28 October 2011

Aerial Photo of UBD

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, UBD published a booklet with lots of interesting photographs, including this aerial view of the campus:Unfortunately, this photograph has been printed the wrong way round! To confirm this, have a look at this scan from page 6 of the Brunei Darussalam Street Directory:Notice that the road bends to the right before reaching the T-junction; and the mosque is to the right of the road (i.e. the east); but in the aerial photo, the road bends to the left, and the mosque is on its left, suggesting it is in the west of the campus.

There are two interesting things about this. First, even though I am quite familiar with the layout of the UBD campus, it was hard for me to confirm that the photo was wrong, even after my geographer colleague, Bill Duane, pointed it out. I had to compare it with the map before I was able to convince myself that he was right. I guess most of us do not have very well-developed spatial awareness, apart from geographers who are trained in that kind of thing.

Secondly, how did it get inverted? In the days of analogue photography, with negatives and so forth, inverting a photograph was common; but in the modern age, when most photographs are digital, that should not be possible (unless someone wanted to do it deliberately, which seems rather unlikely in this case). This suggests that the photograph must have been taken with an old-fashioned analogue camera.

27 October 2011

Appropriate Attire

Some culturally-specific words are almost impossible to translate into English. For example, for the recent graduation ceremony at UBD, we were provided with a short instruction sheet, including some advice on etiquette and attire. On one side it is in Malay and on the other in English. The Malay includes the sentence:
Orang-orang Haji dibolehkan memakai ketayap tetapi hendaklah BERTENGKOLOK
with the last word capitalised (presumably to show it is rather important). The English translation that is offered is:
Only black songkoks should be worn.
which is rather simpler. A more accurate translation might be something like: "People who have been on the haj are allowed to wear white caps but only if they have a rim and a tassle down the back." No wonder the writer didn't attempt to provide a completely accurate translation!

In fact, there is an accompanying picture which is quite helpful:

22 October 2011

Hot-hot Chicken Shit

Sometimes I can read something in Malay, and although I know all the words, I still don't know what is going on. Here is an extract from the front page of Media Permata of 18 October 2011, about a mother of four in her thirties who has just graduated from university.This might be translated as:
According to her, a hot-hot chicken shit attitude must be avoided in our life because it will prevent us from achieving success.
Hot-hot-chicken shit? Now, what can that mean?

My UBD colleague Malai Ayla tells me it means having lots of initial enthusiasm for something but then not persevering with it. She also tells me that local people sometimes jokingly translate it literally into their English. And, indeed, I found this blog entry (here):
Another Hot-Hot Chicken Shit Plan To Lose Weight.
I started to go swimming at MMU swimming pool 3 weeks ago. This is inspired by the fact that my medical checkup result is not indicating that I am a fit person....
I love expressive language like that (even if I struggle to understand it). I think I might start using the expression myself!

19 October 2011

Web Promotion

I quite often receive a message from someone (who shall remain anonymous), and the message goes something like this:
My name is XXX from XXX.net. Just wanted to drop you a line as a new fan of your Blog. It's great finding a blog with such informative resources and creative insights. On a related note, we recently published an article that deals with Language. So we thought you might want to share it with your readers.
At first sight, this seems rather nice: this person has read my blog and thinks it is informative and creative. Splendid! In addition, she thinks her own material might be of interest to my readers, so she hopes I might pass on the link to them.

But look again: she has not actually said anything specific about my blog. In fact, she almost certainly has not read it. The reason I know this is that I have received this message, or something rather similar to it, many times now, and although the message I get is always carefully worded and very complimentary about what I write, it never actually says anything specific about my material.

This is just quite a clever spam message that is trying to promote another website by means of saying nice things about mine. My guess is that this message is sent out to hundreds and hundreds of bloggers in the hope of fishing for a few extra links to their site. They probably have a database of email addresses, and they send a message like this out to all of them automatically once a week or so.

You really have to be careful about the messages you receive in this Brave New Electronic World. Things are not always quite what they seem.

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.

08 October 2011

Google Translation

The limitations of automatic translation are illustrated in an interesting recent Language Log posting (here). It appears that a protester in New York wanted to show the message
No more corruption
in Chinese, and so he typed it into the Google Translate facility and got this:
没有更多的腐败
(You can try it yourself to confirm it.)

The problem here is that the Chinese actually says: "There is no more corruption", which is almost certainly the opposite of the message the person was hoping to put on his banner.

In fact, you get just as bad a result if you use Google Translate to translate 'No more corruption' into Malay:
tiada rasuah lebih
We really must be careful how much we depend on automatic translation software at present.

Txtng in Malay

It is fascinating how young people play with the language, especially shortening it, when they send text messages. And we might ask whether different groups use different abbreviations.

My Year 1 student, Nurul Radhiah binti Mohd Mussadik, who is originally from Malaysia, gave me this example:
nk g mkn x
which is the abbreviated form of:
nak pergi makan tak ('do you want to go and eat?')
For nak ('want') and makan ('eat'), just the vowels are omitted; for pergi ('go'), the letter 'g' is used to represent the prominent final syllable of the word; and for tak ('not'), an 'x' is used to represent the ✘ symbol to indicate something is incorrect.

What is further interesting is whether Bruneians can understand this. A UBD Masters student, Diyana, looked at it and read 'g' as lagi ('again') rather than pergi, and 'x' as kali ('times') rather than tak; so she was unable to understand it. This suggests that there are substantial differences between the texting of Malays in Brunei and Malaysia.

Finally, we might note that 'g' for pergi and lagi is in both cases using one letter to represent the final syllable of a word; and 'x' for tak and kali is in both cases using one letter to represent a non-verbal symbol. But the meaning that is represented by these single letter abbreviations is different for Brunei and Malaysia.

07 October 2011

Dangerous Roads

I just read an article on the on-line Guardian (here) that five people are killed every day on the roads in the UK. While this is, of course, tragic and shocking, we should think a little bit about the numbers.

There are 60 million people in the UK. If 5 people are killed every day, that represents one person every 12 million.

Brunei has about 400 thousand people. If we translate the UK death rate to Brunei, we would expect one person to be killed on Brunei roads every 30 days. Now, I don't have immediate access to the figures, but I am pretty sure that the death rate is rather higher than that. I believe it might be like one or two people per week.

My perception is that Brunei roads are rather safe: I seldom encounter complete nutters on the road, and I rarely suffer the problems of road range. But maybe that is because I mostly keep in the left lane, out of the way of such idiots. And it looks like Brunei roads are actually, overall, rather dangerous.

I guess I'll just stay in the left lane, out of the way of speed morons. If you want to go past me, please go. Just make sure you are ahead of me, where I can see what idiocy you are up to.

02 October 2011

Saya / I

I have been watching a ghost film called Seru. In it, there is this clip:The subtitle suggests the girl says:
Saya percaya benda halus ni memang wujud.
"I believe supernatural beings really exist."
But what she actually says is:
I percaya benda halus ni memang wujud.
with the English pronoun I rather than saya.

It is rather common for English pronouns such as I to be used in Malay sentences. I don't fully understand why.