30 July 2011


My UBD colleague, Salbrina Sharbawi, told me of another word of English that comes from Malay: gong (the musical instrument).

So, my list of borrowings from Malay is:
  • amok (as in 'run amok')
  • orangutan (lit. 'forest man')
  • durian (lit. 'spiky thing')
  • rambutan (lit. 'hairy thing')
  • compound (as in 'police compound'; from kampung)
  • Mandarin (as in 'Mandarin Chinese'; from menteri 'minister')
  • parang
  • kris (a small decorative knife)
  • gong
There are probably a few more, if we look out for them.

27 July 2011


Here's a sign near the Admin building at UBD. (I am grateful for my UBD colleague Adrian Clynes for sending me this.)Note the non-standard spelling -- with a 'k' rather than a 't' at the end of the first syllable of strictly.

In fact, this accurately represents the real pronunciation of this word, not just in Brunei but throughout the world. Nobody usually pronounces the [t] in strictly, because that would involve the three-consonant sequence [ktl], which is pretty hard to say.

So maybe this sign writer is ahead of their time; perhaps this is how we will all be writing this word in a few years time. Just like most people nowadays write hiccup rather than the traditional hiccough, because hiccup accurately reflects the way we say the word.

On the other hand, maybe the traditional form strictly will prevail, because it maintains the morphological link with strict. In this case, it is similar to Christmas and handkerchief which always seem to maintain the 't' and 'd' in the spelling even though [t] and [d] are never actually pronounced in these two words.

21 July 2011


I have previously mentioned fruits and equipments as examples of nouns which are treated as countable in Brunei and elsewhere, because they refer to objects that are logically countable.

Here is a text message recently sent out by BSM in Brunei, in an attempt to dispel a rumour that there is soon to be a shortage of petrol in Brunei. (My thanks to my UBD colleague, Salbrina Sharbawi, for sending me this.)Note the use of the plural fuels within the body of the message.

What is different about this example is that fuel does not seem to be something that is logically countable. Nevertheless, it illustrates the variable use of count and noncount nouns in New Englishes such as that of Brunei, especially as the singular fuel occurs in the heading but the plural fuels is used in the body of the message.

19 July 2011


I have previously mentioned plural nouns such as fruits. Here is a photograph of a sign outside a construction site on the UBD campus.Note the use of plural equipments, even though equipment would be treated as a non-count noun in Standard English.

As with so many cases like this, English in Brunei has a plural noun for something that is logically countable. And I suspect that this will become adopted in all varieties of English one day in the future.

Redesigned Newspaper

In its efforts to achieve a modern image, the Media Permata recently went through a redesign. Here are two versions side-by-side. See if you can tell which is the original and which the new version, and also see which one you prefer.The one on the left is the original (from page 6 of the edition of 14 July), while the one one the right has the revamped design (from page 37 of the edition of 16 July).

I guess the one on the right is seen as slightly more modern. However, I actually prefer the one on the left, the original. The letters are a bit heavier, but there is more white space between them, and I find it easier to read.

Neither version uses a serif font, with the fiddly bits on letters that makes a traditional font like Times New Roman look a bit old-fashioned. But note the difference between the '1' in 2011 two lines from the end of the one on the left with the '1' in 2010 three lines from the end on the right: the one on the right actually has a more complicated symbol, which is unexpected. Also note the difference in the dot over the 'i' in syarikat in the headline on the left with the 'i' in cybersecurity on the right: the former is a round dot, while the latter is square. I guess the latter is more modern or something.

I am sure I will get used to the new format, and then I will wonder why I ever questioned it. But at present I do prefer the old format.

11 July 2011


There is an MRT station in Singapore called Woodleigh, and a former student just wrote to me asking me how it should be pronounced. There seem to be two choices: [wʊdleɪ] or [wʊdli:].

My answer is: it is not important what I think. This is a station in Singapore, not on the London Underground, so it completely irrelevant how I would pronounce it. It is up to Singaporeans to decide.

In fact, this should extend to other place names in Singapore. There is another station called Lavender. Now, how should that be pronounced? I would stress the first syllable: [ˈlævəndə]; but many Singaporeans would stress the second syllable: [læˈvendə]. And if that is how people in Singapore say it, then that is how it is said.

The interesting thing about the Singapore pronunciation of Lavender is that it actually conforms to the usual stress rules of English. If the second syllable ends with two consonants, we would expect it to be stressed. For example, trisyllabic words such semester, disaster, September, December, remember with two consonants at the end of the second syllable are all stressed on the second syllable. With Lavender, Singaporeans are following the rules, as is so often the case.

But for Woodleigh, I don't think there are any rules, so Singaporeans should decide. Or maybe there could be two different pronunciations, both of which are equally correct.

09 July 2011

Noisy Restaurants

This is the inside of an Italian restaurant in Melbourne, called +39. (Apparently, 39 is the international dialing code for Italy.)The pizzas were delicious, but what I found surprising was the sound level: it was quite difficult for us to hear what the others were saying.

In fact, this seems to be the norm. We also went to an Indian restaurant where the noise level was even higher. And I've heard that in clubs, it is much, much noisier (though I can't verify that one).

When I am with people, I like to be able to hear what they are saying; and I find it quite upsetting when I can't. But it seems that young people aren't like that.

I sometimes think that nowadays places such as restaurants and clubs are actually designed to ensure there is lots of noise, so that people don't have to communicate with each other too much, or maybe because nobody cares whether others can understand them or not. Perhaps young people don't really like to listen to others.

Or maybe I am just out of touch with modern trends. I guess restaurants and clubs aren't designed for old fogeys like me.

07 July 2011

too busy

Yesterday, while my wife (who is from Taiwan) was talking about the poor teaching in a particular university, she said:
They are too busy to do research.
In the context, what she meant is:
They are too busy doing research.
Note that these two utterances are opposites. The first suggests that no research is done, while the second indicates that lots of research is done. What she meant was that the academics in that particular university are so busy doing research that they don't have time to prepare their teaching properly.

This contrast between 'too Adj to V' and 'too Adj V-ing' is rather tough for non-native speakers to get right. Note that there is no distinction between 'to-V' and 'V-ing' in the following:
I like to do research.
I like doing research.
Given that (presumably) lots of resarch gets done in both cases, so there is apparently little or no difference between the meaning of these two utterances, it is little wonder that non-native speakers get confused.

Before you conclude that this is a problem with non-native speakers, so they'd better work harder to learn better English, note that native speakers also sometimes get confused. See, for example, Language Log (July 5), which discusses an instance where two journalists in the New York Times wrote "No one is too busy not to look at this" when they meant exactly the opposite.

This area of English really is fraught with difficulties. Maybe the pressure of simplification provided by the emergence of World Englishes will provide the stimulus for it to change.

06 July 2011


In my previous post, I discussed the occurrence of fruits, specifically whether the plural noun might occur in Inner-Circle countries such as Australia; and I considered evidence from Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne.

One other pattern I have previously discussed in Brunei (e.g. here) is the use of piece (sometimes reduced to pc) to refer to count nouns, as in the image on the right, which shows the price of apples in a Brunei supermarket.

It is interesting to see whether this use of piece also occurs in Australia. Here are a range of price signs for fruit and vegetables in Queen Victoria Market:It seems that each (sometimes reduced to ea) occurs instead of piece.

However, I suspect that the use of piece may prevail in World Englishes, partly because it is simpler. Note that in the Brunei sign, the same pattern is used whether it is for one item or for more; so we have "$1.19 /pc" and also "$5.60 /5pcs". In contrast, the each pattern is only used for one item. For more than one, you have to use for, and the sentence pattern is quite different:Note that the second, third and fourth images contrast these two patterns.

The use of piece(s) is simplifying, and this is exactly the sort of pattern that seems to get adopted in World Englishes.

However, there is as yet no evidence of it being adopted in Australia. Maybe it is only common in places where the indigenous languages have measure words, such as buah in Malay or 个 in Chinese.

05 July 2011


I have previously discussed the use plural nouns such as fruits for logically countable things, something that I believe will become part of standard English in the future. Ths is the sign above a shop in Brunei:It is interesting to compare this with the usage in an Inner-Cirle country such as Australia. Here is a selection of signs in Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne:We can see that two out of five of these signs have a plural fruits.

Of course, this is far too small a data sample to draw any firm conclusions. Furthermore, we might guess that Nash and Salih are not native speakers of English (as seems to be true of most of the stallholders in this market in Melbourne), so that is one more factor that influences language use. But we might conclude that plural fruits does sometimes occur in Australia.

It would be interesting to do a wider study of fruit versus fruits in Australia and elsewhere.