31 March 2012

New ATM Machine

Here is the headline from page 2 of Media Permata of 28 March 2012: It says "New ATM machne in Temburong".

I wonder how many other countries would have the installation of a new ATM machine as the major story on page 2 of their national newspaper. But then I guess we don't have too many riots and strikes or things like that to report in Brunei.

28 March 2012

one of

In my previous two posts, I have discussed non-standard use of the plural ‑s suffix in Brunei English. One quite common pattern is the use of a singular noun after one of. I have found five examples in the 53 five-minute interviews that constitute my data. They are:
well ... it’s one of life’s ... mystery

I’m not ... sure because one of my cousin is from my mother’s side and the other is from my father’s side ... of the family

my coach is actually one of our senior

and one of our relative pick us up from the KL airport

the Sharm El Sheikh is one of ... the tourist ... site where ... it’s a bit similar like Ha- er Hawaii
In these cases, mystery, cousin, senior, relative and site would all be plural nouns in standard English.

It seems that speakers feel that the referent is singular, so the noun should have no plural suffix. I guess this is logical in a way.

I haven't seen this reported for other New Varieties of English; but I suspect it does occur elsewhere.

24 March 2012

stuffs etc

In my previous post, I suggested that the occurrence of an unexpected ‑s suffix on nouns in Brunei English occurs most often for logically countable things such as furnitures. In fact, in the 53 five-minute recordings of UBD undergraduates that I am analysing, there are a total of 15 such instances. They involve the following words: stuffs (three times; twice from the same speaker), families (twice), jewelries (twice from the same speaker), infrastructures, mythologies, cultures, varieties, golds, transports, therapies, vocabs.

Of course, in some of these cases, the plural nouns would be appropriate in some contexts in standard English; but the context in which they are used in these data suggests it is not standard usage.

A few examples are:
I think it’s because of the infrastructures

I don’t know much about their mythologies and all that

I have to help erm welcoming the guests and erm … helping carry stuffs around

it’s just that I don’t like jewelries in general

I’m just stay at home ... and just ... erm spent time with my families

so I was interested in doing speech therapies

lots and lots of stuffs ... I bought shoes, shirts, jeans, skirts, and other stuffs
One question: should teachers worry about these tokens? We might note that stuffs occurs in the Corpus of Contemporary American English 463 times. Some of these are as verbs ('he stuffs his hands in his pockets'), but many are not. For example:
so I don't want to go and find a hotel and all that stuffs

overwhelming centralization of all our food stuffs

I just have -- have to do stuffs after school
So maybe the plural stuffs is becoming acceptable even in America.

One way or another, plurals such as furnitures and informations seem to be very common in the Englishes spoken in such places as Brunei, Singapore, the Philippines, and India, and I suspect they will one day be the norm in most World Englishes, even if teachers continue to cling to traditional usage.

20 March 2012

Plural -s

I am currently doing some analysis of the grammar of Brunei English, based on the recordings of 53 UBD undergraduates (38 female and 15 male) being interviewed by me for 5 minutes each, a total of nearly 4.5 hours of speech.

One feature I have found (as expected) is variable usage of the plural -s suffix on nouns. Sometimes, -s is found when standard English would not have it, and at other times it is absent when it would be expected in standard English.

However, these cases are actually quite rare. In the 20 interviews I have analysed so far, there 249 cases where the -s suffix appears as expected, 13 cases where -s occurs unexpectedly, and just 8 cases where it is omitted in an environment where it would normally occur in standard usage. This means that over 90% of the usage is standard.

In fact, the non-standard instances can mostly be grouped into three categories:
  • occurrance of -s on logically plural nouns, such as furnitures and informations
  • omission of -s after one of, such as 'one of my brother' and 'one of the language'
  • occurrence of -s on the end of in-law, such as 'my brother-in-laws' (rather than the standard 'brothers-in-law')
I will discuss each of these separately in subsequent posts.

16 March 2012

wasting time

Every language seems to have a colourful expression to describe wasting time doing nothing in particular. In English we say you are twiddling your thumbs. In Chinese, maybe 打蚊子 (da wenzi, 'swat mosquitoes') is similar.

What about Malay? How about berpeluk tubuh ('hug the body')? Does this carry the same kind of meaning?

Here's the headline from an article on page 3 of the Media Permata of 15 March 2012:Translated, it says: 'Youths are urged not just to hug their bodies.'

My dictionary glosses berpeluk tubuh as (1) 'to fold one's arms' and (2) 'lazy'.

13 March 2012

texting while eating

One of my colleagues was recently photographed texting while she was eating. The picture then appeared on Facebook, and she was criticised using the Malay saying:
Jangan biar rezeki menunggu.
Don't make good-fortune wait.
The idea seems to be that food is a blessing, and it is bad manners to show disrespect to it by texting while you are eating.

Maybe the nearest similar saying in English is: Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. Except that the English version does not refer to food.

(My thanks to my UBD colleagues Salbrina Sharbawi and Malai Ayla for giving me this example.)

11 March 2012

the pronunciation of con- and com-

In my previous post, I discussed spelling pronunciation, including the fact that the 't' in often is sometimes pronounced even though it used to be silent. (In contrast, the 't' in listen is still always silent.)

One other environment where spelling seems to be affecting the pronunciation of English words is the vowel in the first syllable of words like Coventry and the adjective covert. Traditionally, these words both had the STRUT vowel [ʌ] in their first syllable; but now it is more usual to have [ɒ] in the first syllable of Coventry and [əʊ] in the first syllable of covert. (Wells's Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, 2008, p. 192, states that 54% of British speakers still prefer the first syllable of covert to be [kʌv], but I find this surprising.)

Another similar word whose pronunciation is changing is constable. Once again, [ɒ] seems to be becoming more popular, and in this case it may be because of taboo: people don't want to pronounce the first syllable as [kʌnt]. In contrast, there does not yet seem to be any influence on the pronunciation of country. This is probably because the latter is a more common word, as it is normal for common words to maintain irregular pronunciation for longer than rare words.

In Brunei, the process of spelling pronunciation is more advanced, as is expected for new varieties of English. For example, 27 out of 53 of the Brunei speakers in my recordings of the Wolf passage have [ɒ] rather than [ʌ] in the first syllable of company. You can look at this in two ways: you can say that lots of people in Brunei have non-standard pronunciation; or you can say that Brunei is in the forefront of the linguistic evolution of English.

10 March 2012

Spelling Pronunciation

The influence of spelling on pronunciation is widespread. For example, in often, the 't' used to be silent, but many people now pronounce the word with a [t] in it.

In Brunei, spelling pronunciation is very common, perhaps encouraged by the close link between spelling and pronunciation in Malay. In my data of 53 recordings of the Wolf passage, three speakers produce shepherd with an [f] in the middle, as they assume that the medial 'ph' is pronounced as [f].

Presumably, these speakers do not realise that the word was originally two morphemes, sheep + herd, maybe because there is only one 'e' in the first syllable of shepherd. One assumes that in a word where the two morphemes are more obvious, such as cupholder, speakers would be less likely to pronounce the 'ph' as [f].

09 March 2012


Just recently, someone contacted me offering to arrange for advertising on my blog. Apparently, there would be links around the side or at the bottom, with links to educational organisations or something like that. And presumably I would earn some money from it.

I rejected the offer, as I am not keen to commercialise this blog. I dislike advertising, and I also feel it might compromise what I want to write.

On the other hand, I recognise that advertising is necessary in some cases. So perhaps I am being old-fashioned in refusing to accept it. Maybe some people might even find educational advertisements interesting or helpful!

It is interesting that Google accepts advertising (and makes lots and lots of money out of it), while Wikipedia refuses to accept advertising and relies on donations instead. So which model is preferable? Personally, I don't get annoyed by the 'sponsored links' in Google and also in gmail, as I mentally block them out so I don't even notice them. In contrast, the appeals for donations in Wikipedia do annoy me.

So maybe I should not worry about advertising. Maybe it would even brighten up the image of the blog!

However, this blog is a hobby for me, not a business, so I do not need to generate money from it. And I will continue to reject advertising.

05 March 2012


The plural of mouse is, of course, mice. Well, it is if it refers to the little, furry animal. But what if it refers to the computer gadget? Now, of course, we usually only talk about a singular computer mouse, because most computers only need one. But how about a shop that sells the things? Does it sell computer mice or computer mouses?

According to Wikipedia (here), both mice and mouses are acceptable, though some technical writers prefer to avoid the issue by talking about mouse devices.

Actually, it is not uncommon for a polyseme (a word with two distinct but related meanings) to have different inflections depending on the meaning. For example, the past particle of hang is hung if it refers to putting something up on the wall but hanged if it refers to a a criminal being executed. I can't think of any examples (apart from mouse) involving plurals, but I am sure they must exist.

04 March 2012

plastic bag

This is the announcement I heard near the end of the RBA flight that I took when I was returning from the UK (with the stressed word shown in upper case):
We will shortly be collecting the headsets. Please place them in the PLASTIC bag.
The standard pronunciation is plastic BAG rather than PLASTIC bag.

The basic rule is this: a compound noun has the main stress on the first item, so we find: POLICE car, TRAFFIC lights, MATHS teacher, and HISTORY class. In contrast, a noun phrase consisting of an adjective and a noun is stressed on the second item, for example: red CAR, tall MAN, boring CLASS, and hot CURRY. So that should be easy, right?

Well, maybe not. Why do we say CHOCOLATE cake but chocolate BISCUIT? Why do we say EASTER egg but Easter DAY? Why do we say OXFORD Street but Oxford ROAD? None of it seems to make any sense.

And then there is plastic BAG. Is plastic really an adjective? Maybe it's actually a noun. After all, we can say 'It's made of plastic', and if it occurs after the preposition of, it must be a noun.

In conclusion, it is not too surprising if there is substantial variation in the pronunciation of phrases such as plastic bag, especially in new varieties of English such as that of Brunei.