19 June 2012

ambush marketing underpants display

The pile-up of nouns in newspaper headlines is notorious. But I find this sub-headline from today's on-line Guardian article about the behaviour of the Danish footballer, Nicklas Bendtner, particularly tough to decipher:

Irish bookmaker behind Danish striker's ambush marketing underpants display to pay his £80,000 fine
Apparently, ambush marketing is an established noun phrase; but you probably need to know that the Bendtner showed his underpants after scoring a goal during a recent match at the European Nations Cup in order to understand the headline.

For more on the story, see here.

18 June 2012

Speed of Light

This post has nothing to do with Brunei. But it's something I thought was interesting, so never mind.

I just saw this paragraph in an article on the BBC Word Service written by Vint Cerf (here) celebrating the life and achievements of Alan Turing:

My colleagues and I have had to re-think the basic communication paradigms for large scale networking owing to the slow nature of light speed propagation (eg 20 minutes one way from Earth to Mars) and disruption caused by planetary motion.

Slow speed of light? Isn't the speed of light the fastest thing we know?

My goodness, we are living in exciting times when we are starting to worry about the slow speed of light!

16 June 2012

Abin / Aben

On the forest trail between Bukit Karamunting and Tasek Lama, there are two wasai ('waterfalls') named after two residents of Kampung Subok, Abin and Jumat. But the spelling of the first of these is uncertain. Look at the two signs just a few metres apart. On one, it is spelled Abin, and on the other, it is Aben.

This variability in the spelling might reflect two things:

First, Brunei Malay only has three vowels, /i, a, u/. So it is uncertain how to spell Brunei names when the letters 'e' and 'o' are also adopted from Standard Malay spelling.

Second, and perhaps equally important, in Malay /i/ and /e/ cannot be contrastive in the final syllable of a word, just like /u/ and /o/ cannot be. This is why kasih ('love') is often pronounced with [e] in the final syllable, especially in the phrase terima kasih ('thank you'; lit. 'received with love'). It is also why we sometimes see the spelling kampung ('village') and at other times we find kampong, and it is why the Malay word amuk ('crazy') is borrowed into English as amok (as in 'run amok').

14 June 2012


The Malay for long-sighted is rabun dekat (lit. 'blind close') and for short-sighted it is rabun jauh (lit. 'blind far').

I wonder how much confusion this causes, given that the Malay word dekat ('near') is associated with what in English we call 'long-sighted' (or what Americans call 'near-sighted'), and the Malay word jauh ('distant') is associated with the English 'short-sighted'.

I imagine that dominant Malay speakers would find the English terms quite confusing, and similarly people who learn the English words first would be bemused by their Malay equivalents, especially since rabun doesn't seem to occur much outside of these two phrases. (The basic word for 'blind' in Malay seems to be buta, not rabun.)

My Malay-English dictionary glosses rabun as 'poor', which isn't very helpful. In contrast, the excellent on-line Pusat Rujukan Persuratan Melayu offers 'blind' as a translation, which is a bit better. Perhaps 'poor-sighted' or 'half-blind' might be the best gloss for rabun.

08 June 2012


I was just reading a BBC article about the financial situation in Europe (here), and there were two instances of teh (instead of the) in the short article:

April output fell 1.9% from teh previous month
Teh request would follow a conference call

I guess they don't use a spell checker!

Mind you, a spell checker can be a real nightmare if you try and type foreign languages. I tried to enter teh tarik ('tea poured from a height') the other day, but my computer changed it to the tarik. And I keep on getting caught out by datang ('come') getting changed to dating.

05 June 2012

sort of / kind of

I was just reading that sort of is three times more common in British English than American English, while kind of is five times more common in American English.

So what about Brunei English? In my data of 53 five-minute recordings of UBD undergraduates, sort of occurs just four times, while kind of occurs 44 times. This seems to reflect a clear American influence on Brunei English.

One thing remains a mystery, though. We might expect rhotic speakers (those who have an [r] at the ind of four and car) to be more likely to use kind of than non-rhotic speakers, if we assume that rhoticity is also partly influenced by the American accent. But, in fact, 27 out of the 44 instances of kind of are produced by non-rhotic speakers. I find this hard to explain.