Mangled English

by Audrey Lim, Nov 8, 2001 | Destinations: Malaysia / Kuala Lumpur

It was just yesterday that I encountered this problem and made me realized just how deep the language roots are and just how serious the matter at hand is! Okay, perhaps I would not lose much sleep over it but after giving it some thoughts, the overall situation is actually quite funny.

It was at work when a fellow writer asked what jambu air (a type of pinkish colored fruit. Jambu air is in the Malay language) is called in English. Someone volunteered saying, "Water guava?" Another exclaimed, "Pink guava?" It took the entire office to figure out the actual name and finally, after ½ hour and lots of searches via Google, we figured out its name in English - water apple! Boy, were we heaving a sigh of relief! Then someone asked, "What is ciku in English?" And there we go again. A colleague of mine commented that we Malaysians will surely not survive too well on foreign lands where English is the first language. How are we to purchase ciku if we do not know what it is called in English? Are we to explain that it is "a brownish colored fruit, hairy on the outside and has black flat seeds on the insides"? We were soon gesturing at each other, like in a charade, trying our best to explain what a ciku is - and failing miserably at the task.

Back to the matter at hand? have we learnt to rely so thoroughly on our very own form of language that we are actually quite a handicap when outside of our own boundaries? Is the Malaysian infamous Manglish taking such a big role in our lives? Indeed, over the years and with so many changes to our cultural lifestyle, it is not a surprising fact that our English tend to be mangled!

I am not referring to plain bad English with all its grammatical errors and inarticulate pronunciation. This is far more interesting. This is Manglish (Malaysian English) as it is fondly known and best of all... it is our very own brand of language. I have friends who are non-native speakers testing out the language and have come across as totally funny. I have also friends who simply cannot understand what I was talking about. Is Manglish that difficult to understand, I asked?

For the uninitiated, Manglish is not as simple as adding the suffix lah at the end of every sentence. For example, "What time is it now lah?" is, by Manglish standard, a little incorrect. I will give you the reasoning in a short while.

Aside from the famous lah, there are also other well-known suffixes. Ah, mah, loh, meh, wan, and liow are amongst the commonly used ones. The fusion of suffixes used actually reflects the dialects of various ethnic groups in the country. Some are derived from the Hokkiens, some Hakka, some Cantonese, and some Malays. Put all that together, blend them together with some English, and there you have it - our very own form of colloquial English. In fact, Manglish is so often used that it is very much part of the Malaysian culture scene.

Proper Manglish is actually quite economical. Mincing words as you go along has helped most of us speak real fast and straight to the point. English words that are simply too difficult to pronounce has been removed and replace with simpler Malay words. If you do not know what water apple is, say jambu air and everyone knows what that is! In fact, I dare make a bet that majority of Malaysians will stare at you blankly if you asked them for water apple. Aside from the suffixes, there are also the flavorings that need to be added to the language. Words like aiya, wah, aiseh, and chey are add-ons to complete Manglish.

Let's backtrack a little.

"What time is it now lah?" is, as mentioned earlier, not so right by Manglish standard. The correct way to say it is like this, "What time ah?" It does not mean just because there is a lah somewhere in there makes it proper Manglish. And also, the second sentence shortens the sentence by half, and that is utmost important in Manglish. Sometimes, you use an ah, and sometimes it should be wan. Like this, "No need to pay wan lah?" (Meaning: You do not need to pay for that item).

The language is just so fluent to us that it simply rolls off our tongue without requiring much of a thought. It is deeply ingrained into each Malaysian and it slices through the butter like a hot knife. Instead of saying, "Do you think this is a good idea?" You can easily shorten it to, "Good or not ah?" Another example, "Why are you looking at me this way?" can be shorten to "See what?" And this "The treat is mine". A Malaysian will say "No nit (need) lah!"

Although I am totally all out for my own country's Manglish, yet this much I must admit. The language is rather harsh at times and well, can be quite rude if properly (or improperly) used. When I said harsh, I meant that the language sounded quite rude when spoken. Perhaps this is the reason why I tend to lapse back to good English when in a foreign country. Aiseh? why like this one leh?" (Why is the situation like this?)

Of course, there is also a separate group of Malaysians who simply think they are too highbrowed for the rest of the lowly Manglish-speaking society. This group swore by their pet's grave that they would never defile the English language and so tend to speak with peculiar accents.

However, if these people want to be LCLY (proud), I donch (don't) care. I like to spik (speak) like tis, cannot meh? You no like, no like lah? you think I sked ah? I also donch wan to tok to people like dat one. Think themselves so good, speak English one kind only. Never see properly their own skin color, acshion (action) oni. Bah! I also donch wan to write so much liow. After some people think I so cheong hei (long winded). Then noberdee read my article liow, then die lor me?

Oi. You see wat? Never see pretty girl before is it? Pigi (go) lah you? Kacau-kacau (disturbing) oni.