25 August 2016


My Malay dictionary tells me that platform is a word in Malay. But how is it pronounced?

I have often heard it said with an initial /f/ by newsreaders of Nasional FM in Brunei. Why would this be? Surely we would expect an initial /p/?

There seem to be three reasons why it might be pronounced with initial /f/:

  • The is no /f/ in Brunei Malay, with the result that words with initial /f/ borrowed from English tend to have /p/ instead. For example, 'file' becomes pail, 'fine' becomes pain, 'fashion' becomes pisin, and 'football' becomes putbul. Similarly for words from Arabic: 'faham' ('understand') becomes paham, and 'fikir' ('think') becomes pikir. It is possible that the newsreaders are so keen to avoid this kind of substitution when they are reading the news in Standard Malay that they overgeneralise and use /f/ when /p/ is actually expected.
  • It is possible that the /f/ later in platform influences the pronunciation of the initial consonant; so there is a kind of long-distance assimilation between the consonants.
  • Maybe people think there is some element of 'flatness' in 'platform', so this encourages speakers to start the word with /f/.

I don't know which of these factors is key. Maybe all three contribute to the occurrence of /f/ at the start of the word.