20 February 2017


I wonder if the word majoriti has a shifted meaning from its source word 'majority'. Here is an extract from an article on page M9 of the Media Permata of 18 February, 2017:

Puak Khasi, yang bilangannya tidak sampai sejuta, adalah komuniti majoriti daripada 2.5 juta pwnduduk di Maghalanya.

which might be translated as:

The Khasi people, who number less than one million, are the majority of the 2.5 million residents in Maghala.

Er ... one million is not a majority of 2.5 million. The Khasi people might be the largest group in Maghala, but they are not a majority. Or perhaps majoriti has a shifted meaning.

18 February 2017

No Overtaking

Here's one of the weirdest signs I have seen in Brunei.

Let's now have a look at the wider picture, to see where these signs are placed.

In fact, they are at the top of the short access road to the satellite station behind the Radisson Hotel in BSB. While it is popular with walkers, some of whom do their morning exercise by walking up and down this hill a few times, and others use the road to head into the Tasek forest, there are almost never any cars on it. My estimate is that maybe two or three cars a day use this road.

Sure, it's a steep hill (which is why people looking for a bit of exercise like to use it). But as there are almost no cars on it, there is no opportunity to overtake. Ever.

So why is there a no overtaking sign there? My guess is that there is a regulation somewhere that all steep hills must have these signs, and someone has followed this regulation even though it makes no sense in this case. But who knows?

10 February 2017

Pronunciation of Tutong

I have been working on the pronunciation of the indigenous languages of Brunei, hoping to make recordings available for people to listen to. Here is my effort for Tutong, a recording of the following passage:

Masa Barui Utara samo Mato Aluh bagagut pasal inayih yo paleng kuat, ado dai urang parantau sabi. Ido setujui inayih yo mala’ gama’ nih nanggalkan jubah parantau ina’, iyo dai paleng kuat. Barui Utara mbepar sakuat-kuat nih. Tapi makin kuat nih mbepar makin kuat dai atin parantau ina ngimbit jubah nih. Barui Utara pun ngalah dirih. Tiru ina’ Mato Aluh mamancar sakuat kuat nih. Sabi parantau ina’ ndo tan terus banuka nih jubah nih. Jadi Barui Utara tapaksa dai ngakun alah yo Mato Aluh ina lebih kuat kod iyo.

Making this recording posed some interesting problems. The main one was that Tutong is not a written language, so getting a Tutong speaker to read a passage fluently was not easy. But it seems to have worked out OK.

Another issue is variation in Tutong. This speaker uses [ə] in words such as lebih ('more') where others might use [a]; and he also says paleng ('most') when others would say palyeng; but variation is always an issue, and this is modern Tutong as spoken by the younger generation.

01 February 2017

Rhoticity in Brunei English

Rhoticity involves producing the [r] sound whenever 'r' occurs in the spelling, including at the end of words such as 'car' and before a consonant in words such as 'park'. RP British English is non-rhotic, as there is no [r] sound in these words.

Early accounts of the pronunciation of Brunei English written in the 1990s make no reference to rhoticity, but it is not clear if Brunei English was non-rhotic at the time or if the occurrence of [r] was not regarded as important enough to merit discussion. And it is hard to get hold of recordings to check on the extent of rhoticity at that time.

More recent accounts suggest that about half of university undergraduates have a rhotic accent, and furthermore, it is believed that the incidence of rhoticity is increasing. But how can we check this?

My PhD student, Nur Raihan Mohamad, has recorded three groups of speakers: secondary school students, university undergraduates, and in-service teachers. If we find that the younger speakers are more rhotic than the older ones, this provides evidence that rhoticity is increasing. But there is a problem with this: the school students are less well-educated than the undergraduates, and it is possible that this has an impact on rhoticity.

However, there is an alternative approach. We now have recordings of university undergraduates made between 2007 and 2010 and some more recent recordings made in 2016, so we can compare these two sets of recordings and thereby find out if rhoticity is increasing.

One issue is that knowledge of whether the recording is older or more recent might impact on judgements. So I randomised the order of 21 early recordings and 21 more recent recordings, and then Nur Raihan listened to them and judged whether each speaker was rhotic or not. (She also tried to guess whether the recording was an early one or a later one, and she was basically unable to guess that correctly.)

The results of her listening are shown in this table:

These results clearly show that rhoticity in the more recent recordings is much higher than in the earlier ones: while about half of the earlier speakers had a rhotic accent (as expected), all but two out of twenty-one of the speakers in the more recent recordings were rhotic. This is really surprising: it is rare to find such a shift in patterns of pronunciation over just seven years.

To confirm the results, we asked another research student, Sufi Redzwan, to repeat the listening. And he got exactly the same results: about half of the early recordings were rhotic, while all but two of the more recent ones were. So it is confirmed that rhoticity has increased substantially over the past few years.

This work is written up as Nur Raihan (2017) – see here.