Tag Archives: Malaysian English

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.