28 October 2013


I have one older sister, one younger brother and one younger sister. In other words, I am the second of four in my family. So, how many siblings do I have?

The surprising answer in Brunei is: four. Bruneians seem to include themselves when stating how many siblings they have. For example, I have a recording of one of my students saying he has seven siblings when it turns out he is actually the fourth out of seven, so in my English, we would say he has six siblings. And I confirmed this way of counting with my first-year class.

23 October 2013

anak damit

The Standard Malay for 'baby' is bayi. However, this word is never used in Brunei, as bayi means 'pig' in Brunei Malay. Instead, even in official documents, the local alternative anak damit ('little child') is used, as in this newspaper headline from page 3 of the Media Permata of 21 October 2013:

The headline can be translated as:

Mother's milk is best for babies.

This is the only case I know where a Standard Malay word is avoided in official publications in Brunei.

19 October 2013

Smart Phone

I recently bought a Samsung Smart Phone. OK, so maybe that's not the smartest thing for an old fogey like me to do. But, hey, you've got to try and keep in touch with these new-fangled thingies, and the lady in the shop assured me that it was dead easy to use.

So finally I got most of it working, though I admit I needed some help with the roaming function and also with Chinese character input. But still, I got there eventually. And then someone called me. What should I do now?

Well, there's a green button flashing at me and also a red one, so obviously if you want to answer the call, you touch the green button, and if you don't, you touch the red one. Seems straightforward, doesn't it?

But, of course, nothing happened. So I gave it to my wife, and she couldn't make any sense out of it either. Eventually, having missed the call, I went and found the manual booklet, which is when I discovered that I should have swiped, not touched.

This might seem obvious to you, especially with those little arrows there to guide you. But it was not at all obvious to me. And I think that any new device that requires you to look something up in the manual is not very well designed. Or maybe I am just out of touch with the way that things are done nowadays, and I should just stick with old-fashioned technology.

16 October 2013

Malik / Malek

I have previously discussed uncertainty over spelling in Malay, particularly the use of 'i' or 'e' in the second syllable of a bisyllabic word. For example, tasik ('lake') is often written tasek; and I noted that the name Abin may alternatively be spelt Aben, as illustrated on the two competing signs for the same place (here).

It is interesting that this uncertainty even extends to members of the royal family. The second second son of the Sultan is usually referred to as Prince Malik, as in this extract from page 8 of the Media Permata of 26 September 2013:

But on page 4 of the same newspaper on the same day, he is referred to as Malek:

13 October 2013

to save his life

Reading English football news in a Malay newspaper can be quite challenging. Take this extract from page 22 of the Media Permata of 12 October 2013, about Joey Barton commenting on Sir Alex Ferguson.

Saya tidak berada di sini untuk tidak menghormati Fergie - seorang pengurus hebat, ikon, kemuncak pengurus-pengurus Britain - tetapi dia tidak dapat meletakkan kejurulatihan untuk menyelamatkan jiwanya.

This might be translated back into English as:

I am not here to disrepect Fergie - a wonderful manager, an icon, the best of British managers - but he couldn't leave the training to save his life.

What? "he couldn't leave the training to save his life"! What does that mean?

The trouble here is that English has a saying "he couldn't X to save his life", where X is any action. So: "he couldn't write a book to save his life", or "he couldn't kick a ball to save his life" ... But the translator has kept the 'to save his life' part, and then must have assumed that 'lead the training to save his life' didn't make sense, so has changed 'lead' into 'leave'. But it just doesn't make any sense.

Anyway, I looked it up on the web, and I found the original here:

The more complete quote can be found here:

07 October 2013


A rather common word in spoken Malay nowadays is the conjunction so, borrowed from the English word. I haven't seen it in any dictionary yet; but it seems to be very common, especially with younger speakers.

This clip from the Singapore newschannel Berita Suria (here) suggests that the person being interviewed says jadi dalam situasi begini ('so in a situation like this'); but he doesn't actually say jadi; he says so.

It is interesting that the people doing the subtitles are happy to accept situasi as a word of Malay, even though it comes from the English 'situation'; but they feel a need to change 'so' into jadi. I wonder how long it will take before 'so' is accepted as a word of Malay.

01 October 2013


The phonology of Malay has a rule of vowel harmony: if the vowel in the first syllable of a bisyllabic word is /e/, then the second syllable can have /e/ or /o/ but not /i/ or /u/. (The vowels must agree in height - see here.) However, even official media channels sometimes get the spelling wrong.

Here is a screen shot of a news report from the Singapore TV station, Suria, of 19 December 2012, about money that is paid out by the organisation Pertapis:

The second word is dicedok ('ladled out'). But note that it is spelled deceduk instead of the expected dicedok.