23 June 2013


A question that sometimes arises in Malay-English translation is this: Is Malay wordier than English? One way to look into this is to compare comparable texts and see how long they are.

If we look at the Malay version of the daily news summary for 23 June from The Brunei Times (here), it is 3 minutes 3 seconds long, while the English equivalent (here) is just 1 minute 40 seconds long. So, why is there such a large difference?

The first difference is that the Malay newsreader starts with the full Islamic greeting, which takes about 6 seconds, while the English newsreader just says hello.

The second difference is that the Malay newsreader gives the full title for Prince Sufri: Duli Yang Teramat Mulia Paduka Seri Pengiran Bendahara Seri Maharajara Permaisuara Pengiran Muda Haji Sufri Bolkiah. This takes about 7 seconds to say. In contrast, the English newsreader just says: His Royal Highness Prince Sufri Bolkiah. This takes less than 2 seconds.

But what about ordinary text? I'll need to analyse that further. But one immediate observation: the Malay version has berkenan berangkat (lit. 'consented to attend') while the English equivalent is the single word graced.

22 June 2013

Pronunciation of Chinese

Newsreaders in Brunei have to get the Malay names right, and they can be impressively proficient in reading the full name of the Sultan and other important people without stumbling. However, there seems little effort to find out how Chinese names or words should be pronounced. It can't be that difficult to find out how to pronounce names and words written in Pinyin, and I don't understand why they don't do it.

Take, for example, the Brunei Times Berita video for 20 June (here). The newsreader reads the news pretty proficiently, but when she gets to the Chinese word Xiyouji Qingzhi, she pronounces it as [sijoutʃi tʃiŋtʃu] instead of [sijoudʒi tʃiŋdʒə], which would be much closer to the correct pronunciation without introducing any unfamiliar sounds. It's a pity that broadcasters in Brunei don't do more to help their newscasters to say something that is a bit more accurate.

In comparison, the English newsreader for the same clip (here) gets the words completely right (presumably because she is Chinese, so she probably speaks Mandarin). So why didn't the Malay newsreader ask her Chinese fellow newsreader for advice?

16 June 2013

Brunei Times Berita

An excellent resource for me in my efforts to learn Malay is the daily 2-minute news summary in Malay provided by the Brunei Times. It is splendid because it allows me to replay the clips repeatedly and thereby try and work out the bits I cannot decipher first time through.

I was listening to the video for 11 June (here). Two things surprised me about it:

First, 16 seconds from the start, the newsreader pronounces berita ('news') as [bitɐ], with just two syllables and barely a hint of [r]. While it is expected that a common word like this will exhibit some reduction, the omission of the [r] is surprising given that the Malay spoken in Brunei is usually fully rhotic.

Second, this is not a live recording but an edited video; so it surprises me that they did not re-record the parts where the newsreader stumbles over words, particularly at location 1:18 from the start. Of course, we all stumble when speaking, and newsreaders are no exception; but for an edited video, one would have thought this could be corrected.

15 June 2013


I just learnt about the word plasticarian from WorldWideWords. It refers to someone who tries to live without using plastic. Of course, it is a blend of plastic and the -arian ending. What is a bit unusual about it is that -arian usually indicates something positive: a vegetarian loves vegetables, and a humanitarian loves humans, but a plasticarian hates plastics.

Regardless of how the word is formed, we need a few more plasticarians in Brunei. Plastic bags and bottles are all over the place, not just in Kampung Ayer and in the Brunei River, but even in the forests. And while it is true that it almost impossible nowadays to live without plastic, it would be helpful if a few more people reduced the amount they used, or at least did not discard their rubbish so carelessly.

11 June 2013


A few years ago, I did a survey among my fourth-year students at UBD, and about half of them selected Brulish as the name for the colloquial variety of English in Brunei, while the other half said there was no common name for it. This contrasts with the situation in Singapore, where everyone would agree that Singlish is the common name for the colloquial variety. They may not like this term, and some of them may not approve of the use of Singlish, but everyone would agree that the name exists.

This illustrates the different status of English in Singapore and Brunei. In Singapore, a colloquial variety is established, and there is a common name for it; but in Brunei, it is not clear that a distinct colloquial variety of Brunei English exists. This is partly because English is the universal inter-ethnic lingua franca in Singapore, while Brunei Malay more often takes on that role in Brunei.

However, last week some teachers told me that their pupils use the term Brunglish. I don't know if this term is widespread or not; but if it does become established, it might indicate that a wider role for a colloquial variety of English is emerging in Brunei.

01 June 2013


When my grandchildren were here earlier this month, it gave me the chance to hear new words that are being used in UK. When my granddaughter has a tantrum, her parents say she is having a strop.

The noun strop is derived from the adjective stroppy by a process we call back-formation. The more usual process of word-creation is derivation: you add a suffix on the end of a word to create a new word. So -y can be added to the noun wind to make the adjective windy, or cloud to make cloudy, or to sleep to make sleepy. But by the reverse process, you can take off what seems to be a suffix, which is why you can take the -y off the end of stroppy to create strop.

The process of back-formation has been around for some time, so donate was created by removing the -tion from donation, and edit was created from editor. I don't know if back-formation is becoming more common nowadays.

The other thing I don't know is how widespread the use of strop is. It might be just a coinage that is used by my son and his family.