04 May 2011


The government of Brunei is currently implementing a population census. The letter accompanying the census form is printed on one side in Malay and the other in English, and this offers some interesting insights into differences in expression between the two languages. For example, take the salutation at the top. Here is the Malay version:Let us compare this with the English:Note how much more elaborate the Malay is. Instead of 'Dear Sir/Madam', the Malay lists all the possible ranks of the recipients (Pengiran, Pehin, Dato, Datin, Tuan, Puan), and this is preceded with the appropriate form of address for each one.

Now let us look at the final paragraph. This is the Malay version:And here is the English:Once again, we find that while the English has 'Your', the Malay uses the rank of each of the potential recipients (Pengiran, Pehin, Dato, Dato, Tuan, Puan). It is really important in Malay society to show proper respect to high-ranking people.

In addition to this, the Malay has an extra sentence:
Saya dengan tulus ikhlas menunjung kasih/mengucapkan berbanyak terirmah.
which means:
With all sincerity, I would like to say thank you.
I am not sure why it is apparently unnecessary to include this sentence in the English version; but it certainly reflects the greater need for polite expressions in Malay.