19 April 2017

Car Registrations

New car registrations in Brunei begin with BA, and then the next letter increases by one every six months. So we had BAP, BAQ, BAR ...

However, they skip a few in the sequence, for various reasons. For example, BAI was skipped. I always assumed that this was because it sounds like 'pig' in Brunei Malay, and nobody would want to buy a car that had 'pig' as its registration; but my colleague tells me it is because the 'I' could be confused with 1. I'll need to check that -- on that basis, presumably BAO was also skipped, because the O could be confused with 0. I'll keep an eye out to see if there are any BAO registrations

Anyway, I always assumed that they would skip BAU, as it means 'smelly' in Malay. But it seems I was wrong:

11 April 2017

Ugama Schools

In my previous two posts, I have been discussing material from a paper on English as a Medium of Instruction that I have recently published, together with my PhD student, Ishamina Athirah. (For the full paper, see here.)

In addition to analysing numbers of students taking English- and Malay-medium degrees at UBD, we presented data on code-switching by Bruneian speakers, particularly instances of code-switching that resulted in misunderstandings occurring. For example, consider the following example, in which a female from the Maldives (FMd) is talking to a female from Brunei (FBr):

FMd: what are what are the subjects ah they study
FBr: in ugama school?
FMd: ah yeah yeah
FBr: erm ah they
FMd: you mean government?
FBr: gov- in the government will be like erm how do you say ah? e:rm (.) i'm not really familiar but what i know is like they're teaching you (.) civics

FBr uses the term 'ugama school' (= religious school), but FMd does not understand it, and she hears 'government school' instead. In fact, FBr then continues to talk about government schools, apparently unaware that a misunderstanding has occurred.

On the whole, Brunei speakers are adept at avoiding switching into Malay when their interlocutor is from elsewhere; but there are a few examples such as this in the data where code-switching causes a misunderstanding.

10 April 2017

Medium of Instructon

In the paper I discussed in my previous post, we investigated the medium of instruction at UBD, which is supposed to be a bilingual university. Using the graduation figures for 2006 and 2014, we analysed how things have changed. And these are the results for the medium of instruction of the major of graduating students in those two years:

These figures show that, while 33.5% of students graduated in a Malay-medium major in 2006, only 17.6% of those in 2014 did, which suggests that English as a medium of instruction is becoming increasingly dominant at UBD.

Although the figures for Malay-medium degrees such as Bahasa Melayu dan Linguistik and Kesusasteraan Melayu offered by FASS have increased from 25 to 70, this increase is more than overshadowed by the loss of students of education in SHBIE taking Malay-medium degrees. Indeed, the number of those taking English-medium degrees in Arts (FASS), Science (FOS) and Business (SBE) show a massive increase.

For the full paper, see here: download paper.

03 April 2017

Malay Names

Malay names in publications always cause a problem. Publishers insist on knowing what the surname is; and Malays do not have surnames. This is a constant battle, and there seems to be no way of winning it.

A chapter I wrote with my PhD student, Ishamina Athirah, has just been published in an edited book entitled English Medium Instruction in Higher Education in Asia-Pacific (published by Springer). Have a look at the entry in the table of contents:

Her name is Ishamina Athirah; it is NOT Athirah Ishamina. But what to do? I have suggested that, in future, she always uses her married name (Gardiner) — then there will never be a problem. In fact, we've already modified her webpage (see here).

In addition, we have prepared a PDF version that can easily downloaded (here), showing the correct name. I hope this paper will be of interest to scholars in Brunei.

01 April 2017


This is the sign above a shop in Brunei Airport:

For me, 'candy' is a noncount noun. Is it following similar non-count nouns such as 'furnitures', 'equipments' and 'accommodations' in having a plural form in this part of the world?

I just checked the Corpus of Contemporary American English (here), and there are 897 tokens of 'candies' in the 500 million words of the corpus; so I guess it does sometimes occur in American English. On the other hand, 'candy' occurs 10,500 times, so the non-count version of the noun is clearly more common.

Perhaps the distinction between count and non-count nouns is slowly being eroded, led by usage in places such as Brunei and Singapore. Perhaps 'candies' will become the international norm, and so will 'furnitures' and 'equipments'.

One other observation about this shop sign: it reflects the growing Americanisation of Brunei English, as the use of 'candy' (or 'candies') is much more common in America than Britain.

No Bookshops

This is the departure concourse at Brunei International Airport:

While you can buy things such as food, clothes, jewellery, watches, chocolate, cosmetics, perfume and souvenirs, there appears to be nowhere to buy anything to read. Not even a magazine, as far as I can see.

Is this the only international airport in the world where you cannot buy a book, a magazine, or even a newspaper?

I guess people are too busy looking at their i-phones to read.