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MALAYSIAN ENGLISH. The English language in Malaysia, a country of South-East Asia, a member of the COMMONWEALTH and ASEAN. The name Anglo-Malay has been used to describe the variety that emerged during colonial times among expatriates and a local élite, serving as the vehicle through which such words as compound/kampong, durian, orang utan, and sarong have passed into GENERAL ENGLISH. Some English-medium schools were established in the 19c (in Penang in 1816, Singapore 1823, Malacca 1826, and Kuala Lumpur 1894), at the same time as Malay, Chinese, and Tamil schools were encouraged. Those members of the various ethnic groups who were educated in the English-medium schools came to use English increasingly in their occupations and their daily life; the 1957 census reported 400,000 people (some 6% of the population) as claiming to be literate in the language. When the British began to withdraw in the late 1950s, English had become the dominant language of the non-European élite, and with independence became with Malay the ‘alternate official language’. However, the National Language Act of 1967 established Malay (renamed Bahasa Malaysia in 1963) as the sole official language, with some exceptions in such areas as medicine, banking, and business. Among Malaysians, the term Malaysian English tends to refer to a more or less controversial variety that centres on the colloquialisms of those educated at the English-medium schools. Its essence is distilled in the cartoons of K. H. Boon in the Malaysian Post: ‘Myself so thin don't eat, can die one, you know?’

English-medium education expanded after independence; there were close to 400,000 students in such schools when, in 1969, the Ministry of Education decided that all English-medium schools would become Malay-medium. By the early 1980s, the process through which Bahasa Malaysia has become the national language of education was virtually complete, but the shift prompted widespread concern that general proficiency in English would decline. To prevent this, English has been retained as the compulsory second language in primary and secondary schools. Some 20% of the present population (c.3.4m) understands English and some 25% of city dwellers use it for some purposes in every day life. It is widely used in the media and as a reading language in higher education. There are seven English-language daily newspapers (combined circulation over 500,000) and three newspapers in Sabah published partly in English (circulation over 60,000). English is essentially an urban middle-class language, virtually all its users are bilingual, and CODE-SWITCHING is commonplace.


(1) Malaysian English and SINGAPORE ENGLISH have much in common, with the main exception that English in Malaysia is more subject to influence from Malay. (2) Pronunciation is marked by: a strong tendency to syllable-timed rhythm, and a simplification of word-final consonant clusters, as in /lɪv/ for lived. (3) Syntactic characteristics include: the countable use of some usually uncountable nouns (Pick up your chalks; A consideration for others is important); innovations in phrasal verbs (such as cope up with rather than cope with); the use of reflexive pronouns to form emphatic pronouns (Myself sick I am sick; Himself funny He is funny); and the multi-purpose particle lah, a token especially of informal intimacy (Sorry, can't come lah). (4) Local vocabulary includes: such borrowings from Malay as bumiputera (originally SANSKRIT, son of the soil) a Malay or other indigenous person, dadah illegal drugs, rakyat the people, citizens, Majlis (from ARABIC) Parliament, makan food; such special usages as banana leaf restaurant a South Indian restaurant where food is served on banana leaves, chop a rubber stamp or seal, crocodile a womanizer, girlie barber shop a hairdressing salon that doubles as a massage parlour or brothel, sensitive issues (as defined in the Constitution) issues that must not be raised in public, such as the status of the various languages used in Malaysia and the rights and privileges of the different communities; such colloquialisms as bes (from best) great, fantastic, relac (from relax) take it easy; and such hybrids as bumiputera status indigenous status, and dadah addict drug addict. See SOUTH-EAST ASIAN ENGLISH.