Primer on Man­glish

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INSIGHT - Co-or­di­nated by JANE F. RAGAVAN english@thes­ By Dr Lim Chin Lam By Oh TEIK Theam

IEx­plor­ing some no­table fea­tures of the pid­gin that is Man­glish. N days of old, any in­ter­course – be it in trade or coloni­sa­tion – be­tween for­eign­ers and na­tives in­evitably spawned a pid­gin, not a bird but a hy­brid lan­guage, “a sim­ple form of a lan­guage, es­pe­cially English, Por­tuguese or Dutch, with a lim­ited num­ber of words, that are used to­gether with words from a lo­cal lan­guage” ( Ox­ford Ad­vanced Learner’s Dic­tio­nary, 2010).

Cre­ole – “a mother tongue formed from the con­tact of a Euro­pean lan­guage with a lo­cal lan­guage (es­pe­cially African lan­guages spo­ken by slaves in the West Indies)” ( Con­cise Ox­ford English Dic­tio­nary, 2004) – is a pid­gin lan­guage.

The Man­glish in Malaysia is a pid­gin of sorts. Un­like pid­gin, which is a blend of a Euro­pean lan­guage and a na­tive lan­guage of the rel­e­vant coun­try, Man­glish is made up largely (about 99% ) of English words, in­ter­spersed with el­e­ments from at least three of the main lan­guages of the coun­try (Malay, Chi­nese and In­dian).

While the vo­cab­u­lary may be largely English, the gram­mar is not, and sen­tence con­struc­tion in Man­glish al­most seems to be with­out struc­ture.

Con­trary to what some peo­ple say or write, I main­tain that Man­glish is not syn­ony­mous with Malaysian English. The lat­ter is pukka English.

Even though the stan­dard of English in the coun­try has de­clined alarm­ingly, there still are a great many Malaysians who speak (though with an ac­cent not quite Oxbridge nor BBC) and write stan­dard English that can eas­ily pass muster in in­ter­na­tional cir­cles.

On the other hand, Man­glish may be deemed as the out­put from a man­gle that has been fed a heady mix of words and ex­pres­sions from English spiced with the odd word and ex­pres­sion from the lo­cal lan­guages. The prod­uct churned out by the man­gle and sub­se­quently ag­gra­vated by mis­pro­nun­ci­a­tions is, in ef­fect, Man­gled English, from which we de­rive the port­man­teau word Man­glish.

Don’t get me wrong. Man­glish is our beloved lingo that we Malaysians of all stripes – bar­ring the snooty ones – use to make for humour or to show that we be­long. No, it is not a lan­guage for aca­demic pur­pose nor a


medium for in­ter­na­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tion!

While Malaysian English pays due re­gard to gram­mar and syn­tax, Man­glish has ut­ter dis­re­gard for gramma and grampa and what not. Dis­cern­ing read­ers will have noted the in­flu­ence of our lo­cal lan­guages on the un­usual con­struc­tions of Man­glish.

Let me com­ment, or at­tempt to com­ment, on some no­table fea­tures of Man­glish.

Sen­tences with no ap­par­ent sub­ject

Sen­tences may be con­structed with­out an ap­par­ent sub­ject. For an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple, I re­call a movie re­view by Kee Thuan Chye – yes, the MOE page is his brain­child – who, in one of his hu­mor­ous mo­ments, wrote of the hero thus: “Shirt un­but­ton, chest can see.” (Yes-lah, got verb, no sub­ject.)

The miss­ing verb ‘to be’

The verb “to be” is com­monly dis­carded, with no loss of mean­ing. Ex­am­ple: “She very sick yes­ter­day.”

Verbs used with­out con­ju­ga­tion

Verbs are com­monly used in their base form. Aux­il­iary verbs in the usual sense are al­most non-ex­is­tent. Tenses are in­di­cated by time mark­ers ( yes­ter­day, to­day, last week, etc; for ex­am­ple, “She go mar­ket yes­ter­day”) or by the use of the words got and done (see be­low).

The use of en­cl­i­tics

Ar­guably, the best known en­clitic in Malay is lah, which, in pre-Malindo writ­ing, was tagged onto a pre­ced­ing word by a hy­phen (< Pak­cik, sabar-lah.> <Mari-lah kita pergi men­gail ikan.> <Nanti bapak pu­lang, baru-lah kau akan tahu disi­plin.>) The same en­clitic lah ap­pears in Man­glish (and I shall in­di­cate its use as in the pre-Malindo Malay script, i.e. con­nected to the pre­ced­ing word by a hy­phen). The said en­clitic is lex­i­cally empty, but it soft­ens the tone of a com­mand or lends a touch of po­lite­ness touch to a re­quest ( Come on, hurry up-lah).

Other com­mon en­cl­i­tics are: (1) ah, ap­par­ently of Chi­nese/Hokkien ori­gin, used to trans­form a state­ment into a ques­tion ( You think you big shot-ah?); (2) mah, of Chi­nese/ Can­tonese ori­gin, used to add a tone of res­ig­na­tion to a state­ment ( This pob­blem only small mat­ter-mah!) or to em­pha­sise a mere state­ment ( Tommy he also know Ger­man-mah!); (3) meh, of Chi­nese/Can­tonese ori­gin, used to ex­press puz­zle­ment ( Coral is her name-meh?)

The par­ti­cle deh, of In­dian/Tamil ori­gin, is not quite an en­clitic. It is a space-filler. It may CHOOSE the id­iom whose mean­ing is given in the brack­ets:

1. In the 1962 movie To Kill A Mock­ing­bird, Gre­gory Peck plays a highly prin­ci­pled lawyer, At­ti­cus Finch, who puts his ca­reer (at se­ri­ous risk) when he agrees to de­fend a young black man falsely ac­cused of rap­ing an ig­no­rant white wo­man.

(a) on the dot (b) on the line (c) on the bread­line

2. The movie tells the story, set in a small town dur­ing the De­pres­sion, (from the point of view of) At­ti­cus’ feisty six-year-old daugh­ter Scout, with the trial of the rape ac­cused in­ter­lac­ing with the ed­u­ca­tion of Scout and her older brother, Jem, in the un­set­tling im­per­fec­tions of the world.

(a) by virtue of (b) through the eyes of (c) on the point of

3. At­ti­cus tells Scout that he can­not (keep his dig­nity) in the neigh­bour­hood if he re­fuses to de­fend Tom Robin­son.

(a) keep a straight face (b) stand his ground (c) hold his head high

4. At­ti­cus tells his moth­er­less chil­dren that even be deemed an in­con­se­quen­tial form of ad­dress ( Deh, where you go last night?)

The use of ‘one’

The word one is used as if to sin­gle out a per­son as be­ing one of a kind ( he one kind, don’t eat break­fast). It may also be used al­most like an en­clitic ( he don’t eat break­fast-one). It can even be used in a dou­ble-bar­relled – or triple-bar­relled? – con­struc­tion ( he one kin­done, don’t eat break­fast-one).

The use of ‘can’

The word can is an aux­il­iary verb but in Man­glish it is used in ways not quite aux­il­iary. Ex­am­ple: “This chair very rick­ety, but can do”, mean­ing that the said item suf­fices or serves the pur­pose.

It is also used to form a ques­tion. Ex­am­ple: “I want to bor­row this DVD, can or not?”, which is equiv­a­lent to the re­quest “May I bor­row this DVD?”

The car­toon­ist Reg­gie Lee has added a hi­lar­i­ous slant to the ex­pres­sion can or not. At the time when two Malaysians were train­ing in Rus­sia to join a space mis­sion, his car­toon de­picted four space­men garbed in their re­spec­tive space­suits and float­ing in the noth­ing­ness of space. The Rus­sian space­man was la­belled as COS­MO­NAUT, the Amer­i­can as AS­TRO­NAUT, the Chi­nese as TAIKO­NAUT, and the Malaysian as CAN-OR-NOT!

The case for ‘got’

The verb got is a strange crit­ter even in stan­dard English. In Bri­tish English, it is both the past tense and the past par­tici­ple of the verb get, as in the set get/got/got. The cor­re­spond­ing con­ju­ga­tion pat­tern in Amer­i­can English is get/got/got­ten. The nor­mal mean­ing of get is “to ob­tain, to ac­quire”.

In Bri­tish English, how­ever, has got does not nec­es­sar­ily mean the present per­fect tense “to have ob­tained, to have ac­quired”. In­stead it can be deemed an id­iomatic ex­pres­sion, mean­ing the sim­ple present tense “to pos­sess”, e.g. “I have not fin­ished the work. I have got only two hands.”

How­ever, Man­glish has hi­jacked the word got for use in ways out­side the pale of Bri­tish English or Amer­i­can English. In Man­glish, got can be: (1) the equiv­a­lent of the verb “to be” (< The marker pen, where got?> < Your lec­ture where got mean­ing?>); (2) the equiv­a­lent of the aux­il­iary verb, has/have, to form the per­fect tense ( The teacher got tell us to go to Chem­istry Lab); and (3) the equiv­a­lent of the lex­i­cal verb has/have, to form the present tense of the verb mean­ing “to have, to it is a sin to kill a mock­ing­bird as it never does any­thing bad; all it does is (sing with great feel­ing) to fill the gar­den with mu­sic.

(a) sing its heart out (b) sing for its sup­per (c) sing your praises

5. Jem and Scout are fear­ful when they pass the spooky ram­shackle Radley house, for they sus­pect that a mys­te­ri­ous man who lives there, Boo, (is men­tally dis­turbed). Later, their dis­cov­ery of lit­tle presents in the knot­hole of a tree near the Radley house ame­lio­rates their judg­ment of Boo.

(a) is all of a trem­ble (b) is at his wits’ end (c) has a screw loose

6. When the mem­bers of the lynch mob de­mand that At­ti­cus hand over Robin­son to them, he (re­mains calm).

(a) makes him­self at home (b) keeps his cool (c) keeps his ear to the ground

7. The plain­tiff, Mayella Ewell, and her big­oted fa­ther, Bob Ewell, do not hes­i­tate to (tell lies shame­lessly).

(a) lie through their teeth (b) live a lie (c)

pos­sess” ( Your lec­ture got no mean­ing).

‘Done’ as an aux­il­iary verb

Skewed words

In stan­dard English, the word done is the past par­tici­ple of the lex­i­cal verb do. In Man­glish (of the Malacca va­ri­ety), it is an aux­il­iary verb to con­vey the per­fect tense ( he done go to town).

There are some words from Malay which are used in Man­glish but, strangely, with re­versed sig­ni­fi­ca­tion. One such word is pin­jam, which means “to bor­row” or “to lend”, de­pend­ing on con­text. The dual but op­po­site mean­ings give rise to am­biva­lence when trans­lated into English and used care­lessly. The fol­low­ing two ex­am­ples il­lus­trate: (1) “I want to lend ( in­tended mean­ing: bor­row) your bike, can or not?”; and (2) “Can you bor­row ( in­tended mean­ing: lend) me 10 ring­git?”

An­other Malay word used in Man­glish but with skewed sig­ni­fi­ca­tion is be­lanja, which means “to spend” or “to give a treat (to)”. A for­eigner would no doubt be taken aback to hear the fol­low­ing in­vi­ta­tion: “Lunch at An­jong Budi. Come-lah. I spend you.”

Tweaked words

And then there are the words and ex­pres­sions that have been tweaked or in­vented for ef­fect. I of­fer the fol­low­ing four ex­am­ples for your amuse­ment: (1) at-home, an in­vented com­pound verb used in wel­com­ing a guest into one’s house, as in: “Please at-home your­self”; (2) died-ed, a verb used as the dou­ble past tense of die, as in: “What? You donno about Michael Jack­son-ah? He died-ed last year.”; (3) gostan, a tweaked word de­rived from go astern, which can be used when guid­ing a friend back­ing his car into a nar­row culde-sac: “Gostan some more un­til you hear a bang.”; and (4) “Those two guys no man­ner­sone. Al­ways ride mo­tor­bike two abreast and talk. Should ride mo­tor­bike one abreast.”

Tests in com­pre­hen­sion

Fi­nally, let me give you three ex­am­ples of Man­glish in a test of com­pre­hen­sion: (1) “My pen won’t come out ink.” (2) “Bring come that chair.” (3) “You think you very smart-ah?”

Clos­ing re­marks

Dear read­ers, you got un­der­stand my ar­ti­cle-ah? If yes, you pob­bably Malaysian. If blur, you pob­bably for­eigner. For for­eigner, get Malaysian to teach you-lah. Very easy-one, like ka­cang only. shoot their mouths off

8. The prej­u­diced courts in the all-white jury’s hearts find Robin­son guilty of the rape charge. A short while later, he is shot to death when he (tries to es­cape).

(a) pulls a fast one (b) burns up the road (c) makes a break for it

9. As Jem and Scout are walk­ing home from school one night, the sound of foot­steps in the dark (fright­ens them). Boo saves them from an at­tack by Bob Ewell and stabs him fa­tally dur­ing the strug­gle. To pro­tect Boo, Sher­iff Tate in­tends to re­port that Ewell ac­ci­den­tally fell on his own knife. Scout agrees with the lawman, and tells her fa­ther that ex­pos­ing Boo would be like shoot­ing a mock­ing­bird.

(a) leaves them cold (b) wipes the smile off their faces (c) makes their blood run cold An­swers 1. b 2. b 3. c 4. a 5. c 6. b 7. a 8. c 9. c

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