27 February 2011

29 New Books

From page A5 of The Brunei Times of 27 February, 2011, reporting on a speech by the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports:
The minister said that Brunei's institutions of higher education are one of the key aspects for Brunei's expansion of the book publishing industry.

As much as 29 local book titles have been launched in various categories include one comic book.
Er .... 29 book titles? As a source of pride? That doesn't sound like very many to me.

But maybe something is wrong here. The English is problematic (much rather than many; include rather than including); so perhaps the journalist is not expressing herself too clearly.

21 February 2011


Congkak is a game played by two people. You sit opposite your oponent and take it in turns to move pieces around the wooden containers. This is an extract from a leaflet that attempts to explain the rules. The English is perhaps the worst piece of translation I have come across:In addition to being the name of the game, congkak also means 'supercilious'. The two words are unrelated; in linguistics, we say they are homonyms, as they are both written and pronounced in the same way, though there is actually no connection between them. (Just like bark in English: it can be the outside of a tree or the sound of a dog, but there is no link between these two words.)

The translator here has chosen the wrong meaning for congkak, apparently without any awarenss of what is being written. It looks like every word has been looked up in a dictionary without any idea of context.

And then, in the second line kedua-dua means 'the two of them'. But kedua on its own means 'second', and this is the translation chosen. Bizarre!

(My thanks to Ish for giving me this leaflet, and also to Adrian Clynes for helping to decipher it.)

17 February 2011

Editing Wikipedia

As part of my fourth year course on Electronic Communication, we look at Wikipedia, specifically at how we might improve some of the entries. And the pages on Brunei are a good starting point, as there are rather a lot of problems.

For example, look at the 'Language' section in the main entry on Brunei (here). It starts off:
The official language of the nation is Brunei Melayu
Well, that is simply not true. In fact, the official language of the nation is Bahasa Melayu (Standard Malay). Even the link offered to support the assertion (here) starts off:
THE official language of Brunei Darussalam is Bahasa Melayu
So, I got one of my students to correct it. But then, guess what? The change was undone. I can't be bothered to work out exactly who did it, but from the Revision History it looks like it might have been someone by the name of 'Gotipe'.

Now, the most widely spoken language is indeed Brunei Malay. Although some people might wish it were the official language, it is not. So why insist on putting incorrect information into Wikipedia when you know it is wrong? I don't understand that. But I can just try to do my best to improve things a bit, to improve the accuracy of the entries a little, and if it doesn't work out, then so be it.

Actually, there are worse problems on the Brunei page. Have a look at the section on geography (here). It claims that the mean maximum temperature for February is 24.8 degrees Celsius. That is patently absurd, as anybody who has ever been here knows. The temperature reaches at least 30 degrees almost every single day. But I don't have the correct figures, so I'll leave that part alone.

It is rather unfortunate how bad this page on Brunei is, and it gives us a warning not to rely too much on Wikipedia. For basic information, Wikipedia is maybe OK. But don't rely on it. Ever!

14 February 2011

Plastic Bag

On Monday evening, I was flying back from Singapore on an RBA flight, and as we approached Brunei, I heard the announcement "We will shortly be collecting the handsets. Please place them in the plastic bag." What I found interesting was that the main stress in the second sentence was on plastic rather than on bag (which is where I would have put it).

The rule for stress placement in noun phrases such as plastic bag is this: if it is a compound noun (N + N), such as traffic lights or police car, then the stress falls on the first item; but if it is Adj + Noun, such as tall man or interesting film, then the main stress falls on the second item. In this case, plastic is an adjective, so the stress should fall on bag rather than plastic.

Well, fine. Except there are rather a lot of exceptions. For example, Oxford Street is stressed on Oxford, but Oxford Road is stressed on Road; and chocolate cake is stressed on chocolate while choocolate biscuit is stressed on biscuit. And there seems to be no easy explanation for these patterns.

Perhaps it's not really surprising if the RBA announcer didn't follow the native stress patterns exactly!

06 February 2011


Last week, I spent two days in the UBD Belalong Research Centre, a magical place nestling on a river in the depths of the forest in Temburong:The trip was organised by my UBD colleague, Ulmar Grafe. He told me something I found interesting about his language usage: when he writes academic articles, he always likes to use one word, as a sort of fingerprint. The word is denizens (meaning 'inhabitants').

When he told me this, I thought that the word basically only occurs in the phrase 'denizens of the forest', so it constitutes a fixed phrase, just like cosh only occurs in the phrase 'under the cosh', and whet rarely occurs outside of 'whet your appetite'. But I just did a search in the COCA corpus, where I found 421 instances of denizens, and only three of them are collocated with forest. So it seems that the word has a wider usage than I thought. Instances include:
Denizens of the city came running
the indulgent, everhopeful denizens of Wrigley Field
the denizens of my city's different neighborhoods
the mordant denizens of Wonderland still basking in peculiarity
Land's End's denizens indeed excited alarm
He imagined the denizens of that garden cheering him
I wonder whether I have any word that I tend to use regularly in my academic articles, as a fingerprint of my authorship. I can't think of any at the moment, but I suspect I do.

05 February 2011


This is the headline from the front page of the Media Permata of 5 February:It says "Women today can play an important role for the country", and it is summarising a recent speech by the Queen.

It is rather surprising that this could be the topic of a speech. In most places, the contribution of women towards the country is assumed, so there would be no point in talking about it in a speech. But the fact that it is worth discussing and moreover making into the headline on the front page of the national newspaper is a reflection of the conservative nature of Brunei society.

01 February 2011

Tiger Lim

I was just reading some of the entries in the blog by Tiger Lim (here). For example:
You know lah back to early 80's where got many entertainment one... the best one is watching movie loh.
Anak Bungsu got one thing not good is they always been forgotten easily sometime by the family. In the movie "Home Alone" also same like this...
These extracts raise some interesting linguistic questions:
  • Clearly, this use of informal, non-standard English is deliberate. I wonder how natural it is. And is this style of speech becoming formalised among a segment of the population?
  • If it is becoming established, does it have a grammar that could be described?
  • To what extent is this style of language different from similar usage that might be found in Singapore? Of course, Anak Bungsu ('youngest child') is Malay. Would a Chinese Singaporean use an expression like that? Or does its use reflect the fact that he is Bruneian?
  • To what extent is this style of language different among Chinese and Malay Bruneians? My impression is that the pragmatic particles lah and lor are rather more common among Chinese, but I am not certain. Also, what about the use of one in 'many entertainment one' ― is this also used by Malays?
I find playful, innovative language like this quite refreshing. Of course, it would be a problem if it cropped up in a formal setting; but then there should always be a range of styles of usage, and a blog is one medium where many people choose an informal style such as this.