Saturday, 17 November 2007


Manglish as it is understood universally is a word describing the mangling of the English language by non-native speakers. However in the Malaysian context, it describes a variety of English proudly used by Malaysians. While language purists would bemoan the corruption and non-standard use of the language, Malaysian speakers have been quick to point out that it defines them as Malaysians who speak their own brand of English. Never mind about intelligibility. After all, as long as Malaysians understand each other, that's enough. Expatriates who have worked in the country were initially thrown off by its lack of grammatical correctness and unfamiliar post-articles such as "lah", "meh" and "ah" but by the time they become acclimatized, they have also embraced these post-articles in their daily interactions. However, this is not to say that Manglish is accepted or encouraged in more formal or official contexts. Manglish is more often a means to develop camaraderie; it's like a badge signifying allegiance to a group.

Another habit that expatriates find disconcerting is frequent code switching. Malaysians are fond of switching from English to Malay or other chinese dialects and vice versa.

In formal situations, government officials are fond of throwing an English word or two or English phrases in their speeches, not because there are no Malay equivalents, but simply to impress their audience with their ability to speak English.

The phenomenon of code switching is not a Malaysian peculiarity. We often see it in Hindustani and Hong Kong movies and dramas too.

Much can be said about the positive values of Manglish. It is more economical and to the point than standard English.

Some examples:

When asking someone to make way:
Standard English: Excuse me, could you please make way?
Malaysians: S-kew me (motioning with their hands to make way for them).

When inquiring about something:
Standard English: Where are you going?
Malaysians: Where you go?
Standard English: I'm going to the market.
Malaysians: I go "pasar" (market).

When offering to pay:
Standard English: This is on me.
Malaysians: No need, lah (or some times in the cantonese dialect: sup sup soi, which means "it's a small matter" or "it's peanuts")

When visiting a friend
Standard English: Make yourself at home.
Malaysians: Don't be shy, lah!

When doubting someone
Standard English: I am afraid you haven't returned me the money yet.
Malaysians: Where got?

When declining an invitation
Britons: Let's go to the movie
Malaysians: Doe-wan lah. (Don't want)

When disagreeing
Standard English: Err. I am afraid I have to disagree with you on that.
Malaysians: You mad, ah?

When facing a tight situation
Standard English: I think we are in trouble.
Malaysians: Die-lah!!

When criticizing:
Standard English: You are insensitive
Malaysians: You so thick skin one!

Examples of code switching

Aiyo! the air-con is rosak. Let's go out lah.
(Damn! the air-con is not working. Let's go out)

I very sayang you.
(I love you very much).

Aiya! So many questions you banyak kacau lah!
(You are asking so many questions.. you are bothering me!)

Hey! Where are you?
With my drinking kakis ("Kaki", a Malay word for leg, meaning "he is with his regular drinking cronies).

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