15 October 2011

Deferential Language

I recently picked up a copy of the July/August issue of Muhibah ('Harmony'), the Royal Brunei Air magazine. In it, there are some articles in both Malay and English. The translation appears to be high quality, which allows us to consider how things are represented in the two languages without worrying about "errors".

For example, take this extract from page 53 of an article entitled 'Patriotic Art', talking about a recent art exhibition in BruneiNow compare this with how the same thing is rendered in the Malay version of the article, on page 57:Note that the Malay version is a bit longer. Let us consider why.

In Malay, the full title of the Sultan is given: Kebawah Duli Yang Maha Mulia Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah, Sultan dan Yang Di-Pertuan Negara Brunei Darussalam; but in the English, this is truncated to His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah. The first part is omitted in the English, and also the name of the country of which he is the Sultan.

In addition, note that the Malay has the phrase 'berkenan mencemar duli'. This literally means 'deigned to pollute his feet', though of course that is not what it really means, as it is a fixed phrase to show respect in reporting the actions of the Sultan. In English, this is reduced to one word 'graced'.

Clearly, the translator felt that there is less need for such elaborate honorifics in English, whereas in Malay it is always important to use lots of special vocabulary to show the proper level of respect.