28 February 2012


I am currently in the UK for a few days. Here are my grandchildren.They are delightful (though I guess every grandfather thinks that).

Oliver was a bit slow starting to speak; but now he is four, and he natters away all the time in long, complex sentences. Which just shows that it doesn't matter when a child learns to speak, as they all get there in the end. Elsie is just two, but her language is already not bad.

The only thing that disappoints me is that they are growing up as monolinguals, as is almost inevitable in the UK. I guess they will benefit from growing up speaking standard English with a prestigious accent; but still I think it is a pity to be a monolingual when so many people in the world are proficient in two, three, or more languages.

Young people in Brunei should appreciate how lucky they are to grow up naturally as bilinguals. It gives them two different perspectives onto the world, which I think is really valuable.

24 February 2012

Mi Goreng

This is a huge advertising sign by a busy road junction in Brunei. On the left, it says: 'Indofood Fried Noodles, the No 1 Pleasure in Brunei' Although the link between advertising and reality is usually rather tenuous, this advertisement seems to be quite accurate. Instant noodles indeed seem to be pretty much the greatest pleasure of many people in Brunei. Lots of people have instant noodles at 10:00 in the morning as well as in the afternoon, in addition to a full breakfast, lunch and dinner.

At a time when the incidence of obesity is exceptionally high in Brunei, especially among office workers, and when the occurrence of diabetes is also so widespread that it is regarded as almost an epidemic, I find it deeply depressing that eating junk food like this continues to be so popular. It beats me why the government doesn't do more to discourage it, like putting a tax on instant noodles or something like that, especially when the fight against obesity is supposed to be important.

20 February 2012


A common way of creating new words is by blending, which involves using the start of one word and the end of another. So, for example, in English we find:
  • smog (from smoke + fog)
  • motel (from motor + hotel)
  • infotainment (from information + entertainment)
What about Malay? Are there blends in Malay?

One of my first-year students suggested cerpen ('short story') (from cerita 'story' + pendek 'short'). The only difference is that this is the start of one word plus the start of another word, rather than the start of one and the end of the other.

My UBD colleague, James McLellan, tells me that similar blends are very common in Indonesia, with, for example, menlu ('foreign minister') (from menteri 'minister' + luar 'outside'). Note that this is also the start of one word and the start of another, just like with cerpen.

I have two questions: Is using the start of both words the usual pattern in Malay? And is the process more common in Indonesia than in Brunei and Malaysia?

15 February 2012


Here is a headline and accompanying picture from the front page of the Media Permata of 15 February 2012, reporting on an official visit by a Malaysian minister on the Sultan of Brunei:The headline might be translated as 'His Majesty the Sultan consents to receive visit' (where berkenan is being translated as 'consents', as is normal practice in Brunei).

Also on the same page, this is the headline and picture reporting on a visit by a minister from Canada on the Senior Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, the Crown Prince of Brunei:This second headline might be translated as 'Senior Minister consents to receive visit'.

The use of mengadap ('visit') is interesting here. I was unable to find it in my Malay dictionary, as the Standard Malay equivalent is menghadap (the root being hadap, with an 'h'). In fact, mengadap (with no 'h') is a Brunei Malay word. (It is usual in Brunei Malay to have no initial 'h', so for example hitam ('black') in Standard Malay is itam in Brunei Malay.)

But mengadap is not just a word in Brunei Malay; it is also a word in Bahasa Dalam, the formal Palace Language that is used to refer to the activities of the Sultan and his family.

This suggests that sometimes the most colloquial language, Brunei Malay, and the most formal, Bahasa Dalam, use the same forms that both deviate in a similar fashion from Standard Malay.

Actually, this might be quite widespread in languages. For example, in British English, both the upper-class aristocrats and also less well-educated working class people in places such as Norwich tend to use ‑in rather than ‑ing at the end of gerunds. So upper-class speakers are well-known for talking about huntin and fishin.

12 February 2012


Here is a sign along the trail in Bukit Shahbandar which Adrian Clynes reckons is ungrammatical.The Malay reads munuju keluar ('towards exit'); but he notes that keluar is really ke + luar ('to outside'), so it is underlyingly a prepositional phrase, and the sign is literally 'towards to outside'.

But is keluar really a prepositional phrase? Maybe it has been used so often to mean 'exit' that it has undergone conversion (partly under the influence of English), and now it can also be regarded as a noun. If that is the case, then perhaps menuju keluar is fine.

07 February 2012


One of my favourite places in Brunei is Bukit Shahbandar. It offers splendid walks through the forest, and I try to go there for an energetic workout once a week.

At one place in Shahbandar, someone has left this 'installation', using empty plastic bottles placed over twigs in the ground. It's a bit hard to read from this angle, but it spells out Bukit ('hill'). (The B is closest to us, and we are looking at it from the side.)What I don't get is why anyone would want to destroy the forest trail with such an ugly array of plastic bottles.

I guess it might be intended as a protest about pollution, or something like that. But how is adding to pollution a constructive way of protesting about it? And how could someone spend so much time creating such a hideous installation along a forest trail?

If this is supposed to be art, I simply don't understand it.

05 February 2012

Pusat Rujukan Persuratan Melayu

There is a splendid on-line resource for looking up words in Malay: Pusat Rujukan Persuratan Melayu ('Malay Literature Reference Centre'). Not only are the explanations, often in both Malay and English, pretty good, but lots and lots of valuable examples of actual usage are also provided.

For example, this morning I wanted to look up muafakat, a word that occurs in the main headline on the front page of today's Media Permata; and I easily found that it means 'to agree with' or 'to be in accord with', with plenty of good examples of how it is used.

One thing that is interesting about the entries in this resource is the widespread use of abbreviations. For example:
  • dengan ('with') is always written as 'dgn'
  • yang ('which', 'who') is written as 'yg'
  • kepada ('towards') is 'kpd'
and many, many more. The basic rule seems to be that all vowels are omitted, and 'ng' is simplified to 'g', though I am sure this is too simplistic.

Given that such abbreviations seem to be sanctioned by the compilers of official dictionaries, does that mean that teachers of Malay in schools are less opposed to the use of SMS-style abbreviations among their pupils than their English-medium colleagues? There seems to be a widespread (but probably unfounded) fear that use of SMS abbreviations is undermining the ability of children to write properly in English. Does the same concern affect Malay? Or are Malay teachers more relaxed about the issue?