25 March 2011

Wedding Gift

In Brunei, it is the custom for wedding guests to receive a gift, to act as a memento of the happy occasion. Usually, this is a bowl or a cup or something like that, something pretty you can put on the shelf as a souvenir.

In the reception I went to last Sunday (after the wedding I mentioned here), this is what we found when we opened our stylish little gold-coloured boxes:Yup, it's a packet of rice!

Now, I suspect that a few of the guests will have felt a bit disappointed to find a packet of rice rather than the pretty little bowl or cup that they were expecting. But I was really touched. Not only is it something practical, as I can eat it rather than letting it add to the jumble of things I don't need cluttering up the house; but I also love the originality of someone doing what they want to do rather than blindly adhering to the expectations of society.

Splendid, Badriyah! That was a lovely gift.

21 March 2011


Obviously, the Malay word psikologi is a borrowing from the English word psychology. But how should it be pronounced?

Colleagues at UBD have confirmed that there are three variables: whether there is an initial /p/ or not; whether the vowel in the first syllable is /ai/ (following the English) or /i/ (following the spelling); and whether the final consonant is /dʒ/ (as in the English) or /g/ (as suggested by the spelling).

The first of these surprised me. I assumed that the initial would be just /s/, as /ps/ would never be possible in at the start of a word in Malay (or, indeed, in English). But apparently, /pisikologi/ is possible, with an inserted vowel between the /p/ and the /s/.

In the recording accompanying my Malay textbook, the speaker says /saikologi/, which seems a bit unexpected as it is using the English vowel for the first syllable but following the spelling for the final consonant. I don't know how common this kind of mixture is.

20 March 2011


I always find it rather bizarre to open the newspaper and see photos of people I know. But I guess that is what happens in such a small country.

This picture, reporting on the wedding of my UBD colleague, Siti Badriyah, is from the front page of Media Permata:I hope she and her husband have a wonderful life together.

17 March 2011


I have previously discussed the difficulties of using a Malay dictionary (e.g. here). This basically involves removing the prefixes so that you can identify the root of the word, for that is where the word is generally listed. This is not always straightforward, especially for a learner of Malay, as the root of menyambut ('welcome') is sambut, while that of menawar ('make an offer') is tawar.

I still sometimes get caught out. For example, I wanted to look up cecair ('liquid'). It turns out that it is listed under cair ('liquid').

The problem with this is that ce is not a standard prefix (like the very common prefixes ber, ke or meN). Eventually, I discovered that reduplication is regarded as a standard morphological process, which is why ce can be added on to the front of the root cair. Other examples given by Malay Grammar Made Easy (Liaw Yock Fang, Times, 1999, p. 362) include:
  • tetamu ('guest'): root = tamu ('guest')
  • lelangit ('palate'): root = langit ('sky')
  • lelaki ('man'): root = laki ('husband')
  • jejari ('radius'): root = jari ('finger')
  • rerambut ('capillary'): root = rambut ('hair')
The problem here is that none of these other words, tetamu, lelangit, lelaki, jejari, or rerambut, are shown in the dictionary under their given roots. They are all simply listed as full entries. Only cecair is listed under the root. No wonder it is so hard to find words like this. Trying to learn Malay really can be frustrating.

12 March 2011


There is an organisation in Brunei called Katakijau that seems to be engaged in various environmental activities.

When I first heard it mentioned on the radio, and then I saw the name discussed in the newspaper, I tried to work out what it means, assuming it was kata ('word') + kijau (??). But then I could not work out what kijau might mean.

Even when I saw their logo on the Internet, it didn't twig that it was katak ('frog') + (h)ijau ('green') until a colleague explained it to me.

It was the missing 'h' that caught me out. But an absent 'h' at the start of a word is fairly common in Brunei Malay. For example, the following all have an initial 'h' in Standard Malay but none in Brunei Malay:
  • (h)ari ('day')
  • (h)itam ('black')
  • (h)ujan ('rain')
I should also have thought of orangutan, which is orang ('man') + (h)utan ('forest'), which similarly has a missing 'h' at the start of the second morpheme.

07 March 2011

Guangxi University

I spent five days last week as a guest at Guangxi University in Nanning, southern China. The campus is in many ways beautiful, with lots of trees and flowers; but I found it rather grey, perhaps because of the overcast weather. Maybe if I had gone there at a different time of the year, I would have appreciated it more.One of the things that struck me most was the lack of resources. Here is a picture of the libary (taken from their website). It is, indeed, a grand building. But inside? I couldn't find too many modern books.

In fact, one of the questions I was constantly asked was: how do we get published? And my answer was that you must have access to modern books. The people there are really keen to get involved in work on World Englishes, but none of them had even heard of writers such as Jennifer Jenkins, Andy Kirkpatrick or Edgar Schneider, much less read any of their materials. How can you expect to publish papers if you have not read recent books?

It is stunning to see so many hard-working, bright research students and academics beavering away at various research projects but having no access to the materials they need. And I see no prospect of them publishing in serious journals unless they get access to those materials.

05 March 2011

Chinese Flag

I previously mentioned the absence of a Chinese flag in my set of flags on the right (here). But now look: we have the flag of the People's Republic of China, currently with five visitors! Yippee! So people from China can finally read my blog. Splendid!

Well, no, actually. This past week, I was in Nanning, the capital of the Guangxi Autonomous Region in south China. And it is not possible to access my blog from Nanning. Moreover, it seems that there are huge gaps in what people in China can access.

Now, I have no delusions into believing that my blog is essential reading for students of linguistics in China. But what about other materials? What about John Wells's Phonetic Blog (here), which has some valuable discussions about phonetics? Not available. What about NGram, the excellent utility from Google that lets you look at the way the usage of words has changed over the past 200 years (here)? Not available.

My heart goes out to the thousands, or maybe it is millions, of students and academics in China who are trying so desperately to participate in research, but don't have access to the resources they need.

More about that in a subsequent blog.

What I would love to know is this: those five visitors from China, how did you manage to access the site when others are not able to? I would love to understand the mechanics of the Web better.