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Malaysian English – Oddities (Part 1)Malaysian English – Oddities (Part 2)Malaysian English – Oddities (Part 3)Affect vs. EffectHomophonesHomonymsWe look forward to…Your esteemed goodselfBritish or American English?British or American English? (Part 2)
Malaysians have their own brand of English which is quite distinct from Standard English spoken by native speakers in Britain. This “localization” has caused fear among educators and professionals especially the native speakers concerning that English has turned into a corrupt language. Since the emphasis in Malaysia has been on communicative English, the teaching of grammar to students in schools has been somewhat neglected, leading to some oddities in Malaysian English.

One of the oddities in our English includes improper use of parts of speech. One of the commonest examples is the word “horn” where Malaysian English uses the word “horn” as a verb whereas Standard English uses “horn” only as a noun.

Malaysian English : The angry taxi driver horned loudly.
Standard English   : The angry taxi driver sounded his horn loudly.

Local speakers tend to creatively exploit English rules and apply the rules for other words even though such thing does not exist. Take “trumpet” for example: “She is always trumpeting the beauty of her daughter; or “drum”: “Kenny nervously drummed on the table”. Here, the words “trumpet” and “drum” can be used as nouns or verbs; whereas neither “horn” nor “guitar” can be used as verbs. We should take note that not every single linguistic rule can be applied for any word and the most important part is we need to determine the part of speech in words that we are using.

A unique feature of our local spoken English includes the utilisation of the word “can” or “cannot” often with a “lah” added on subsequently. Visitors to Malaysia cannot fail to notice how addicted we are to the word “can” and “lah”.

Malaysians are quite happy to forget about the use of the word as a verb and tend to use it as a positive or negative interjection, or even as a question. Thus when we are asked by someone, “Do you have time to take me to the bank?”, a Malaysian may answer “can!” or “cannot-lah” in place of the conventional “Yes, of course” or “I’m afraid not, I’m not free at the moment”. In addition, Malaysian English speakers use ‘can (or not)’ to denote possibility, either a positive response to a request, or question, such as “I wanna go shopping, can or not?”. The response for this type of question would be “Can!” or “Cannot-lah”. Cannot, on the other hand, is the evil twin of “can”, the all too common response to a request in Malaysia. Therefore, we need to keep on practicing of getting rid of responding questions or requests with “can” or “cannot” in order to speak proper English. Use appropriate responses to furnish your spoken English.

Malaysian English    : Q : Help me with this letter, can or not?
A : Can-can. / Cannot-lah, I’m not free at the moment.

Standard English      : Q : Could you please help me with this letter?
A : Yes, of course. / I’m afraid not, I’m not free at the moment.

Do you often hear “Chop this form, please” or do you often use it in your daily conversation at your workplace? If so, please continue reading!

The use of the word “chop” in the above situation is utterly incorrect and in fact in Standard English “chop” means “to cut into small pieces”. If you are talking about the act of imprinting or impressing a letter, document, form, etc. with a mark, design, or seal, then the correct word to use is “stamp”.

Malaysian English   : Chop this form, please.
Standard English     : Please stamp this form.

The words “affect” and “effect” are frequently misused and confused, one being used incorrectly in place of the other.

In order to understand which to use, you must know the difference between a noun and a verb. This is because effect is a noun; whereas, affect is a verb. However, there are tricks to get around this.

The basic difference between them is that affect is chiefly used as a verb. Its main meaning is ‘to influence or make a difference to’, as in the following example sentences:

• Research suggests that the neighbourhood you live in can affect how well your children perform at school.
• The long periods of separation never affected her love for her mother.
• Continuous rain since mid-June has resulted in widespread flooding, affecting over 119 million people.
• He is in no doubt that thousands of people will be seriously affected if this proposal becomes a reality.

Effect is used as both a noun and a verb, though the noun use is much more common than the verb. As a noun, effect means ‘a result or an influence':

• It was clear that the strong windy conditions were going to have an immediate effect on the result of the game.
• The beneficial effects of exercise are well documented.
• Corporations need to think about the long-term effects of their actions.
• The legislation had the effect of pushing up the cost of houses.

As a verb, effect means ‘to bring something about as a result’. It’s often used in quite formal contexts, such as written reports, rather than everyday English:

• The couple had been separated for two years, but her boyfriend tried to effect a reconciliation.
• A Royal Commission appointed in 1906 effected several reforms.
• Governments can mobilize the political will and resources to effect change when they choose to.

The key thing to remember is that affect is typically used as a verb:

• A bout of rheumatic fever in his youth had affected his health throughout his life.

On the other hand, effect is most commonly used as a noun:

• Participants were asked to volunteer for a study looking at the effects of stress on their  health.

Some people may be having problems when they listen to certain words which sound exactly the same but they actually carry a totally different meaning with a different spelling. They are called homophones. Homophones are words (or phrases or letters) that, although they are pronounced the same, differ in meaning, such as “to”, “too” and “two”. Homophones are not really a problem in writing however, when it comes to speaking, we may get ambiguous message and may lead to confusion in comprehending what the speaker actually intents to say.

For example, people may get confuse when they hear the word “accept” and “except”. Consider below sentence:

“If you offer me Godiva chocolates I will gladly accept them- except for the candied violet ones.”

Just remember that “except” excludes things- they tend to stand out, be different. In contrast, “accept” is defined simply as “consent to receive”. Both carries different meaning and are used in different situation. And be careful; sometimes when we type “except” it often comes out “expect.”

Another example of homophone is “advice” and “advise” which always confuse people in writing whether to put ‘s’ or ‘c’. It is as easy as pie! All you need to remember is advice: noun and advise: verb.

“When Ann Landers advises people, she gives them advice.”

Homonyms, or multiple meaning words, are words that share same spelling and same pronunciation but carry different meanings. Consider the word “bear” for example.

Bare: naked
Bear: the animal
Bear: to tolerate

The word “bear” consists of multiple definitions. The three above definitions are just part of it. Having known this, readers should be aware that a word may carry different meaning and we need to know how and when to use it. in fact, one word can be used several times in a sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence and its syntactical structure.

“Our bear cannot bear to be bare at any hour.”

You may sometimes ponder whether we can write I look forward to see you or I look forward to seeing you .

This is often accompanied by the explanation that we cannot say to seeing / to hearing; we must say to see / to hear. I assume many readers have heard something similar and are wondering if these sentences are right or wrong:

I look forward to meeting you.
I look forward to receiving your reply.
We look forward to knowing your requirements.

Should we add –ing?

In the above examples, we do not link the word to to the next word. This is because to is connected to the previous words. Look forward to is a unit called a “phrasal verb“. The phrasal verb look forward to is followed by a noun and very often that noun is a gerund. The gerund is the –ing form of the word as in:

Smoking is bad for you and so is overeating.
Swimming is good for you, though running can cause joint pain.
Both talking and eating are not allowed during the examination.

Therefore, please note that it is grammatically wrong to write, We look forward to hear from you, etc. One comment about the ending We look forward to hearing from you. While it is grammatically correct, it is of low communicative value. It doesn’t take the scenario on to the next step with any focus. How, when and where will you hear from the other person? Always end a letter or an email by pointing the way ahead as clearly and as specifically as possible. For example: We look forward to receiving your amended proposal with itemized quotation by the end of this week.

People in Malaysia (and India) have ‘preserved’ archaic Victorian-era language and even elevated it as ‘Business English’ — while the British have long since moved on. In business communication, the term goodself is extremely common in two countries- India and Malaysia.

So, why do Malaysians persist in writing goodself, esteemed company, your kind attention and such archaic kowtowing expressions, which have more to do with Victorian Britain than any supposed Asian courtesy? Two hundred years ago, in the UK, it was considered appropriate to flatter the reader, often by demeaning oneself. This gave rise to phrases like: remain your obedient servant; Kindly revert to the undersigned; submitted for your kind perusal and consideration.

Meanwhile, in the UK, native speakers have felt empowered to develop business communication language into a much more communicative style, but in Malaysia, we have people still writing about perusals and goodselves!

Should you call ‘movie’ or ‘film’? ‘Rubbish’ or ‘trash’? ‘Fall’ or ‘autumn’? Confused? Read on.

Malaysians are exposed to the two main varieties of English: British English and the English used in the United States, which is referred to as “American English”. Some of the older ones among us were taught British English during the colonial days, and passed it on to the generations after us with varying degrees of success. American English, on the other hand, is the variety we are more exposed to now through cinema, TV, the Internet, popular songs, and so on. American and British English are not that different from each other. They are about as different as Bahasa Malaysia is from Bahasa Indonesia. Speakers of each language can understand each other, with a little bit of accommodation on each side.

Let us take the word “movie”. The word is of US origin, is an abbreviation for “moving picture” and has been in use since 1912. The equivalent in British English is “film”. Nowadays, “movie” seems to be the preferred word, especially among the young. Even the British Daily Telegraph uses it interchangeably with “film”. For example, in its online edition of Feb 29, in the section called “Film”, the phrase “Movie reviews and previews” is written before “film news”. So, the word has not only gained currency in Malaysia: it has also sneaked into British English.

On the other hand, there is the word “fall”, in the US sense of “autumn”. It is not a US coinage, even in that sense. It was first used in British English in 1545 in its full form, “fall of the leaf”. Same goes to the word “rubbish” used by British and “trash” used by Americans. After all, it refers to the same thing. It is not really a problem when English learners tend to mix up the two varieties of English, as long as they can use the language clearly and grammatically, and continue to increase their vocabulary. As they get better, some of them would perhaps be able to distinguish between the two varieties, in their spelling, pronunciation and vocabulary.

The differences between American and British English are perhaps most apparent in their pronunciations. For example, when there is an “r” within a word like “burn”, the Americans would pronounce the “r” while the British generally don’t – except for the Scots. Also, the “a” in many words like “pass”, “dance”, “chance” is pronounced like the “a” in “that” (indicated phonetically as /ae/) by Americans, while the British would use a long “a” sound as in “calm” (indicated phonetically as /a:/ – the colon denoting that the vowel is long.)

Most words ending in an unstressed -our in British English (e.g. colour, flavour, harbour, honour, humour, labour, neighbour, rumour) end in -or in American English (color, flavor, harbor, honor, humor, labor, neighbor, rumor). Wherever the vowel is unreduced in pronunciation, e.g. contour, velour, paramour and troubadour the spelling is the same everywhere.

However, how many of us Malaysians who were partly educated in Britain or America really speak like the natives of those countries? Most of us will have a Malaysian accent, with a trace of British or American flavour in it. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, as long as we can be clearly understood by other speakers of English, and don’t sound strained through trying too hard – and failing!

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