10 November 2012

Abbreviations in Malay

In my previous post, I discussed whether texting might be harmful to literacy. The view among many linguists is that the creative and playful use of language may actually be helpful, and that English spelling may in fact be improved by the regular use of texting abbreviations, because they raise phonological awareness about the structure of words. My MA student, Ranjeta Ramanathan, is doing some interesting work on this among Brunei undergraduates, and I will summarise a few of her results when the thesis is completed.

In Brunei, there is the usual concern that texting abbreviations are destroying the ability of young people to write properly and also to spell, and this extends into the spelling of Malay. What is ironic here is that abbreviations in Malay are really common in official materials, including dictionaries. For example, here are some of the abbreviations found in the excellent on-line Pusat Rujukan Persuratan Melayu @ DBP:

  • dgn : dengan ('with')
  • dll : dan lain-lain ('and others')
  • dr : dari ('from')
  • dlm : dalam ('in')
  • drpd : daripada ('from')
  • kpd : kepada ('to')
  • pd : pada ('at')
  • sbg : sebagai ('as')
  • sso : seseorang ('someone')
  • ttg : tentang ('about')
  • utk : untuk ('for')
  • yg : yang ('which')

A pattern here seems to be that vowels tend to be omitted unless they occur at the start of the word (utk) or morpheme (sso = sese+orang), and that 'n' gets omitted if it is before another consonant (dgn, ttg, yg).

It is not just dictionaries and other reference materials that use lots of abbreviations. I note that the subtitles in the Astro Awani news channel have even more regular abbreviations. I'll try and collate some of them one of these days.

Ranjeta finds that Bruneian students similarly use lots of abbreviations when they incorporate Malay into the text messages they send. But can you blame them when they see such abbreviations used so widely in official materials? And, finally, is there any evidence that such use of abbreviations is harmful to literacy, in Malay or in English?