06 November 2013

Brunei Times

The Brunei Times daily synopsis of the news (here) offers some splendid material for comparative linguistics because it has the same reports in English, Malay and Chinese. Analysis of these videos provides some fascinating insights into the structure of the different languages.

For example, I have been comparing the English and Malay summaries for 10 September 2013 (available on YouTube here and here). The English version lasts 1 minute 49 seconds, while the Malay equivalent is 2 minutes 26 seconds. Given that they are presenting exactly the same material, what causes this difference in length?

One key difference is that, in the English version, the ending takes just 4 seconds, while in the Malay it takes 12 seconds. The reason for this is that there are a number of formulaic things which need to be said in Malay but which can be skipped in English.

But quite apart from this, there are some interesting differences in the linguistic material within the individual news reports. For example, there is an item on the newly-introduced strain of Laila rice. In English, this takes 17 seconds, while in Malay it takes 24 seconds. Here is a snapshot of the English presenter:

And this is the Malay presenter:

So what causes the difference in length? Here is the text of the English:

In other news Bruneians love the taste of the Laila rice variety but researchers continue to look into new strains of paddy that promise better resistance against diseases and of course the promise of higher yields. Initial results of studies show positive results. (43 words)

And here is the equivalent text in Malay:

Dalam berita lain, rakyat dan penduduk negara ini suka dengan beras Laila. Namun begitu, para kaji selidik terus berusaha untuk menemukan jenis padi baru yang mampu melawan penyakit tanaman. Dan sudah setentunya, jenis padi baru itu boleh memberikan hasil tuaian yang lebih tinggi. Keputusan awal kajian itu menunjukkan hasil yang positif. (51 words)

There seem to be three principle differences:

  • In the first line, the English has 'Bruneians' while the Malay has rakyat dan penduduk negara ini ('citizens and residents of this country'). I don't know why the Malay avoids mentioning Brunei, but I have noticed a comparable avoidance of mentioning Malaysia in the Media Permata newspaper, as the phrase negara jiran ('neighbouring country') often occurs instead.
  • The English has 'the promise of higher yields' without stating what offers this promise, because this can be determined from the context. In contrast, the Malay repeats the phrase jenis padi baru ('new strain of rice'). Such repetition of words is not encouraged in English. We can conclude that Malay achieves cohesion by repeating phrases, while English avoids this kind of repetition and uses ellipsis instead.
  • Some of the Malay words take longer to say. For example, the English has 'And of course' while the Malay has Dan sudah setentunya. Both versions consist of three words, but the English is three syllables while the Malay is seven.