29 September 2013

stress on

We usually claim that stress is a transitive verb, so there is no need for a preposition such as on between stress and its object. And, on page 69 of my book on Brunei English published by Springer (here), I claim that the following extracts from local newspapers reflect Brunei English usage:

The driving schools are also advised to stress on the importance of patience ...
The minister stressed on the importance of paying attention to the field of science and technology ...

However, today I saw the verb stress followed by the preposition on in an article about the visit of the Australian PM to Indonesia in the BBC World website (here):

This makes me wonder if the usage is becoming the norm. It is just the sort of change we would expect to take place in English, as it regularises the grammar by making the verb stress behave like the noun. Furthermore, one can focus on something, so why not stress on? Maybe Brunei English is leading the way with the evolution of English!

27 September 2013


I have previously discussed calques, where a phrase is translated word-for-word from one language into another. Calques seem to be rather common in Malay, including mengambil tempat ('take place') that I mentioned in my previous post.

Another kind of calque is where two separate meanings of a word in English are found for the same word in Malay. In English, 'fall' can refer to something dropping down or to the season between summer and winter, and we find the same for the Malay word luruh. For example, duan-daun yang luruh means 'leaves that have fallen', but musim luruh means 'autmum', otherwise known as 'fall' in American English.

Incidentally, the American usage of 'fall' to refer to this season is not an innovation. As with so many features of American English, it is actually retaining a traditional word, and 'autumn' is the new word, borrowed from French in the 13th century and eventually displacing the Germanic term 'fall' in England but not the USA.

16 September 2013

mengambil tempat

Sometimes I can only understand something written in Malay by first translating it word-for-word into English. For example, in an article on page 5 of the Media Permata of 17 September 2013, one of the pragraphs begins with:

Banyak perubahan telah mengambil tempat ...

which can be glossed in English as :

Many changes have taken place ...

I could not understand the use of mengambil tempat until I put it into English; it seems to be a direct calque from the English 'take place'.

I have checked in the Pusat Rujukan Persuratan Melayu webiste (here), and there are plenty of instances of mengambil tempat, such as:

Dia mengambil tempat berdekatan dengan pintu agar dialah orang pertama yang dapat bercakap dengan Menteri.

for which the translation is given as:

He positioned himself next to the door so that he would be the first to speak to the Minister.

But they all seem to carry the literal meaning of 'take place' meaning "adopt a position", and not the figurative extension of the phrase to mean "happen".

So, is the use of menagmbil tempat found in the Media Permata a new extension of the phrase? Or is it just a lazy reporter translating word-for-word without considering the context? I don't know the answer to this.

07 September 2013


This is an extract from an article on page 1 of Media Permata of 7 September 2013 about a titah by HM the Sultan of Brunei, who has been attending the G20 summit in St. Petersburg:

... menyokong cadangan untuk memberikan keutamaan kepada penyertaan semua pihak atau inclusiveness.

Baginda juga bertitah bahawa pencapaian pertumbahan yang inklusif telah menjadi teras kapada matlamat ASEAN ...

which might be translated as:

... support the proposal to give priority to the participation of all parties or inclusiveness.

His Majesty also said that achieving growth that is inclusive has become a key goal of ASEAN ...

It is interesting to see how inclusiveness is first glossed in Malay as penyertaan semua pihak ('the participation of all parties') together with the original word in its English spelling, but then immediately afterwards inklusif is used with a Malay spelling ('k' instead of 'c', and 'f' instead of 'v').

This seems to offer a glimpse into the process of English words being borrowed into Malay.

The Dangers of Being Left-handed

I just saw an article on the BBC website (here), discussing some research showing that left-handed people tend to die nine years earlier than right-handed people. This seems an extraordinary finding. Can it really be true that tools such as knives and scissors are mostly designed for right-handed people, and they are dangerous for left-handed people to use, with the result that left-handers injure themselves more often and die off earlier? Surely not!

In fact, as pointed out in the BBC article, the research is completely flawed. But it is interesting to consider why, and also to see if you can spot the flaws.

In the original report, the researchers traced the families of 2000 people who had recently died and asked whether they had been left-handed or right-handed. And they discovered that the average age of the left-handers when they died was nine years less than the right-handers. It seems straightforward, doesn't it? Can you see the flaw? I admit that I couldn't, and I had to read the explanation.

In fact, until quite recently, it was the practice to encourage left-handers to conform to the norm, so there was substantial pressure in the home and at school for them to change. This means that many of the older people who were reported by their family to be right-handed would actually have been left-handed if there had not been that social pressure. In contrast, the same pressures would not have existed for the younger people to conform, so the proportion of left-handed and right-handed younger people who died would have been more natural.

What is stunning is that this research was published in top medical journals and nobody spotted the flaw. It seems that we are sometimes not very good at quite elementary logical and statistical analysis.