- Malaysian English is generally non-rhotic, regardless of the fact that all /r/s are pronounced in native Malay.
- Malaysian English originates from British English as a result of British colonialism in present-day Malaysia.
- It has components of American English, Malay, Chinese, Indian, and other languages: vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar.
- Like South-Eastern British English, Malaysian English employs a broad A accent, as such words like "bath" and "chance" appear with /ɑː/ rather than /æ/.
- The /t/ in words like butter is usually not flapped (as in some forms of American English) or realised as a glottal stop (as in many forms of British English, including Cockney).
- There is no h dropping in words like head.
- Malaysian English does not have yod dropping after /n/, /t/, and /d/. Hence, for example, new, tune and dune are pronounced /ˈnjuː/, /ˈtjuːn/, and /ˈdjuːn/. This contrasts with many East Anglian and East Midland varieties of British English and with most forms of American English.
Varieties of English in Malaysia
According to The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Languages & Literature, p 61, English in Malaysia has been categorized into three levels: the acrolect, mesolect and basilect. The acrolect is near-native. Only those educated in core English-speaking countries from early schooling up to university may be found to speak the acrolect variety, and only a small percentage of Malaysians are proficient in it. As with other similar situations, a continuum exists between these three varieties and speakers may code-switch between them depending on context. Most academics, professionals and other English-educated Malaysians, speak mesolect English. Malaysian English belongs to mesolect, and it is Malaysian English that is used in daily interaction.
Manglish refers to the colloquial, informal spoken form of Malaysian English. It is the most common form of spoken English on the street, but is discouraged at schools where only Malaysian Standard English is taught. Imported words are actually minimal except for just a handful of common non-English nouns and verbs in Malaysia. The use of Manglish is therefore a style-based decision. Colloquialisms exist that are not common outside of Malaysia, which are used colloquially as substitutes in other languages in Malaysia. Using Malay, or Chinese grammar in conjunction with English words, is often done quite spontaneously, sometimes even for comic effect.
Malaysian English and British English
In the first half of the 20th century, Malaysian English was exactly similar to British English (BrE) (albeit spoken with a Malaysian accent). However in the post-colonial era (after 1957), the influx of American TV programmes has influenced the usage of Malaysian English. There is no official language board, council or organisation to ensure the correct and standard usage of Malaysian English, because after independence, Malay replaced English as the official language. The University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate continues, however, to set and mark the GCE O-Level English Language "1119" paper which is a compulsory subject for the Malaysian Certificate of Education (the English Language paper set by the Malaysian Ministry of Education is the same as the English Language "1119" paper for GCE O-Level).
Unofficially, however, NST English (named after the New Straits Times, the oldest English language daily in Malaysia) is often used as the reference point for Malaysian English.
Words only used in British English
To a large extent, Malaysian English is descended from British English, largely due to the country's colonisation by Britain beginning from the 18th century. But because of influence from American mass media, particularly in the form of television programmes and movies, Malaysians are also usually familiar with many American English words. For instance, both "lift/elevator" and "lorry/truck" are understood, although the British form is preferred. Only in some very limited cases is the American English form more widespread, e.g. "chips" instead of "crisps", "fries" instead of "chips" and "diaper" instead of "nappy".
Words with different meaning in Malaysian English
Some words and phrases used in Malaysia have different meanings than in British or American English.
|Word / Phrase||Malaysian meaning||American / British meaning|
|parking lot||parking space||parking garage (US)|
|photostat||a photocopier; also used as a verb meaning "to photocopy"||a historical copying machine using a camera and photographic paper, which was superseded by the photocopier. See Photostat machine.|
|flat||low-cost apartment or flat||apartment (US)|
|apartment||medium-cost apartment or flat||flat (UK)|
|condominium||high-cost apartment or flat||commonhold (UK)|
|to follow||to accompany, e.g. "Can I follow you?" meaning "Can I come with you?" or, "I will follow you." meaning "I will come with you."||to go after or behind, e.g. "The police car was following m.e"|
|to revert||to come back (reply) to someone, e.g. "I had sent our clients an email this morning, but they have yet to revert."||to return to a previous state, e.g. "We reverted to our initial plan of hosting the party in a restaurant."|
|to send||to take someone somewhere, e.g. "Can you send me to the airport?"||to cause something to go somewhere without accompanying it, e.g. "I sent this letter to my grandma."|
Words only used in Malaysian English
Malaysian English has its own vocabulary which comes from a variety of influences. Typically, for words or phrases that are based on other English words, the Malaysian English speaker may be unaware that the word or phrase is not present in British or American English.
|Malaysian||British / American|
|handphone (often abbreviated to HP)||mobile phone or cell phone|
|Malaysian Chinese, Malaysian Indian||Chinese Malaysian, Indian Malaysian|
|keep in view (often abbreviated to KIV)||kept on file, held for further consideration|
|MC (medical certificate)||sick note|
|mee (from Hokkien word mi)||noodles|
Many words of Malay origin have made it into the standard form of Malaysian English used in the media, literature and formal speech. For example, Menteri Besar (Malay for Chief Minister) even has a plural form in English - Menteris Besar. The suffix lah, a very common feature in Manglish, is not considered standard in Malaysian English.
Syntactical differences are few although in colloquial speech 'shall' and 'ought' are wanting, 'must' is marginal for obligation and 'may' is rare. Many syntactical features of Malaysian English are found in other forms of English, e.g. Scottish English, British English and North American English:
- Can I come too? for "May I come too?"
- Have you got any? for "Do you have any?"
- I've got one of those already. for "I have one of those already."
- It's your shot. for "It's your turn."
Phonology and Pronunciation
Officially, Malaysian English uses the same pronunciation system as British English. However, most Malaysians speak with a distinctive accent. The accent has recently evolved to become more American, due to the influx of American TV programmes and the large number of Malaysians pursuing higher education in the United States. For example, this increased the emphasis on "r" in words such as "referring" and "world".
Role of Malaysian English in Independent Malaysia
Even though Malaysian English is no longer the official language of Malaysia, it is still used among Malaysians and is recognised as the language of business. About 80% of urban businesses in Malaysia conduct their transactions in English (both Malaysian English and Manglish). However, American English has quite a strong foothold in international businesses in Malaysia.
There are several English newspapers in Malaysia namely The Star, The Sun, New Straits Times and Malay Mail. There are also many English radio stations such as Hitz.fm, Mix FM, LiteFM, Fly fm, Traxx FM and Red FM. However, Malaysia does not have any television station which broadcasts purely in English. The Government National Language policy requires local TV stations to air at least 25% Malaysian-made programmes (either Malay or English). Some privately owned TV stations (such as TV3, NTV7, 8TV and Astro Hitz.TV) do air some English Malaysian-made programmes. A few Malaysian-made TV programmes in Malay carry English subtitles and vice-versa.