Making sense of the way we speak…..

I bumped into a friend one day and was invited to join her and her companion, an English lady, for lunch. When my friend & I, both of us being Malaysians, launched animatedly into the controversial topic related to the clearing of land in UK heights near Taman Hijau, we noticed the English lady listening to us very quietly with an amused look on her face…..

Okay….. now this is queer… did we say something offensive? Did we have food stuck on our noses….. ? Was our point of view 180% from hers?  Nope…. she was actually counting…. .What the….?????…….

She admitted that she held a fascination for the unique way we Malaysians spoke….(thanks for the euphemism…you really mean weird, right?)….To prove a point, she was counting the amount of times we used or shall I say “overused” the phrase “at the end of the day” in our conversation …. In the 15 minutes of conversation between the both of us (Malaysians) she claims that we used the phrase at least 10 times. …. (YES, she actually counted). So on average, that’s once every other minute …..ok…that IS rather weird. 

Yes, we Malaysians have always been told that we have a unique brand of English, the most famous being the  punctuation of -lahs at the end of every other sentence. 

Two contributing factors why native speakers find our English quaint is our love for archaic expressions…..and of course our pronunciation or mispronunciations I should say…………

1. Archaic (old fashioned) expressions used by Malaysians that sound quaint to native speakers……

Outstation: (Archaic) We use it to mean that a person is away in another town/state in Malaysia. This word is leftover from the colonial days where British officials get posted to ‘stations’  away from their home stations hence the word ‘outstation’. Malaysians understand it perfectly when used in the modern context, but native speakers would actually find its use puzzling.  They would simply say, “so & so, has gone out of town” or “so & so, is out of town”.

Pail:  (Yup, Archaic). That ubiquitous plastic or metal container that is ever so common in our households is apparently better known as a ‘bucket’ by native speakers. I was told that the word ‘pail’ was very old fashioned by an English tutor from the British Council. I guess its true, after all,  you don’t hear people saying “He/she has kicked the pail”  when someone has died right? They say “he/she has kicked the bucket“! 

Scold: (Surprise, surprise….Archaic too). Native speakers prefer to say ” Do tell him off…..he’s being rude ” or “Give him a telling off”…… Well…here I must compliment Malaysians….such a superfluous amount of words when we can just say “Scold him-lah, he’s so rude!”.

2. We Malaysians have our own brand of pronunciation too…….

Flour: This is  common one. We pronounce ‘flour’ as ‘fl-ah’ when native speakers pronounce it as ‘flower’. Well readers be warned: “Don’t try this at home (i.e. in Malaysia). This stunt should only be performed in front of native speakers only. I do not wish to be held responsible if the shopkeeper looks at you, as if a tongue blister was causing you to speak funny. Worse case scenario, you end up with a bouquet…” 

Forehead: Now this is a real classic. I did not find this out until I was teaching a class about ‘parts of the face’ and an Aussie happened to observe me.  At the end of class, she told me, ‘It’s pronounced as ‘forid‘….’; I said, “Huh, excuse me?”.  She pointed to her forehead and said :”Its pronounced as ‘forid'”. Now, I was insulted and argued, “I’ve NEVER heard such a thing in my life” – ‘forid’….it sounds as if its a medical condition or something like that.   “Check the dictionary!”, she commanded. I did. She was right!  I stand corrected. Forehead is pronounced ‘forid’, not ‘four-head’ as we have always did ever since we learned to speak English. Sigh. ………….

……………….Well, ‘at the end of the day’ you can’t say that Malaysians lack originality in the way we’ve modified the English Language. The important thing is that the ‘purpose’ of the communication was achieved… We would want to be able to understand our jaga kereta boy when he asks us to ‘gostan lagi….yah yah gostan gostan…!’ rather than scratching our heads, to try and understand his incomprehensible rantings…….”Yah Yah, go astern, go astern.…..” ….YIKES… what did he just say??!………….. Crash, bang…….

p.s. Don’t worry…..over use of the expression “at the end of the day” is not a Malaysian thing, it really is a ex-BBGS thing…..if you hear someone punctuating their sentences with “at the end of the day”….do ask if they studied in BBGS before.


10 responses to “Making sense of the way we speak…..

  1. That’s the beauty about languages. It is very nuch alive and evolves with the local setting.

    Sometimes, the ones which I find the most difficult to understand comes from the native speakers especially the Aussies and the Red Necks.

    Frankly, one of the clearest speakers which I have come across are surprisingly the Kenyans.

    My fondest are the South Africans and the Sri Lankans. They have a real nice slang to the way they speak.

  2. Nice worr! The new lay out!! Hahahah!

    Serious shit ah? Forid? Gawd… I think everyone would think I am such an idiot if I say forid instead of forehead. Did you see this being mentioned in English session from the Star newspapers? Maybe we ought to highlight this blunder.

  3. ky: Haven’t come across this in the Star but then again, I’m reading the Sun nowadays…less classifieds. But really the pronunciation is not a serious problem….I think grammatical accuracy is more important unless the pronunciation of a word affects meaning….in this case be it forid or forehead…I think the latter would achieve the purpose of communication better in Malaysia …. so long live our ‘lah’s & ‘fore-heads’ 🙂

  4. i do think Malaysians are cool and i do personally like their pronounciation. but also i do ask myself as to whether when u people write, do u actually write words the way u pronounce them or what? all in all, the pronounciation generally, can be a hindrence towards a good communication. im from Lesotho

  5. Rapitso: Thanks for your comments. With regards to your question, I would say Malaysians had two mental lexicons one for their spoken English and one for the written English. On one hand we can be writing in the Queen’s English & when we speak, its very colloquial – you’d think that we learnt it from the streets as it is punctuated with Malay words, Chinese words, Indian words…

  6. Shorthorse, this was a very entertaining blog…I was laughing out loud, mainly because I myself am so guilty of using those archaic expressions you mentioned…and wow! I learnt something…never knew about “forid”. Must blame BBGS for not teaching us that. Is “blame” archaic too?

  7. Actually, according to the dictionary, “fore-head” is perfectly acceptable too. PHEW!

  8. Pink Jeans: Ahahahaahhh….make that a double PHEW…I’m was about to go round saying “forid” in M’sia. So I thought that I’d be stuck with a mispronunciation for the rest of my life…..

  9. Esther Lavedrine

    I’m Singaporean and we pronounce flour as “fl – aah” or “fl – aah – r” too, definitely not “flower”.
    I once heard a guy from New Zealand say “spacey” for “species” and “eee – eggs” for “eggs”.
    It’s true that in the ex-British colonies, we probably do use old-fashioned English, just as in Quebec, the French vocabulary used is quaintly outdated.
    I just read on the Internet that “waistcoat” when it was once worn, was pronounced “wes – kit” but now that it’s gone out of fashion, is pronounced as spelled. So pronunciation varies not just regionally but with time too.

  10. Esther: Yes Esther, it is indeed true, M’sians & S’poreans would share similar idiosyncracies in speech. That’s why when my hubby & I travel, we would be able to tell immediately if they’re from both our countries just by listening to them speak…isn’t that absolutely wonderful?

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