31 July 2012


My UBD colleague, Malai Ayla, asked me this question: what is the English for the Malay term anak yatim? My dictionary shows this:
However, this is not quite right, as anak yatim can mean a child who has lost one parent, while the English word 'orphan' refers to a child who has lost both parents (anak yatim piatu in Malay). This can lead to mistranslations, as in the caption to the following picture from page 8 of the Borneo Bulletin of 25 September 2007:
So, back to the original question: what is the English for anak yatim? I think the answer is that there is no simple translation, and you need a phrase such as 'a child who has lost one parent'.

27 July 2012


I am currently in the UK, playing with my two grandchildren, Oliver aged 4 and Elsie aged 2. I only see them once a year, so each time I see them, they have developed so much. This time, it was stunning to see how well Oliver can remember things.

We were playing a memory game. The idea is that there are twelve cards, as below. One person looks away, and then the other person turns one of the cards over, to show a slightly altered picture. The first person then looks back to see if they can spot the difference. Here is the original:

You should focus on the picture above to see if you can remember it before looking at the modified picture.

Below is the changed one. Can you spot the difference without referring back to the original? Can you remember what was in the original picture?

The answer: the third card in the middle row has a green and yellow animal missing.

What I found interesting was that Oliver could spot the difference immediately even though he didn't seem to be concentrating very carefully. (In fact, he was jumping around all over the place.) In contrast, I had to focus very hard to try and remember the pattern.

This illustrates how much children are able to absorb with apparently little effort, while older people like me struggle to remember things.

19 July 2012

Malay English Intonation

Yesterday I attended the viva examination for Noor Fadhilah Mat Nayan at the University of Reading. Her thesis is on the intonation of English as it is spoken in Malaysia, based on recordings of ten female speakers engaged in the "map task". Her findings are that models of intonation based on British English, specifically the model known as Discourse Intonation proposed by David Brazil, may not be suitable for the description of Malay English, partly because there is a distinct tone (which she calls a Cooperative Rise) which is common in Malaysia but does not occur in British English. This tone is quite distinct from the fall-rise of British English, and its role seems to be to present information in a less demanding fashion than with the ordinary rising tone.

She also found that nucleus placement can be quite variable, and shifts in the main intonational accent of a phrase do not have the same role as similar shifts in British English.

These findings are important in the continuing efforts to describe varieties of English around the world, and I very much hope she will publish them in top journals, to enable other researchersthem to access them easily.

It was a privilege to be able to contribute a little bit to this work. Reading a thesis can sometimes be hard work; but in this case, it was well written, the research design was sound, and the data analysis was careful and thorough.

My wife complains that I almost never stop working, even when I am on vacation (as I am at the moment). But if you enjoy working on something like this, then is it really work?