31 October 2016


I was listening to the midday news on RTB Nasional FM today, and once again I heard Calais pronounced as /kʌlaɪs/ rather than the expected /kæleɪ/. Given the frequency with which this name crops up at the moment, as the French police are trying to clear the migrants camped there, one would have thought that RTB announcers might try and get it right.

Or maybe the standard pronunciation in Malay actually is /kʌlaɪs/. Given the reasonably close association between pronunciation and spelling in Malay, perhaps the norm is to closely follow the spelling for all foreign names.

However, if that is the case, surely it should be /tʃʌlaɪs/ rather than /kʌlaɪs/, as 'c' is always pronounced as /tʃ/ in Malay.

29 October 2016


I have sometimes previously discussed the tension between use of a native word of Malay and an equivalent borrowed word (e.g. petua vs. 'tips'). Sometimes the relevant authorities promote an indigenous word even when speakers actually use a borrowed word.

This is from a news item broadcast by Berita Suria in Singapore on 6 March 2015. The speaker, Ahmad Md Tahir, a local writer, says that, in order to promote their works, "there must be cooperation between writers, publishers, lovers of language, students and organisations."

The words at the bottom suggest he uses the indigenous word pertubuhan; but in fact, he uses the borrowed word organisasi. It is interesting that Berita Suria think it is appropriate to replace organisasi with pertubuhan even though most people would accept the former as a word of Malay, given that it is generally included in Malay dictionaries and its pronunciation and spelling have been adapted for Malay.

28 October 2016

Raspberry Picking

My granddaughter, Elsie, aged 5 and a half, loves to write. Here is a little story she wrote on yellow stick-it sheets while we were visiting in July

While she does not know the spelling of some words, such as 'lady' and 'bush', she is pretty good at guessing, based on the pronunciation. And I have to admit that I had to look up 'raspberry' in a dictionary to find out how to spell it. (Why is there a 'p' in the middle?). Here is the second sheet.

Note that 'behind' and 'frightened' follow the pronunciation quite closely, even if they deviate from standard spelling. It is hardly surprising that she omits the slient 'gh' in 'frightened'.

One rule of phonics that she has not yet learned is that 'c' followed by 'e' or 'i' is always pronounced as /s/. No doubt she will learn this rule one day, and then she will no longer put a 'c' in 'basket'.

Here is the third sheet:

One other rule of phonics that she has not yet learned is that a short vowel, as in the first syllable of 'happened', needs to be followed by a doubled letter; on the basis of this rule, 'hapend' would be pronounced with /eɪ/ rather than /æ/. This is another rule that she will one day learn.

Here are the fourth and fifth sheets:

Overall, her spelling is pretty impressive, and she makes an excellent attempt to spell words that she does not know. At school, they are now taught phonics, and when she is reading, she is really good at sounding out words she has not seen before and guessing what they are. It seems that the teaching of phonics can be quite helpful in enabling children to read and write.

16 October 2016

Faux Amis - prestasi

Faux Amis ('false friends') are words that involve a shift in meaning after they have been borrowed from one language to another. Or, more technically, they are words that have the same etymological root but a different meaning in two languages. For example, in French, the word librarie means 'bookshop', not 'library', and abuser means 'take advantage of', not 'abuse'. It is easy to make mistakes as a result of faux amis when speaking a foreign language.

In Malay, I find concrete things not too different to handle. For example, it is quite easy to remember that bonet refers to the back of a car, not its front. However, I have more trouble with abstract concepts.

The word prestasi presumably comes from the English 'prestige'. However, it means 'achievement' rather than 'prestige'. I always stumble over it, even though it is quite a common word. For example, on page 13 of Media Permata of 15 October 2016, I had to pause when reading the paragraph that started:

Dengan prestasi yang semakin meningkat, ...

which might be glossed as:

With achievements that are constantly increasing, ...

15 October 2016

UBD Convocation

At the UBD Convocation yesterday, I was interested to hear how many English words occurred in the Sultan's titah, which you would expect to be entirely in Malay. I noted the following, though I am sure there were more: marketability, employability, life-long learning, knowledge-based society, relevance, professional and global. That is in addition to the following, which might all nowadays be regarded as words of Malay: program, ekonomi, institusi, inisiatif, graduan, identiti, kualiti and senat.

Are there no Malay equivalents for these terms? Although it is no doubt possible to express marketability in Malay, it's probably true that there is no easy equivalent; so use of the English word is more efficient.

Some people might decry the lack of indigenous words for these concepts; others might celebrate the flexibility of Malay that allows it to absorb words from other languages so easily. Anyway, perhaps marketability soon will be regarded as a word of Malay (in which case, presumably, it will be spelled with a final 'i').

05 October 2016

gramar and grampar

This is a picture drawn by my granddaughter, Elsie, aged 6.

Note how she spells Grandma and Grandpa. She is following the way she says the words quite accurately: she has a non-rhotic accent, so it is not surprising that she spells /ɑː/ at the end of both words as 'ar'. Secondly, she omits the /d/ in both words, and then the /n/ is next to a bilabial sound (/m/ or /p/), so it gets assimilated to [m].

Her spelling of these words shows quite a sophisticated ability to spell out words that she has probably never seen written. One day, she will no doubt learn the standard spelling. But, in the meantime, her ability to guess the spelling of words based on her pronunciation is quite impressive.

Goodness knows what happened to my hands; but she accurately shows that I don't have much hair!