29 January 2014

te- prefix

Malay has lots of prefixes. For example:

  • ber- is an intransitive verbal prefix, so berjalan ('to walk') has no object.
  • meN- is a transitive prefix, so membuat ('to do') requires an object after it.
  • ter- is either the superlative prefix, e.g. terbaik ('the best'), or it is a passive prefix, e.g. terputus ('be cut').

But what about the te- prefix? Examples include:

  • tetapi ('but'), which means much the same as tapi.
  • tetamu ('guest'), which is the standard term, but tamu also exists.
  • tetangga ('neighbour'). I haven't come across this one, but my dictionary lists it. The root tangga means 'steps', but rumah tangga means 'family'.
  • tetikus ('computer mouse'), where tikus is an ordinary mouse.
  • tetingkap ('computer window'), where tingkap is the window in a building.

I suspect that nobody really uses the last two, as most people probably generally use the English terms 'mouse' and 'window'. But I saw tetikus in the Media Permata today, in an article on e-payment.

This te- prefix is different from the other prefixes because it can only occur with a word that begins with 't'; so it is not really a prefix but more of a kind of alliteration. And I am also not sure how productive it is. For example, would it be possible to have ?teturun ('to fall') or maybe ?tetutup ('to close')? I don't think these exist; but maybe words such as these will emerge, by analogy with the five listed above. Perhaps in relation to computers? Maybe teturun and tetutup might become used to refer to downloading material and closing a computer window?

28 January 2014

Postponed Dinner

We just received a notification from the Assistant Registrar in the Assistant Vice Chancellor's Office of UBD that the annual dinner has been postponed. The message is written in both English and Malay, so this allows us to compare the two. The English version is:

On behalf of the Registrar and Secretary, I wish to inform you that due to unforeseen circumstances, date for the annual dinner has been postponed to Wednesday, 05 March 2014 at 7:30 pm.
The theme remains the same (Black and Bling) and the venue will be at Berkshire Hall, Royal Brunei Polo and Riding Club, Jerudong.
Tickets will be distributed in due time. Please accept our sincere apologies for any inconvenience caused.
Thank you for your kind attention.

and the Malay version is:

Dengan penuh hormat sukacita memaklumkan bahawa atas perkara yang tidak dapat dielakkan, tarikh Majlis Makan Malam Tahunan UBD bagi sesi tahun 2013/2014 adalah ditunda ke hari Rabu, 05hb Mac 2014 pada jam 7:30 malam bertempat di Berkshire Hall, Royal Brunei Polo and Riding Club, Jerudong
Tema bagi tahun ini adalah "Black and Bling" dan tiket akan diagihkan pada masa yang terdekat.
Terima kasih atas perhatian semua.

The most obvious difference is that the English begins with 'On behalf of the Registrar and Secretary, I wish to inform you that', while the Malay has Dengan penuh hormat sukacita memaklumkan bahawa ('With full respect, please be informed that'). I am not sure why the English identifies the Registrar and Secretary as the source of the message while the Malay does not; and I am also uncertain why the Malay has 'with full respect' but the English does not. Perhaps English needs full attribution of the source of a notification, while Malay needs additional formulaic language but attribution is less important?

The other main difference is the English has 'Please accept our sincere apologies for any inconvenience caused.' near the end of the message, but the Malay does not have this apology. Again, I am not sure why the apology is included in the English but not the Malay.

27 January 2014

Borneo Bulletin

Last Saturday, I gave a public lecture on Brunei English. It seemed to go well. There were about 50 people there, and I hope they found it reasonably interesting.

On page 2 of the Borneo Bulletin of Sunday, 26 January, there was a half-page spread covering my presentation:

I guess that's a good thing, though I find it weird to see a picture of myself in the national newspaper. But I suppose that's to be expected in such a small country.

21 January 2014


I always find it interesting when a word in one language has a broader meaning than its equivalent in another language, something that can cause problems for translation. For example, the Malay tikus can be either 'rat' or 'mouse' in English. We can say that Malay has a superordinate term (with a broader meaning), while English has two hyponyms (with narrower meanings).

This cross-linguistic comparison of superodinate/hyponyms can also apply to verbs. I had always understood lemas to mean 'drown'. But I just read an article in Media Permata about an 87-year-old man who was lemas when he was caught in a fire at his house, and it was then that I realised that lemas could mean 'suffocate' as well as 'drown'.

18 January 2014

Public Lecture

On Saturday, 25 January, at 9:00 am, I will be giving a public lecture entitled: Brunei English, Intelligibility, and Emergent ASEAN English. It will be in the Senate Rooms, Chancellor Hall, UBD.

I guess the time is a bit strange, as most people will be working then. But anyone who is interested will be welcome.

16 January 2014

Passives in Malay

Passive verbs (using the di- prefix) are common in Malay; and their function is a bit different from passive verbs (using 'be' plus -ed participle) in English.

The main purpose of a passive construction in English is to change the order of the subject and object. For example, if we say:

John was bitten by a dog.

instead of the comparable active:

A dog bit John.

then the main purpose of using the passive 'was bitten' is to get 'John' to the front of the sentence (to function as the theme) and to place 'the dog' at the end.

An alternative purpose in English is to avoid mentioning the agent. So, if we say:

The students were warned about their behaviour.

then the purpose behind use of the passive verb 'were warned' is to avoid stating who did the warning.

Although these two roles for the passive, changing the word order and avoiding stating who the agent is, both occur in Malay, a major reason for the use of the passive in Malay is to express the fact that the subject is not the agent. For example, take this sentence start, from page 1 of the Media Permata of 16 January, quoting the Minister of Development in Brunei:

Saya difahamkan bahawa ...
    I     am-believed   that ...

In English, we would say 'I believe that', but a more accurate translation might be 'I am led to believe that'. However, 'led to believe' is rather a marked construction in English, while difahamkan is perfectly normal in Malay, and this use of the passive in Malay does not suggest there is anything particularly unusual about how the Minister gained his understanding.

My guess is that the passive construction is rather more common in Malay than the equivalent in English, but we would need to look at some equivalent texts in the two languages to confirm that. That could offer a nice little research project for a student.

14 January 2014

Text Length in Malay and English

In my previous post, I compared two New Year messages sent out by the Dean of FASS, one in Malay and the other in English; and I noted that although the Malay message seems to be longer, in fact the English message has more words.

In fact, we can analyse this a bit further. First, the Malay has 61 words, but many of them are morphologically complex, so it has 81 morphemes. For example, diucapkan ('said') can be analysed as three morphemes: di+ucap+kan. In contrast, only four of the English words are obviously morphologically complex: 'going', 'taking', 'friends' and 'celebrating'. This means that 66 words in the English version have a total of 70 morphemes. The greater number of morphemes in Malay (81 vs 70) partly explains why the Malay text seems longer.

Next, we can consider word length. The average word length in Malay is 5.66 letters, while that in English is 3.89 letters. So the Malay text really does have longer words.

One other interesting contrast between these two texts is the extent of lexical repetition. Malay tends to tolerate repetition of words, while English does not. And we can see that kepada ('towards') occurs four times in the Malay, while there is no word that occurs so often in the English; and selemat occurs three times in the Malay, but the closest equivalent 'happy' only occurs twice in the English.

13 January 2014

New Year Message

Recently, the Dean of FASS, Dr Noor Azam OKMB Haji-Othman, sent a New Year message to all staff. It was both in Malay and English. The Malay was:

Kini kita sudah sampai ke penghujung Semester I dan tahun 2013. Saya ingin mengambil kesempatan ini untuk mengucapkan berbanyak Terima Kasih kepada semua staff atas segala sokongan dan kerja keras abis kita semua selama ini. Kepada yang bercuti, selamat berehat bersama keluarga di musim percutian ini. Kepada yang meraikan, Selamat menyambut Hari Natal. Kepada semua, diucapkan Selamat menyambut tahun baru 2014!

while the English version was:

We have come to the end of Semester I and the year 2013. I would like to thank all FASS staff for all your support and hard work during this time. For those who will be going away or taking leave, I wish you a happy holiday with your family and friends. For those celebrating, have a good Christmas. And to all, Happy new year 2014!

While these are similar, they are not quite identical; and comparison reveals some interesting things:

  • The Malay seems to be longer, but in fact it has fewer words (61 vs 66). The perception of greater length probably arises because some of the Malay words are quite long (e.g. mengucapkan vs 'thank'), and many of the English words are short function words ('to', 'of', 'the', 'a')
  • The Malay has mengambil kesempatan ('take the opportunity'), but this is omitted in English.
  • The Malay has berbanyak Terima Kasih ('many thanks'), while the English just has 'thank'. Are Malay colleagues offered more thanks?
  • The Malay has yang bercuti ('those on holiday'), while the English has 'those who will be going away or taking leave'. Maybe English readers are more likely to go away, as they have fewer family here?
  • The Malay has bersama keluarga ('with family'), but the English has 'with your family and friends'. Maybe English readers are more likely to spend time with friends as they are in a foreign country?

11 January 2014


From page A5 of the Brunei Times of Sunday, 12 January, describing a fire at the residence of the Brunei High Commissioner to Malaysia:

... the fire occurred at about 9pm, damaging a 30 sqaure metre area on the second and third floors of the bungalow ...

Second and third floors of a bungalow? My dictionary defines 'bungalow' as a one-storey house.

Actually, the word 'bungalow' originally meant Bengali-style house. Were they all on one floor? Or were there multi-storey Bengali-style houses? If the latter, then this local use of 'bungalow' to mean a detached house may have reverted to its original meaning.


On Thursday, as I was driving home, I was listening to the evening news on the Nasional FM radio channel, and there was an item about some new facility for students preparing for their exams. A student was asked for her opinion about it, and in her reply, she said:

if ada question yang unexpected keluar, ...
if have question which unexpected come-out, ...

Code switching is of course very widespread among young people in Brunei; but the extent of the mixing in this extract is the greatest I have come across. The student was alternating English and Malay words.

Such alternation is only possible in cases where the structure of the two languages is similar. For example, the Malay relative pronoun yang is almost identical to the English 'which', so it is straightforward to switch for just that word. And I am pretty sure that this student would usually have longer stretches in each language. Nevertheless, I thought that the fluency of this mixing was impressive.

I'm not sure that the authorities would agree, though. She was cut off rather quickly, as the news bulletin is entirely in Malay, and the presenters almost never include English words in their news reports.

04 January 2014

Second Hand

I have previously mentioned calques, or word-for-word translations across languages, such as the following from English into Malay: kenderaan pacuan empat roda ('4 wheel drive vehicle'), mengambil bahagian ('take part'), and sepakan percuma ('free kick'). Another one is pencakar langit ('skyscraper').

In fact, calques are common in many different languages. The Wikipedia page on calques (here) lists a calque of 'skyscraper' into 43 different languages.

Chinese also has plenty of calques from English. Sometimes it is not clear if a word is a calque or an indigenous creation. For example, is 书店 'bookshop') a calque from the English word or just a creation from Chinese morphemes with no influence from the English word? It is hard to tell.

However, some are easier to determine, and it seems that 二手 (second hand) almost certainly comes directly from English. The picture on the right was taken outside a shop offering second hand goods in Taitung, Taiwan.

02 January 2014


Can you guess which country in Southeast Asia has the highest daily intake of protein per person? The surprising answer is Myanmar; but Brunei is not far behind.

Below is from a table extracted from page 9 of a recent ODI report ranking the countries in Southeast Asia by how much the daily intake of protein per person exceeds 50 grams, which is the recommended intake for a moderately active adult. (It is not entirely clear why Singapore is omitted from this list.)

This table suggests that Bruneians are consuming about 33 grams of protein more than they should every day, which is rather alarming, indicating a huge health problem in the future. But I guess we already knew that.

Of course, it is not as bad as some countries, particularly the USA, Mexico, Kuwait, Belgium, the UK, and New Zealand. But it is still rather worrying.


You may have read that Oxford Dictionaries have chosen selfie, a photograph of oneself, to be their word of the year. (For example, see this Guardian article.) Some commentators think this reflects the increased narcissism of young people today. I think maybe it just reflects the ease with which people can nowadays take a photo of themselves and put it on Facebook. People have always loved pictures of themselves; but it used to be harder to take them.

Anyway, here is my selfie, with my wife. Though, of course, it is not really a selfie, as someone else took it. In addition, there are two photos, taken 34 years apart.

The one on the left was taken on the balcony of our apartment outside Taipei when we had just got married in 1979, and the one on the right was taken last year on the balcony of our apartment in Brunei. One interesting thing is that the view is almost identical – it is almost as if we have moved back to our original home, but in a different country.

The other stunning thing is that my wife seems hardly to have aged at all, even after 34 years, while I look about 50 years older. Oh, well, such is life. And it illustrates why I don't usually takes selfies.

01 January 2014

Taitung and Dogs

Taitung City takes great pride in being a pleasant place. They have a saying to describe the place:

good mountains good water

to which some people add:

lots of alcoholics

But, indeed, the environment is very pleasant; and the air seems a lot less polluted than Taipei, or Hong Kong (though maybe not Brunei, which is one of the reasons we live here).

One other description or Taitung is:

(there are) more dogs than people

which may or may not be true. But there are certainly lots and lots of dogs. One thing I found stunning is that most of the dogs are wearing winter coats.

Now, it can get quite chilly in Taitung, but never less than 10 or 12 degrees, so it seems quite weird to see the dogs wearing coats. In the UK, where it can get much colder, I have very rarely seen dogs wearing coats. But maybe Taiwanese dogs are not so hardy.