Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Manglish classics


Although widely used by English-speaking Malaysians, some phrases such as ‘going outstation’ would be puzzling to outsiders.

In this first article in the Let’s Communic8 column, I want to take a little time to examine the fascinating subject of Manglish.

Manglish is used to describe the unique blend of English and a number of other languages spoken in Malaysia as well as old fashioned language left behind from colonialism.

This manifests itself through phonology (sounds), lexicon (vocabulary) and grammar.

Much has been written on the subject of Manglish, but in this article I only want to point out a few of what I call the “Manglish Classics”.

As a big fan of Manglish, the aim of this article is not to criticise it, but to make you aware that certain words and phrases might be unrecognisable or confusing to non-Malaysians. Instead of paying attention to grammar or phonology, let’s just focus on some of the main Manglish phrases.

Have a look at this statement: Next week I’m going outstation.

What do you think is Manglish about it? Most of the students I have taught will change it so that it reads “I’m going outstation next week”, thinking that the “Manglishness” lies in putting the time phrase first.

However, the Manglish is actually represented by the word “outstation”. Try saying “next week I’m going outstation” to a Londoner and they might start wondering what you would be doing outside the station for a week!

The word “outstation” itself is a colonial relic left by the British and cannot be found in any of the major contemporary dictionaries such as Oxford, MacMillan, Cambridge or Longman.

Often used by KL-ites to refer to anywhere outside of the capital, it is similar to the concept of “Baan Nok’” – meaning “up country” used in Thailand to refer to anywhere outside of Bangkok.

So how can we rephrase “outstation” to make it more international? You could use “out of town”, “out of the office”, or simply “I’ll be away next week”. Or, you could just say where you are going!

So, what are some of the other classics? How about:

Can you slow the volume?

When I ask people to rephrase this, they usually come up with “lower the volume” or “reduce the volume” – collocations which would be unusual to native speakers and would sound too formal.

If your next door neighbour played techno music at 4am, you would probably not go round and say “Can you reduce the volume?” You would be more likely to scream “Can you turn that rubbish down!”

So, we can use “turn up” or “turn down” to refer to the volume of music, gas, or even the temperature of the air con.

On a philosophical note: if you are too cold, do you “turn up” or “turn down” the aircon?

Most Malaysians would say “turn up” referring to the temperature, while most English people would say “turn down” referring to the speed or power of the motor.

Here’s another classic phrase which has to be at the top of my list: “Sorry I’m late, I met an accident”.

This phrase always makes me think of an introduction: “Alex, meet accident; accident, this is Alex.”

Outside of Malaysia, a more natural alternative would be “I had an accident” or “I was in an accident”.

Otherwise, there might be some confusion as to whether you saw an accident or you were in one.

The last Manglish classic that I want to look at is the use of the word “chop”.

The first time I came to Malaysia and was asked by a delivery man in my office if I could “chop him”, I was understandably confused, as the only “chopping” I knew involved a knife. It’s lucky I didn’t reach for the nearest meat cleaver – not that we have many in the office!

Instead, I stamped his delivery sheet with the company stamp, and from that day on understood that “chop” meant “stamp”.

Some other classics that are commonly used are:

· Shift house – instead of move house;

· Can I lend your book – instead of borrow your book; · Pass up my paper – instead of hand in;

· Show – instead of film;

· Blur – instead of confused; and

· Bluff – instead of lie.

There are many more Manglish Classics, not to mention the way that Manglish affects grammar and vocabulary. I hope you are not too blur!

The writer is a trainer with the Professional Development Unit of the British Council in Kuala Lumpur.

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