28 August 2014

False Friends

False friends are words that are borrowed from one language into another, but then they undergo a change in meaning. Alternatively, they may be cognates (words derived from the same source) with different meanings in different languages. For example, librarie in French looks like it should be 'library'; but actually it is 'bookshop'.

So, what false friends are there in Malay? Maybe bonet which (at least in Brunei) can refer to the boot of a car, not its bonnet. Also plastic, which refers to a plastic bag. And there is kompaun, which comes from English 'compound' but which should probably be translated as 'fine'. Finally, there is doket, from English 'docket' but I have no idea what it means.

I saw this in the Media Permata of 6 August 2014, p. 6:

Sebanyak 202 kes kompaun dan lapan kes doket yang meliputi pelbagai kesalahan lalu lintas telah dicatatkan … sejak minggu pertama Syawal

which might be translated as:

A total of 202 fines and 8 court cases involving various traffic offenses have been recorded ... since the first week of the month of Syawal.

Here I have translated doket as 'court cases'; but I am not sure if that is correct or not. I looked in the Pusat Rujukan Persuratan Melayu site, and the only word offered for doket is 'docket'. But that clearly won't do in the extract above.

Translators need to be especially vigilant when dealing with false friends such as this.

21 August 2014

Exam Results

The results of the Brunei-Cambridge 'A' levels were announced yesterday. Of the 610 candidates, 404 (66.2%) obtained at least one 'A' level. While this represents a small improvement over last year, it still means that just over one third of the candidates took the exams and got absolutely nothing, which seems very sad. They will have studied for two years and will leave school with no 'A' levels at all, not even an E grade in one subject.

For the 'O' levels, only 719 out of the 2,416 candidates obtained three or more 'O' levels. Again, this is an improvement over the previous results. But it still means that over 70% of the candidates got fewer than two 'O' levels. And it makes one wonder if 'O' levels set in Cambridge are the most appropriate exams for these people to be taking.

07 August 2014


I have previously discussed the use of 'pieces' in Brunei English, such as the following from The Brunei Times of 25/12/2011:

The police has seized 12 pieces of $100 notes ...

and also the following from the Borneo Bulletin of 25/10/2011:

We are currently producing about 2,000 pieces pf solid/engineered doors a month.

(Both these are from Deterding & Salbrina, Brunei English, 2013, p. 55.)

In standard English, 'pieces' would be redundant in both these extracts, as 'notes' and 'doors' are both count nouns, and 'pieces' is only used for noncount nouns like 'cheese' or 'advice'.

One possibility to explain the use of 'pieces' with count nouns in Brunei is that it is influenced by measure words in Malay, such as ekor for animals, orang for people, and biji for fruit. (Chinese similarly also has measure words, such as 本 for books and the general-purpose 个.)

Some evidence for the influence of Malay comes from this extract from a leaflet issued by the Ministry of Health:

Note the use of 'pieces' for bananas and also dates, even though these are count nouns in English. The equivalent text in the Malay version is this:

Note that biji is used for all items.

It is not clear why the English version uses 'pieces' for the plural items (bananas and dates) but not for the singular items. Nevertheless, it seems that the English has been influenced by the use of biji in the Malay.

05 August 2014


Sometimes translators just give up when they try to deal with different kinds of food. Here is an extract from a brochure output by the Ministry of Health giving guidance on sugar intake:

And here is the same information translated into English:

In the third list of items, it seems that the translator just gave up when trying to differentiate kuih-muih from kek and just used 'cakes' for both; and also no attempt has been made to deal with bingka, a dense cake in Brunei, so it is omitted.