31 January 2012


It is not straightforward to leave comments on my blog. I know that, as a few people have told me that they have given up in frustration. I probably should fix it; but I won't. The reason is that I would get too many spam messages, and then I would have to work out a way to filter them out.

A recent post in Language log (here) mentioned the fact that they had just reached 1 million spam messages, and some of these messages can be quite sophisticated, at first sight seeming to come from people who appreciate the blog, such as:
Finally, an issue that I am passionate about. I have looked for information of this caliber for the last several hours. Your site is greatly appreciated.
I had to tell you this is a really great website, wonderful theme and it makes a change to see such a great page.
Fortunately, I haven't had too many of those, though someone did leave about ten links to a translation service throughout the comments section of my blog, which was really irritating as it took me a while to delete all of them. I hope you can see why I don't make it easier to leave comments.

The worst I get is a regular email message from someone. (The sender changes, but the link is the same, which is why it is hard for me to block.) It goes something like this (with the link removed, for obvious reasons):
Hi David,

We would love to share with you an article that we just posted on our own blog! .... [It] would be an interesting story for your readers to check out and discuss on your blog.

Either way, I hope you continue putting out great content through your blog. It has been a sincere pleasure to read.

Note that there is no indication that the sender has actually read my blog. I have received this message, or something similar, about six or seven times now. Maybe I should hide my email address.

Zero-risk Culture

I just read an article in the online Guardian (here), discussing how the army in Britain is planning to cut 20,000 jobs. At the same time as eliminating jobs, one of the goals is to improve the equipment used by the army.

Quoting General Sir Peter Hall:
the sort of zero-risk culture that is understandably sought in other walks of society ought to be achievable in the battlefield
Er ... zero-risk culture in the battlefield? Surely that is absurd! Maybe they are hoping that the only kind of battlefield they encounter will be one simulated on a computer, or something like that.

This kind of idiotic marketing double-speak seems to be everywhere these days.

23 January 2012


In a previous post (here), I discussed word spacing in the local Malay newspaper, and I suggested that the occasional absence of spacing on some lines might arise because there is no sohpisticated software to implement automatic hyphenation in Malay.

This seems to be confirmed by the fact that unexpected hyphens sometimes occur in the middle of a line. For example, see this extract from an article on page 2 of the Media Permata of 24 January 2012, discussing a recent accident on the coastal highway in Brunei:A translation of this paragraph is:
This incident, which is estimated to be the biggest that has occurred for the past few years, occurred at approximately 7:00 in the evening. But the police are still investigating the cause of the incident.
Note that pernah ('has') and the second token of kejadian ('incident') are both suitably hyphenated, to ensure that the spacing on the line is good, and kira-kira ('approximately') is also hyphenated, as is usual for reduplicated words. But what is interesting is the spurious hyphenation in kebelakangan ('previous', 'past'). My assumption is that the journalist or editor inserted a hyphen to get the spacing right and then forgot to remove it when the text was changed so it was no longer necessary to break up the word. I believe that this would generally not occur in English newspapers, as hyphenation would be done automatically.

One other thing to notice about this paragraph is the repetition in Malay of berlaku ('occur'), which I have retained in the translation. Such repetition of lexical items is usually avoided in English, but it does not seem to be a problem in Malay. If I were to try and offer a better translation, I might replace one of the tokens of 'occurred' with another word, maybe 'happened'.

17 January 2012

Food Symbolism

My wife, being Chinese, has some ideas about food that are a bit strange to me. She believes that the shape and colour of food indicates what it is good for. So, for example, beetroot (being red) is good for the blood; and walnut halves are good for the brain.

What I don't understand is why she keeps on encouraging me to eat more bananas.

Happy Chinese New Year. Or 'congratulations and get rich' (gong xi fa cai), as they say in Chinese.

06 January 2012


The American Dialect Society is currently voting on its selection for Word of the Year. You can see the list of candidates here.

There are lots of fun suggestions, such as: humblebrag ('expression of false humility, especially by celebrities on Twitter'); brony ('adult male fan of the “My Little Pony” cartoon franchise'); and assholocracy ('government by obnoxious multi-millionaires').

But my favourite is FOMO ('fear of missing out'). Of course, in this part of the world, we don't need this new word, as we already have kiasu. So my suggestion is actually this: let's forget FOMO and promote the use of kiasu instead. It's far more stylish and evocative.

Suria Berita

For someone like me who is trying to learn Malay, especially when I have so few oppourtunities to actually speak the language in Brunei, one of the greatest resources is Youtube.

I have found the postings of extracts from the news by the Singapore Malay-language channel Suria particularly valuable because they include subtitles. Mostly, the subtitling is pretty good, but occasionally there are errors, which can be quite confusing. For example, in this clip from a news item from September 2009 (see here) about a chap called Res who was given tickets to the F1 race in Singapore, the third word seems to be Is.But that can't be right, as Is is not a word in Malay. In fact, it should be ia ('it'); and the sentence means 'But it must have been a highly valued gift for Res, a loyal fan of F1'.

I guess people who are more fluent in Malay would not even notice the mistake.

04 January 2012

Mixing in Public Speeches

Yesterday I attended the welcoming speech by the Vice Chancellor of UBD to the new intake of students. The first few minutes were entirely in Malay (as is appropriate when Malay is the official language of Brunei). He then switched to English for a few minutes (as is appropriate for a university that is mostly English-medium). But as he continued, he started increasingly switching back and forth, often within a sentence. This was clearly done to convey the informality and friendliness that he felt was suitable for a welcoming address. I wish I had taken notes; but I remember he started one clause with kalau ('if') but then finished it in English, and there were many, many such instances.

It is really interesting to see how such frequent switching between Malay and English is seen as the way to show informality, even on the occasion of a welcoming address to incoming students. My guess is that virtually all informal discourse in Brunei is characterised by this kind of switching and mixing.