my wife and I paid any attention to the beautiful sunset in Limbang. Even though there are plenty of restaurants along the side of the river, nobody seems to have any interest in the spectacular colours in the evening sky. I guess most visitors to Limbang are more interested in the nightlife that starts later in the evening.

28 April 2010

Removing one's Shoes

This is a trilingual sign at the entrance to the restaurant of the Merawap Hot Springs resort, near Lawas.The Chinese constitute only about 10 per cent of the population of Lawas, but still the sign includes the message in Chinese characters (something I rarely see in Brunei).

Maybe this is because there are quite a few Chinese guests to the resort, from places such as Taiwan and Mainland China. Indeed, few of the guests are local, so the ethnic balance of the population of Lawas is not really relevant.

Or maybe the Chinese are particularly guilty of failing to remove their shoes when entering a residential building. However, this latter hypothesis seems rather unlikely: it is just as much a Chinese custom to take off one's shoes when entering someone's house as it is in most of the rest of Asia. In fact, the idea of still wearing your shoes, all covered in dust and other muck, when walking around a home seems a particularly bizarre western custom, and there can't be many societies around the world that tolerate it. One might conclude that the sign only really needs to be in English.

So perhaps the inclusion of Chinese characters in the sign is just a courtesy, widening the languages displayed to include as many guests as possible.

27 April 2010

Hot Springs

One of the curses of being an academic is that I have to know the background to things. If you take me to botanic gardens, instead of admiring the flowers like ordinary folk, I will spend much of the time learning their names; and in the forest, if you tell me that the trees are dipterocarps, I will want to know that this comes from the Greek: di ('two') + ptero- ('wing') + carp ('fruit'), originating from the two-winged fruit that can spiral down like helicopter blades.

So, in a hot springs resort, I have to find out where the hot water comes from. Fortunately, at the Merawap resort, some chap called Andrew Cullen from Shell Oil wrote a very helpful explanation in the guest book:After finding out that the source is shallow magma at a depth of between one and two kilometres, I was able to enjoy soaking in the water.

What I now don't know is why the water from hot springs is supposed to be so good for the skin. Maybe some medical expert can write that explanation in the guest book some day.

Languages of the Lun Bawang

In my previous post, I mentioned the owner of the Merawap Hot Springs resort, near Lawas. His name is Alfred, and his picture is on the right, standing in the dining room of his resort overlooking the garden.

He told me that his first language is Lun Bawang, his second language is English, and although he can get by in Malay, he is not really very comfortable speaking it. The reason that English is his second language is because all his education was in English, as it was at a time that Sarawak was still a British colony, before it joined the Malaysian Federation.

In contrast, his seven daughters also speak Lun Bawang as their first language, but their second language is Malay, and their English is not quite so good. This is because they all went to school after Sarawak joined the Malaysian Federation, and Malay became the medium of education for all subjects. This seems a common pattern in Malaysia, where the younger generation often do not speak English as well as their parents, but they are all quite proficient in Malay even if it is not their home language.

Merarap Hot Springs

I just spent two days at the Merarap Hot Springs resort in Sarawak (Malaysia), halfway between Lawas (on the coast) and Ba'kelalan (near Bario). Very relaxing and enjoyable.The people who live in the region call themselves the Lun Bawang, and their language is closely related to that of the Kelabit who live in and around Bario.

In an earlier post (here), I referred to them as the Lundayeh people and also suggested that those who live near the coast, in Lawas and Limbang, are called Murut. However, the owner of the Merarap Hot Springs resort insisted that only those who live in Temburung (which is part of Brunei) are called the Murut. Those in Lawas (where they are the largest group, constituting 45% of the population) and also in Limbang (where they are a rather smaller minority, at 10% of the total) all refer to themselves as Lun Bawang. He seemed to be pretty knowledgeable about local things, so I'll take his word for it.

In fact, Wikipedia (here) suggests that the term Lundayeh is more commonly used for those who live over the state border in Sabah. I don't always trust Wikipedia, but this time it concurs with what my informant told me.

23 April 2010


In an earlier blog (here), I mentioned pokok ('tree') in the phrase gaji pokok ('basic wage') and suggested that the logic of this phrase is hard to work out. One possibility is that pokok in fact has two distinct meanings: 'tree' and 'basic'. Evidence in support of this comes from the existence of the word pokoknya ('basically').

If this is the case, we might further ask if pokok is a polyseme (a word with distinct but related meanings) or two homonyms (words that are pronounced and written the same even though there is no link between them).

For example, in English foot is a polyseme, as it can refer to part of the body (its core meaning) and also to the lowest part of a mountain (a metaphorical extension of the core meaning). These two meanings are obviously linked. In contrast, bank represents two homonyms, as there is no link between the place to keep money and the side of a river. They are two different words that just happen to be pronounced identically.

So, which is pokok? Is the meaning 'basic' a metaphorical extension of the core meaning 'tree'? My dictionary appears to believe this, as pokoknya ('basically') is listed under pokok ('tree'). In contrast, a word such as pasang has two distinct meanings, 'pair' and 'tide', but they are treated as two homonyms because there is no link between the two meanings. For homonyms such as pasang, the dictionary shows them as separate entries.

22 April 2010

Frog Colours

In an earlier blog (here), I discussed the Wallace's Flying Frog I had seen at the UBD Belalong Research Centre in Temburong. Then in a subsequent blog (here), I mentioned the issue again, and I included a picture sent to me by my UBD colleague, Ulmar Grafe.

Something that worried me was that the two pictures looked so different ― the frogs were completely different colours!

Today, I saw a report in the Guardian (here), discussing the Heart of Borneo project and how many different species have been discovered as a result of this project. And in this report, there were two pictures side-by-side of the Walllace's Flying Frog, showing how it changes in colour depending on the time of day:It was nice to see this explanation, but it was also splendid to see how the Heart of Borneo project is being celebrated even in UK national newspapers.

It saddens me how little Bruneians know about their own forest, and how few local people have seen creatures like this or even care about them. But I guess if an initiative like the Heart of Borneo project can work towards protecting these amazing creatures, then that is something to be celebrated.

21 April 2010


This is the Brunei Street Directory, compiled by my UBD colleague, Kazimierz Becek in 2008. It is a splendid resource that often enables me to find where I am going with no problem.

Something I noticed when looking through the book recently was the disclaimers on page 8. The first one might at first glance look a bit surprising:
This set of maps is not an authority on international boundaries.
In fact, this reminds us that the internatonal border between Brunei and Sarawak (Malaysia) is still subject to dispute.

Further down on the same page, we find another disclaimer:
The street maps provided were compiled by Kazimierz Bezek, using data believed to be accurate at the time of publication; however, a degree of error is inherent in all maps. The street maps are distributed "AS-IS" without warranties of any kind, either expressed or implied, including but not limited to warranties of suitability for a particular purpose or use. The maps are intended for use only at the published scale.
This one seems rather more formulaic. Of course, in the modern world, this kind of disclaimer is essential, and this book is just following the expected practice. But what do such disclaimers really achieve?

We seem to be bombarded with such formulaic disclaimers. Sometimes, they are just background noise. When did you ever read through the full conditions before clicking on 'Agree' when you installed a new piece of software? But at other times, they can get a bit irritating. If, for example, you copy the original message when replying to an email message (which makes sense as it ensures the whole conversation is present in the message), you can end up with multiple copies of the same disclaimer, e.g.
This e-mail (and any attachment) is confidential and may also be privileged. It is intended solely for the use of the individual to whom it is addressed. Any views or opinions presented are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ..... etc etc etc.
What's the point of all of these words? I'm sure they are necessary for legal reasons, like the warning on a McDonald's coffee cup: "This coffee may be hot", or that on a packet of peanuts: "May contain nuts". (For a discussion of this last one, see Language Log here.) We sometimes seem to be swamped by legalistic, meaningless verbiage.

Fortunately, the disclaimers in the Street Directory are merely background noise, and they do not interfere with the value of the book.

Compound Nouns

Sometimes the components of a compound noun seem to hard to understand.

Malay has lots of compounds. For example, matahari ('sun') is derived from mata ('eye') + hari ('day'), which is easy enough to explain.

Others are a bit more difficult. For instance, kakitangan ('employees', 'staff') is derived from kaki ('feet') + tangan ('hands'). This is a little more obscure, but still the imagery is just about decipherable.

However, there are some where I can't work out the logic. For example, sampah sarap ('general rubbish') is tough. The first part sampah ('rubbish') is OK; but then the second part sarap ('breakfast') seems strange. When I first saw this compound, I thought it referred to discarded breakfast garbage, but in fact there is nothing to do with breakfast in the meaning.

Another one is gaji pokok ('basic wage'). Again, the first part is fine, as gaji means 'wage'. But then pokok means 'tree', and I don't see the link between trees and basic wages.

But in fact, it is not always possible to determine the origin of words and phrases, in English just as much as in Malay. In his delightful website called World Wide Words (here), Micael Quinion discusses the origins of phrases and words, and sometimes he has to admit that we just don't know the origins of some of them. For example, despite plenty of research, he cannot be certain why there is a kangaroo in kangaroo court (here) or a monkey in monkey wrench (here).

Sometimes we just have to accept that some things will probably always remain a mystery.

19 April 2010

harmful pesticides

This is the label on the top of a box of strawberries I recently bought at Mabohai Supersave in BSB:I have a couple of questions about this. First, does 'no harmful pesticides' mean "no pesticides were used because they are harmful"? Or does it mean "no harmful pesticides were used, though some harmless ones were used"?

My guess is they want us to believe the former, though the latter seems quite likely. In which case, I am a bit dubious. Pesticides are designed to kill pests ― that is their fundamental role. And it is hard for me to believe that something that kills pests is actually harmless. I bet DDT was once claimed to be harmless to humans, but later it was found to be absolutely lethal.

One other thing about this label: they seem to be putting an awful lot of effort into trying to persuade us that it is all natural. ('A natural harvest' ― I wonder what a non-natural harvest would be like?) And I am rather sceptical about such efforts at persuasion.

But maybe I should celebrate the fact that marketing food as 'natural' is seen as so important nowadays. Let's hope it reflects a change in the way things are grown, as customers are increasingly demanding naturalness.

Anyway, the strawberries were actually very tasty, so perhaps I shouldn't be too cynical about the labelling.

17 April 2010

more cars

The Saturday edition of the Media Permata newspaper always carries a summary of the sermon delivered in the mosques the previous day. On page 1 of the Media Permata of 17 April 2010, there is a warning about pride, and people are told not to compare with others about being:
lebih pandai, lebih kaya, lebih mulia, mempunyai rumah yang lebih besar, kereta yang lebih banyak...
which translates as "cleverer, richer, or more respected, having a bigger house or more cars".

I found the last item interesting: "more cars"? In most countries, one might expect people to be concerned about whether their car is better than that of their neighbours. But more cars?

In Brunei, cars are cheaper than in many other places. In Singapore, you cannot buy a new car for less than about $80,000; but after living in Singapore for 15 years, I was stunned to come here and find you can drive away a brand new car for less than $20,000. (And that was what we did when we arrived here: we actually got a bit of change from $20,000.)

Furthermore, most Bruneians buy their new cars on credit, and in fact no down-payment is needed (though that is in the process of being changed). So no wonder local people love their cars, and also often have more than one!

But it's still something I don't understand: if you have a perfectly good car that gets you where you want to go, why would you want another one?

But then I've never understood why you need more than one pair of shoes: I've only got one pair of feet, so why do I need more than one pair of shoes? I guess there's lots of things about the modern world I don't understand.

Oliver's words

This is my grandson, Oliver. He is now two years and three months old.

Although he lives in England, my wife and I get to see him every week on Skype. Modern technology is splendid, as it allows us to watch our grandson growing up even though we are thousands of miles away.

Recently, my son has been recording Oliver's speech and putting the videos on Facebook. And then I can download them and investigate how he speaks. Over the last month or so, these are some of the words he has said, with my best efforts at transcribing his pronunciation:
Easter [i:tə]
egg [eɪʃ]
flower [faʊwə]
house [haʊ]
blanket [bæni]
cow [kaʊ]
cup [kʌ]
Most of these pronunciations are as expected. He simplifies consonant clusters, so the [fl] at the start of flower and the [bl] at the start of blanket get reduced to a single consonant, as does the [st] in the middle of Easter. Furthermore, he tends to drop final consonants, as in house and cup, though the sound at the end of egg is a bit surprising.

One of the advantages of video recordings is that I can see what he is looking at when he is speaking, so I can (usually) work out what the words are. When I was doing my Masters research many eons ago, I recorded my son's speech (he was two at the time); but as I only had an audio tape-recorder, I had to transcribe the data quickly, or I would forget what he had been talking about.

In future, when I teach courses on language acquisition at UBD, I will use these videos of Oliver in class, as I believe this will enliven the material immensely. I hope, also, that those of you who have small children around (maybe nephews and nieces if you don't have your own children) will make the effort to record them. If you miss the chance, they will never be learning to speak again. The recordings can provide fantastic material for research on language acquisition, but if you miss the chance it is gone forever.

16 April 2010

a million words?

How many words are there in English? This is actually a meaningless question.

There is someone in the USA who claims that the millionth word of English has recently been coined, but this turns out to be something of a publicity stunt, largely to promote a book he has written on the subject. I won't add to the publicity by telling you his name; but a discussion of this hoax can be found on Language Log here.

I was reminded about the fact that it is not possible to determine how many words there are in English (or any other language) by a recent announcement of a talk at UBD. The abstract starts:
Based on previous reports of the presence of terminal alpha-linked galactosyl residues in the glycoconjugates of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, a systematic investigation into the biochemical structure of the glycoconjugates was initiated.
It all sounds fascinating stuff; but what does it mean? And should galactosyl, falciparum and glycoconjugates be counted as some of the "million words" of English or not?

In fact, if you start trying to include as words of English all the possible chemical compounds, some of which can be very long and rather obscure, you will easily exceed one million words.

And it is not just in the pure sciences that this issue arises. In my own field of acoustic phonetics, I could talk about formant transitions following the aspiration associated with fortis alveolar plosives. Should these technical terms be counted as some of the million words? For me, they are all perfectly good words of English; but I don't expect you to agree with me (unless, of course, you have studied lots of phonetics).

I hope this helps to illustrate why any discussion of the total number of words in a language is meaningless.

15 April 2010


It's a long time since I mentioned food. Well, since Feb 4 actually (here). And what would a Brunei blog be without some discussion of food? So here is a picture of the sandwich I have almost every day for my lunch.

I heard that some of my students expressed surprise when they found out that I often go round Bukit Shahbandar together with a few colleagues, as they had seen me eating lunch on my own and assumed that I must have no friends. Eating and chatting together is such an important activity in Brunei that it is simply incomprehensible to local people that I might choose to eat on my own. But I would like to reassure them: I actually do enjoy eating a simple lunch on my own. A sandwich and a couple of oranges are just what one needs in the middle of the day, and in fact I look forward to it. In contrast, the thought of eating greasy noodles or something like that for lunch is rather unpleasant to me.

I read in the newspapers that 55% of all government employees in Brunei are obese. Not just overweight, but obese. If this figure is accurate, it is truly alarming. Perhaps more people should be encouraged to eat sandwiches for lunch!

But that is never going to happen. Indeed, the collegiality of people chatting while eating together is a vitally important feature of Brunei society, so the authorities will have to find some other way of dealing with the obesity epidemic.

13 April 2010

a gentle reminder

A couple of days ago, I sent a reminder about a forthcoming test to my first-year students, and one of my colleagues (jokingly) suggested that it should have been a 'gentle reminder' that I sent.

Indeed, in Brunei and Singapore we are often sent 'gentle reminders', and the use of the pre-modifying adjective 'gentle' is intended to soften the message, to make it more friendly and polite. So it may be true that my students would have expected a 'gentle reminder' rather than just a reminder.

The problem with this is that, in the UK, a 'gentle reminder' is regarded as threatening, suggesting that the sender is really rather annoyed about something. It is a bit like the phrases 'It would be appreciated if ...' and 'Kindly be informed that ...', both of which are common in Brunei and Singapore but both of which carry an officious, legalistic tone in the UK, something that is not at all friendly.

This illustrates that we should all be sensitive to local norms of language usage. Bruneians should be aware that a 'gentle reminder' seems to some people to carry a threatening tone; and expatriates living in Brunei should recognise that a 'gentle reminder' here is intended as polite and friendly.

Given that I am dealing with a Bruneian audience, perhaps I should indeed have sent a 'gentle reminder'.

12 April 2010

Bukit Tangahan

Bukit Shahbandar is a popular site for hill walking about half an hour out of the centre of BSB.

Between Pondoks ('huts') 4 and 5 of Shahbandar, there is an extra loop that is not shown on the maps, and the hill half-way round this extra loop is called Bukit Tangahan (where bukit means 'hill').This sign nicely illustrates the vowels of Brunei Malay. In Standard Malay, it would be Tengahan ('half-way point'); but as Brunei Malay only has three vowels [i, a, u] rather than the six vowels of Standard Malay, in the first syllable of Tangahan we find 'a' rather than 'e'.

10 April 2010


This is the sign above a shop in Kiulap, near the centre of BSB in Brunei.The standard English would be 'Fresh fruit and vegetables', which I think beautifully illustrates the quirky illogicality of English.

Think about it. Fruit and vegetables are rather similar: in both cases, there are many kinds, and often the individual items are round and you can select one or two or more. So why in standard English is fruit a singular noncount noun while vegetables is a plural noun? It just doesn't make any sense.

No wonder fruit is one of the words that is being reanalysed in many New Englishes around the world, and fruits is becoming increasingly acceptable in places such as Singapore and Brunei.

This is just the kind of regularising change that one would expect to occur in the evolution of the language, and as I have argued before (e.g. here and here), it seems that New Englishes are hastening the pace of change, even if many people in the USA and UK are not too happy about this.

09 April 2010

Royal Titles

In a recent post (here), I mentioned two versions of HM the Sultan's name, the shorter of which took a television newsreader 5 seconds to read out.

My UBD colleague Adrian Clynes has pointed out that there is an even more complete version:
Kebawah Duli Yang Maha Mulia Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Muizzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar 'Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan dan Yang Di-Pertuan Negara Brunei Darussalam
This version includes details of the Sultan's father (after ibni, the royal equivalent of bin 'son of').

In fact, in the 7:00 radio news this morning, I heard this longer version read out in full twice, in a report on the current ASEAN summit in Vietnam. I guess it is important to use the full version of the name when reporting on official royal visits to foreign countries.

I wasn't able to time it (partly as I was driving my car at the time), but I bet it took a little bit longer than 5 seconds to say.

08 April 2010

Pictures in the Papers

Here's a picture from page 3 of the 6 April edition of Media Permata, the national Malay language daily in Brunei. The headline says 'Painting exhibition gets encouraging support', and the article is about an art exhibition arganised by the Alliance Francais.The woman in a pink dress in the middle of the picture is my wife.

In fact, it is not the first time pictures of us have appeared in the Brunei newspapers. Here is a picture from page 3 of the Media Permata of 2 December last year. The headline says 'Lucky customers receive gifts', and the article is about customers winning gifts in a lucky draw held by HSBC.The old-looking chap in a white shirt is me.

Given that we don't attend a lot of official functions or go to many parties organised by the embassies and things like that, it seems extraordinary that we find our photos in the newspapers so often. But then there are only about 400 thousand people in Brunei, and it must be tough for journalists to find major news articles to fill the newspaper every day. So the fact that they tend to focus on what might seem like quite minor issues is perhaps not so surprising after all.

I guess we should just be grateful that there aren't more murders and robberies here for the papers to report!

06 April 2010

repair kasut

Here's a sign by the side of Jalan Subok, near BSB. As you can no doubt guess, kasut means 'shoe'.Is there no word in Malay for repair? My dictionary tells me that membaiki is 'to repair', and the noun is pembaikan (both derived from the root baik 'good'). But maybe the English word sounds more fashionable or sophisticated or something.

This sign illustrates the widespread mixing between Malay and English that occurs in Brunei. Sometimes I hear speakers switching between the two languages several times in one sentence.

04 April 2010

Reading Names Correctly

The correct use of titles is extremely important in Brunei, something I have mentioned before (e.g. here).

It seems that the more important someone is, the longer his name. (OK, that was a bit sexist; but it is still basically true that most top people in Brunei are male.) And of course none is more important than His Majesty the Sultan. The full reference to him is:
Kebawah Duli Yang Maha Mulia Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah Sultan dan Yang Di-Pertuan Negara Brunei Darussalam
Newsreaders are expected to read this out each time they mention him, which can be quite a lot of times during a news broadcast; though it seems that a slightly shorter version is acceptable. I managed to find an extract of the national RTB news of 17 April 2009 on YouTube (here) where the newsreader reads out the shorter version:
Kebawah Duli Yang Maha Mulia Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan dan Yang Di-Pertuan Negara Brunei Darussalam
This version omits some personal names (Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah) but keeps most of the titles.

It is impressive how fast, clearly and accurately television and radio broadcasters can say this. I have timed the YouTube extract at 5 seconds, but I suspect other newsreaders do it quite a bit faster and still get it all correct.

At last year's graduation ceremony for UBD students, HM the Sultan had consented to come and give out the certificates, and in the rehearsals there was panic because one of the Deans, being a foreigner, could not get His Majesty's name right, no matter how many times he tried. So it was decided that UBD should use the services of a professional newsreader instead. The result was stunning: this professional not only got all the official greetings and announcements correct, but also the names of all the graduating students were read clearly, accurately and quickly. In the end, the whole ceremony took half the expected time, there were no mistakes or stumbling over the names of the students, and everybody went home happy.

I know one university in Australia where it is the job of the resident phonetician to read out the names of students at graduation. But there is no way I could do better than the professional newsreader. It really was impressive.

02 April 2010

Egocentricity in Language

Here is an extract from my Malay text book (Teach Yourself Malay, by Christopher Byrnes and Tam Lye Suan). And here is the translation that is offered in the book.There are two things of note here. First, the Malay 'saya dan isteri saya' becomes inverted in the English, so that I comes second in 'my wife and I'.

And second, I think the translation is not quite right. In English we do not say 'we can't go'. Instead, we say 'we can't come'. My interpretation of this is that we transfer the focus to the listener, so we use come rather than go because we are thinking in terms of the perspective of the listener.

These two differences between Malay and English suggest that English may be less egocentric than Malay: we place ourselves second, and we transfer the perspective to the listener.

Is this really true? One problem is many speakers do not naturally say 'my friend and I' ― it seems more natural for most people to say 'me and my friend', and it is only through the intervention of teachers that 'my friend and I' becomes the norm (and many speakers in fact resist this correction from their teachers).

And the use of come rather than go is quite an obscure aspect of English grammar, something that second language users of English rarely adopt. Indeed, I suspect that go will become the norm in situations like that in the dialogue for International English. Maybe it already is the norm.

So perhaps English is not less egocentric after all.

01 April 2010

bintang / star

I have previously (e.g. here) discussed calques, words or phrases where each part is translated word-for-word from one language into another. For example take part in English becomes mengambil bahagian in Malay.

Of course, calques also occur in English, so for example brainwash comes from the Chinese 洗脑, and lose face comes from the Chinese 丢脸. Wikipedia (here) offers a substantial list of calques into English from a range of languages, though as so often with Wikipedia articles, many of the entries are unreferenced and so there is some doubt about how reliable the material is.

However, I suspect that calques from English into Malay are particularly common. When I don't understand a phrase in the Malay newspaper, I try translating it back into English, and I find that often works. Now, I agree that this is not a very reliable method of determining if something is a calque or not, as it is quite possible that the phrase was created independently in Malay, or indeed that the calquing is in the other direction, from Malay to English, but I suspect that most of the examples I find are indeed calques from English into Malay.

There is one other phenomenon that is similar but not quite the same: when a metaphorical extension of a word is transferred from one language to another. For example, take the English word star. We can say it is a polyseme, as it has two distinct but related meanings: the object in the sky; and a successful entertainer, especially in films or music. And we find that the Malay word bintang is the same. The basic meaning is one of those sparkling objects in the sky, but we also find phrases like bintang pop ('pop star') and bintang filem ('film star'); and I'm pretty sure that this metaphorical extension of bintang comes from English.

Is this calquing? Well, maybe. But note that it does not involve one fixed phrase, as the extended meaning of bintang can be found in a range of phrases. My UBD colleague Ayla suggested that bintang seni ('star of the arts') might be possible, though I haven't encountered that one.

I wonder if there is a term to describe this kind of cross-language influence involving the metaphorical extension of a word.