23 September 2010

English Borrowings

There are lots of borrowings from English into Standard Malay, but most borrowed words remain reasonably transparent: lif ('lift'), pos ('post'), psikologi ('psychology'), aktiviti ('activity'), ekonomi ('economy'), kem ('camp'), setem ('stamp'), arkib ('archive'), etc.

In contrast some of the borrowings into Brunei Malay undergo rather a lot of phonological change. My dictionary shows borrowings from English with 'Ig' (short for 'Inggeris'), and it can be fun to go through and try to work out what the original words were.

For example, gustan ('reverse') seems to come from 'go astern', guhit ('go forward') is presumably from 'go ahead', isbuk ('fridge') is from 'ice-box', and stimbai ('to get ready') is derived from 'stand by'.

Occasionally, the dictionary fails to mark some with 'Ig', possibly because the origin is too well hidden. Thus parimpan is from 'frying pan', but the dictionary does not mark it as from English.

Often the representation of a borrowed word gives some insight into the phonology of Brunei Malay. For example, the English 'ice cream' becomes sakirim, illustrating the tendency for a consonant-vowel syllable and the avoidance of the /skr/ cluster.

In other cases, the reason for the change is hard to determine. For example, 'ticket' becomes kikit. Maybe there is a tendency for consonants to be repeated, which might explain why the medial /k/ occurs at the start as well. But takut ('fear') is a perfectly good indigenous word, and it has a /t/-/k/-/t/ sequence. My colleague, Adrian Clynes, suggests that words indicating strong emotions often break the rules of phonology, and maybe takut fits into this category.

This seems a fascinating topic for further investigation.