Anda di halaman 1dari 21

Asian Englishes

ISSN: 1348-8678 (Print) 2331-2548 (Online) Journal homepage:

Evolutionary Patterns of New Englishes and the

Special Case of Malaysian English

Edgar W. Schneider

To cite this article: Edgar W. Schneider (2003) Evolutionary Patterns of New

Englishes and the Special Case of Malaysian English, Asian Englishes, 6:2, 44-63, DOI:

To link to this article:

Published online: 11 Mar 2014.

Submit your article to this journal

Article views: 218

View related articles

Citing articles: 2 View citing articles

Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at

Download by: [University of Nottingham - Malaysia Campus] Date: 01 November 2016, At: 22:22
04.Articles(Schn-final 04.5.11 2:35 PM 44

Evolutionary Patterns of New Englishes

and the Special Case of Malaysian English


Abstract: This article presents a model which argues that a fundamentally uniform
developmental process, shaped by consistent historical, sociolinguistic and language-
contact conditions, has operated in the emergence of New Englishes, and it applies this
framework to a discussion of the evolution and some present-day features and usage
characteristics of Malaysian English. The Dynamic Model of the evolution of New
Englishes, which builds upon the mutual identity definitions by the parties involved in a
colonization process and describes five consecutive phases of evolution, is sketched
briefly. It is shown that the early history of English in Malaysia, from the establishment
of the colony of Penang to independence, conforms nicely to the generalizations made for
the first two phases, called foundation and exonormative stabilization and marked by
gradually expanding elite bilingualism and slight linguistic transfer. Malaysias
nationalist language policy of the 1960s and after impeded the further expansion and
development of English in the country; nevertheless, it is shown that Malaysian English
has progressed deeply into the third phase of nativization, being widely used in the
country in various domains and employed as a carrier of a local identity having developed
distinctive features of its own. Recent redirections of educational policy have given new
weight and impetus to English in Malaysia in a complex sociolinguistic setting.


The English language as spoken in Malaysia shares much of its history and some
of its distinctive properties with other Asian varieties of the language, but in recent
decades, due to the nationalistic language policy that the country has pursued since
independence, it has been on the retreat (a trend which now seems to be reversing
again). This paper looks at the historical emergence of English in Malaysia and
some recent characteristics of Malaysian English in a coherent and holistic
framework. This framework is based on the Dynamic Model of the evolution of New
Englishes (Schneider 2003), which claims that a uniform psycholinguistic and
sociolinguistic process, with characteristic structural ramifications, underlies the
emergence of all New Englishes. In essence, with loosening ties with the mother
country leading to independence, both colonizers and settlers from (mostly) Britain

1 This is the written version of a lecture given at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in Bangi on the 12th
Dec. 2003. I extend my sincerest thanks to Prof. Saran Kaur Gill for inviting me to give this lecture and
to contribute it to this special issue and to the participants for their interesting and most welcome
reactions. In particular, I would like to thank the group of students who after the lecture spent more than
an hour with me, sharing their thoughts and attitudes on their nation and its linguistic complexities.

04.Articles(Schn-final 04.5.11 2:35 PM 45

Evolutionary Patterns of New Englishes and the Special Case of Malaysian English

and the indigenous population realise that they have to forge a new nationhood
together, and these new identity constructions may find expression in a newly-
emerging variety of English, the result of a characteristic series of structural
evolution processes which result from long-term, pre- and post-independence
language contact. It is claimed that this evolutionary process proceeds along five
subsequent, characteristic stages, each of which has political, sociopsychological,
sociolinguistic and structural properties that characterise it.
The following section outlines the main ideas and pertinent components of this
Dynamic Model. For a fuller documentation, discussion, and application to further
countries, the reader is referred to Schneider (2003), where a concise tabular
summary of the main stages and components is also provided (255). The main part
of this paper will characterise the evolution and the present status of Malaysian
English in the light of this model.


Central to the Dynamic Model are several theoretical influences: identity theory
(the assumption that human behaviour, including linguistic behaviour, defines and
delimitates social group bonds as correlates of an individuals social identity;
Jenkins 1996), accommodation theory (the assumption that cooperative speakers
adjust their mutual linguistic behaviour to express their solidarity with each other;
Giles 1984), and language contact theory (which predicts that specific types of
language contact typically result in specific linguistic changes; Thomason 2001).
Establishing ones identity means defining the line of distinction between us
versus others, a differentiation which is then given symbolic expression, most
readily by linguistic means. In other words, talking in a certain way implies ones
desire to associate with others who talk the same way, and thus creates social bonds.
In a post-colonial context, this redefinition of who we and the others are
typically changes from a line of identity demarcation separating immigrants from
the regions original population to the establishment of a joint identity, based not
upon history but upon shared territory. In the early stages of colonial history
immigrant colonizers and the indigenous population consider themselves distinct
from each other, but in the course of time they have come to realise that they share a
joint future and constitute the population of a new, culturally hybrid nation an
identity construction which in many cases finds expression in a new variety of
Hence, the Dynamic Model of the Evolution of New Englishes (Schneider
2003) builds upon the following central assumptions:

04.Articles(Schn-final 04.5.11 2:35 PM 46

Asian Englishes, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2003

(1) In the process of the English language being uprooted and relocated in
colonial and post-colonial history, New Englishes have emerged by
undergoing a fundamentally uniform process which can be described as a
progression of five characteristic stages: foundation, exonormative
stabilization, nativization, endonormative stabilization, and differentiation.
(2) The participant groups of this process experience it in complementary ways,
from the perspective of the colonizers (settlers strand), that of the colonized
(indigenous strand), or that of other parties involved in colonial settings, like
later immigrant groups (adstrate strand). In the course of time these
developmental strands get more closely intertwined and their linguistic
correlates, in an ongoing process of mutual linguistic accommodation,
approximate each other.
(3) The stages and strands of this process are ultimately caused by and signify
reconstructions of group identities of all participating communities, with
respect to the erstwhile source society of the colonizing group, to one
another, and to the land which they jointly inhabit.

In phase 1, Foundation, English begins to be used on a regular basis in a

country which was not English-speaking before through the activities of colonists,
settlers, traders, soldiers, or missionaries. The indigenous population experiences a
restriction or loss of their sovereignty in some form, having to share their land with
the newcomers. Typically, indigenous languages were spoken in this area, so a
complex contact situation emerges. Contact with speakers of indigenous languages
tends to remain restricted in this early phase, impeded by the inability to understand
each other and by different concerns and needs. Typically, invading and occupying
groups, who tend to be dominant in political, military, and economic terms, do not
bother to learn indigenous languages. Marginal bilingualism develops among a
minority of the local population, speakers who interact with the immigrants as
traders, translators or guides, or in some form of political activity. At this stage,
indigenous languages usually do not influence the English spoken by the settler
community much, with the notable exception of place names, which are always
amongst the earliest and most persistent borrowings.
Phase 2, Exonormative stabilization, sets in when after a while the colony or
settlers community stabilizes politically, normally under foreign, i.e. mostly British,
dominance, whatever the precise political status may be. Linguistically, this can be
regarded as a phase of a stable and regular use of English in new environments, but
with a conservative and unaltered, distant norm orientation: The external norm,
usually British English, is accepted as a linguistic standard of reference, without
much consideration given to that question. At the same time, underneath this

04.Articles(Schn-final 04.5.11 2:35 PM 47

Evolutionary Patterns of New Englishes and the Special Case of Malaysian English

assumption of being culturally and linguistically an outpost of Britain, changes and

adjustments to the local environment start to creep in and slowly but gradually
modify the nature of English as spoken in a new country. The English-speaking
settlers, who perceive themselves as representatives of their nation of origin in a
foreign land, Englishmen both challenged and enriched by their foreign exposure
and experience, begin to adopt local vocabulary, at first predominantly for the local
fauna and flora, followed by words for cultural conventions or other non-English
customs. At the same time, bilingualism typically spreads among the indigenous
population, largely through education and is frequently associated with a relatively
higher social status. A command of English gradually turns into an ability which sets
off an indigenous elite whose identity is that of local leaders enriched by their
contact with and knowledge of English; and, therefore, a process leading to a
positive attitude towards the use of English is stimulated. This is also the kick-off
phase for the process which is linguistically the most important and interesting one,
viz. structural nativization: as soon as a population group starts to shift to a new
language, some (largely unrecorded) transfer phenomena on the levels of phonology
and structure are bound to occur, so in this phase the earliest structural
peculiarities emerge, if only slowly.
Phase 3, Nativization, is the most important, the most vibrant phase, the
transition from the acceptance of a distant mother country as the source of both
political power and linguistic and cultural guidance to gradual independence or at
least a phase of striving towards it. Bonds between the mother country and the
(former) colony get looser, a process which influences the identities of the settlers:
When the mother country is gradually not felt that much of a mother any longer,
the offspring will start going their own ways, politically and linguistically slowly
and hesitantly at first, gaining momentum and confidence as time passes by.
Awareness of the deviance of local linguistic usage from old norms of correctness
grows, and tends to result in a characteristic complaint tradition, the stereotypical
statement that linguistic usage keeps deteriorating. Such discussions indicate
insecurity about linguistic norms: Is the old, external norm still the only correct
one, as conservative circles tend to hold, or can local usage really be accepted as
correct simply on account of being used by a significant proportion of the
population, including educated speakers? Such questions are typically raised in
public, and the process of transition is marked by an increasing readiness to accept
localized forms in the course of time, gradually also in formal contexts.
This stage also results in the heaviest effects on the restructuring of the English
language itself. This is perhaps most conspicuous on the level of vocabulary, with
heavy lexical borrowings also but not exclusively for further cultural terms.
However, the English language now changes also structurally. Speakers will

04.Articles(Schn-final 04.5.11 2:35 PM 48

Asian Englishes, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2003

consistently show a marked local accent (frequently caused by transfer from the
phonology of indigenous languages), and they will nativize the language
grammatically by using constructions peculiar to the respective country. Indigenous
usage will start as preferences, variant forms used by some while at the same time a
majority of others will still stick to the old patterns; then it will develop into a habit,
used most of the time and by a rapidly increasing number of speakers, until in the
end it has turned into a rule, constitutive of the new variety and adopted by the vast
majority of language users, with a few exceptions tolerated. It is interesting to
observe that this indigenization of language structure mostly occurs on a lexico-
grammatical level, where individual words, typically high-frequency words, adopt
characteristic but marked usage and complementation patterns. Hence, we typically
find innovations in areas such as varying prepositional usage, varying verb
complementation patterns, the emergence of localized set phrases, or word-
formation products.
Phase 4, Endonormative stabilization, is marked by the gradual adoption and
acceptance of an indigenous linguistic norm, fostered by a new, locally rooted
linguistic self-confidence, even if discussions about norms of linguistic correctness
continue. This phase typically requires that political independence has been
obtained: For a local norm to be accepted also in formal contexts, it is necessary that
a community is entitled to decide language matters as affairs of her own. By this
point a community has largely reached an understanding that the new local norm
shall be accepted as adequate also in formal usage. Psycholinguistically, it is
important that the new language variety is typically regarded as a carrier of a new
regional identity, and is thus positively evaluated. For a language to gain official
recognition it is important that it is gradually codified, i.e., local usage is recorded in
accepted sources of reference like dictionaries, grammars and usage guides and
the publication of such books, in turn, strengthens the distinct dignity and
acceptance of the new variety. In addition, these attitudes are reflected by the new
variety being employed for literary writing, creative expressions of the new,
culturally hybrid identity by means of the newly adopted language variety.
By the last phase, Differentiation, the emergence of a new variety of English
trails off. Politically and culturally, and as a consequence also linguistically, a new
nation has reached not only independence, having freed herself from some external
dominant source of power and orientation, but even self-dependence, an attitude of
relying on ones own strengths, with no need to be compared to anybody elses.
Such a new, solid basis allows for more internal diversity, so at this stage new
regional and social varieties within the formerly new varieties emerge, as carriers of
new social identities within the overall community.
The next section of the paper examines whether the model is applicable to the

04.Articles(Schn-final 04.5.11 2:35 PM 49

Evolutionary Patterns of New Englishes and the Special Case of Malaysian English

history of English in Malaysia and what it teaches us about the specifics of

Malaysian English in its historical and present contexts.


Schneider (2003:260) argues that Malaysian English has progressed into stage 3
and is currently undergoing nativization. On the other hand, the last deliberately
decided nationalistic language policy which the country pursued for a few decades
raises the question whether its development has come to be halted along the road, as
it were. Therefore, I will be looking at the development of Malaysian English
specifically in the light of the Dynamic Model.2 Particular emphasis will be paid to
evidence of structural nativization, the micro-sociolinguistic, strictly linguistic side
of the indigenization process.

3.1. The Early Phase (1+2) (1786-1957)

The early stages of the transportation of English to and the spread of the
language in Malaysia are fairly well documented (e.g. Platt, Weber & Ho 1983;
Asmah 2000; Gill 2002; Nair-Venugopal 2000), and up to the countrys
independence in 1957 the developments appear to conform nicely with stages 1 and
2 of the Model. The British came to the region to establish secure trading outposts
and, at the same time, to challenge the economic and political power of other
European nations in the region, most notably the Dutch.
It all began with the establishment of the colony of Penang in 1786, as a safe
harbour for the East India Company. After some struggle, in 1824 Melaka was
ultimately taken over from the Dutch, and soon thereafter the Straits Settlement,
comprising the core British possessions of Penang, Melaka, and Singapore, were
united. Throughout much of the nineteenth century, until it gained the status of a
crown colony in 1889, the colony was governed from India, which accounts for quite
some impact of Indian English (which had been established earlier) in the early
shaping of its variety through the immigration and employment of many Indians, for
instance as teachers in English-medium schools (Platt, Weber & Ho 1983:8).
Throughout the second half of the nineteenth as well as the early phase of the
twentieth century the British influence expanded politically and geographically, if

2 The fundamental applicability of such a cyclic model, similar in orientation though slightly different in
detail, is confirmed by Gill (2002:69ff), who posits a Dependent / Exonormative Phase, an
Independent / Liberation and Expansion Phase, and a Pragmatic Post-Independence / Endonormative

04.Articles(Schn-final 04.5.11 2:35 PM 50

Asian Englishes, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2003

only rather slowly. In the Treaty of Pangkor of 1874 a British advisor to the Sultan
of Perak was established, and 1896 saw the foundation of the Federation of Malaya,
subject to the jurisdiction of a British Resident General.
Large-scale population movements caused by the British during that period are
the basis of Malaysias present-day multicultural make-up. Notwithstanding
migrations of smaller groups and the presence of indigenous Orang Asli, two major
adstrate groups were attracted: Mostly throughout the second half of the nineteenth
century Chinese people came to work in the tin mines; and predominantly the early
twentieth century saw the immigration of Indian (primarily Tamil) workers to labour
in the rubber plantations. In addition, the British colonial government provided
incentives for smaller groups to migrate as well and to bring into effect their own
special skills like the Punjabi Sikhs, who originally constituted a strong portion
of the police force.
With the stable colonial status of the 19th and 20th centuries came an ever-
increasing demand for English. English-medium schools, run both by Christian
missions and the government, were established, beginning early in the 19th century
in the Straits Settlement but gradually spreading to the Malay states as well. The
goal of these institutions was strictly utilitarian, serving the interests of the British:
to train a local elite for administrative and service functions, and essentially formal
access to English was a privilege to those of higher status amongst the indigenous
population. This attitude is epitomised by the establishment of the Malay College of
Kuala Kangsar (known as MCKK) in the 1920s, a boarding school reserved for the
sons of the Malay rulers and those of noble birth which nurtured civil servants and
top administrators (Asmah 2000:13); in a similar vein, the foundation of a
corresponding girls school, the MGC in KL as late as in 1947, was originally meant
to educate suitable matches as partners for the local elite. Education at these
institutions implied complete immersion into English: when the British began to
withdraw from the area in the late 1950s, English had become the dominant
language of the non-European elites, both as a language of power and prestige and
as an inter-ethnic link language (Lowenberg 1991:365). This educational policy had
long-lasting effects that went beyond what the British had had in mind: English-
medium education in these institutions created inter-ethnic bonds and established a
value system that soon thereafter paved the way to a desire for independence.
Certainly through many daily interactions and also some less upwardly orientated
institutions, also through stipends for the gifted but less affluent, English in that
period also spread beyond these social confines into the vernacular domain, but only
hesitantly so: English prior to Independence in 1957 had an exclusionist-cum-
divisive function (Asmah 1996:515).
The colonial period of 1786 to 1957 quite clearly corresponds to phases 1 and 2

04.Articles(Schn-final 04.5.11 2:35 PM 51

Evolutionary Patterns of New Englishes and the Special Case of Malaysian English

of the Dynamic Model. In that light, the following constituent factors and details
peculiar to Malaysia can be identified:
* The political status of the region, including but going beyond political entities
like the Straits Settlement and the Federated Malay States, was fully in line
with the model, leading from the arrival of the English and their language to a
long-term stable colonial status, with the Empire gradually expanding its
sphere of influence and dominance.
* In Malaya, the transition from phase 1 to phase 2 cannot be dated precisely,
having been marked by a gradual extension of the colonial grip and impact. In
that respect the region is not a unity, because British influence and power
spread slowly and gradually from a small number of coastal enclaves along the
coastal regions and into the interior as well as, even later, to the states of
Sarawak and Sabah. The implication is that the onset of phase 2, a stable,
exonormative colonial orientation, can be dated perhaps a century earlier in
Penang and Melaka than, for instance, in the non-Federated States.
* Malaya was a trade settlement in Mufwenes (2001) terms, i.e. British in-
migrants performed functions in the interest of the Empire and their trade
company but did not perceive themselves as settlers in the strict sense;
therefore, the breadth and impact of the settlers strand, like the number of
expatriate residents, were relatively limited.
* To a large extent the identity writings of the parties involved, European settlers
and the Asian indigenous population, were in line with the models predictions.
Agents and representatives of the Empires perceived themselves as British
outposts in the tropics an identity construction which renowned authors like
Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad and Anthony Burgess have represented in
English literature and which we see symbolized in the Hill Stations which
the British established, preserving a reminiscence of a home environment in a
foreign climate. Conversely, it is clear that the indigenous rulers accepted an
English education for their sons and also daughters as an enriching
contribution to their enduring local roots and status.
* Consequently, as predicted, in the indigenous strand bilingualism spread
continuously, although locally it remained largely associated with elitism and
reserved to a minority.
* The distinctively Malay setting was enriched by the growth and importance of
Chinese and Indian adstrate communities throughout colonial history.
Sociolinguistically, these two groups can be compared to the ethnic Malays but
adopt distinct accommodation strategies of their own. In a global British
perspective the Chinese and Indians, together with the original Malays,
constituted the Asian, in a broader regional, i.e. non-European, sense

04.Articles(Schn-final 04.5.11 2:35 PM 52

Asian Englishes, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2003

indigenous population. An additional cross-ethnically unifying force was the

fact that the upper echelons of the Chinese and Indian population segments
shared the orientation towards British education and culture as a worthy goal
of their efforts; consequently, a shared Malaysian (versus British) leaders
identity, transcending ethnic boundaries, was gradually forged. At the same
time, ethnolinguistic boundaries have been preserved (and appear to have been
reinforced by the governments categorization of the population and
distribution of certain privileges by Bumiputra vs. non-Bumi status after
independence). Also, the Asian immigrant groups have positioned themselves
successfully and distinctively within the Malaysian society, being, broadly
speaking, more urban in outlook than the more rurally and traditionally
orientated Malays. This has tended to go along with different professional
orientations, with many Chinese having prospered in small-scale businesses
and trade, and more than an average number of Indians working as doctors,
lawyers or higher administrators. Consequently, to the present day both groups
have tended to adopt English more readily than the Malays.
* Finally, the structural effects typically associated with phases 1 and 2 also
apply. The earliest and most persistent foreign elements that entered English
(some actually predating the colonial period itself) were mainly toponyms:
While a few localities important to the British were given English names (like
Georgetown, Cameron Highlands, Port Dickson, or Frasers Hill), place names
are overwhelmingly indigenous in origin (like Penang, Selangor, Perak,
Seremban, Kuala Terengganu, Kota Bahru, and many others). Soon thereafter
these were followed by indigenous borrowings for fauna and flora (orang-utan,
for which the OED gives the earliest citation date of 1631, rusa kind of deer
1783, kanchil species of chevrotain 1829, tupaia Malaysian squirrel 1820,
seladang gaur 1821, mengkulang timber tree 1940) and culturally
significant terms (temenggong high-ranking official 1783, adat 1783, tuak
palm wine 1850, mee goreng, merdeka 1954, etc.).

3.2. Halted Development? The Impact of Malaysias Nationalist Language


With the constitution of 1957, the cutting back of the role of English began.
English was retained as a co-official language in addition to Malay for a transition
period, but the pronounced intention was to develop Malay into a national language
and to remove this special status of English after a ten-year transition period. Due to
regional differences caused by the union with part of Borneo this period was
extended somewhat: The official status of English ceased in peninsular Malaysia in

04.Articles(Schn-final 04.5.11 2:35 PM 53

Evolutionary Patterns of New Englishes and the Special Case of Malaysian English

1967, in Sabah in 1973, and in Sarawak in 1985 (Asmah 2000:15). Formally, the
National Language Act of 1976 ... disestablished English as the joint official
language, giving sole status to Malay (Gill 2002:25).
The policy of replacing English by Bahasa Malaysia was also an element in the
power struggle between the Malays and the successful and increasingly influential
Chinese and South Asians (Lowenberg 1991:365). Depriving English of its formerly
privileged status was a logical, in a sense an unavoidable step on the side of the
government, as Gill (2002) points out otherwise, no room would have been left
for the full development of Bahasa Malaysia. In practice the most important step in
the implementation of the new policy was the Ministry of Educations decision to
turn all English-medium schools into Malay-medium, beginning in 1969, a process
which was completed, reaching university entrance level, by 1983. Today, it is
widely accepted that Bahasa Malaysia has securely established its position as a truly
national language (Jernudd 2003:59). On the one hand, in many regions of rural
Malaysia, English is of little use; on the other, it is true that young Malaysians of all
ethnicities are fully conversant in and comfortable with the Malay language.
It is perhaps this security that has resulted from the practical success of the
national language policy, the fact that Bahasa Malaysia is fully entrenched in the
nation now without serious challenges, that has allowed a partial redirection of the
nations language policy that started in the early 1990s. This newly pragmatic
orientation was presumably triggered, certainly fostered by the former Prime
Minister Dr. Mahathirs policy of Vision 2020, the goal of turning Malaysia into a
fully developed country by that year. The implied emphasis on globalization and
technological advancement requires full fluency in English on the side of Malaysian
engineers and businesspeople, amongst others. Consequently, the Education Act of
1996 approved of the re-introduction of English as a medium of instruction in
technical subjects. On the other hand, there is a Malay intelligentsia in the country,
represented by the Malay Intellectual Congress, who resisted the early proposals in
1993 to re-introduce English as a medium of instruction in the sciences (for
documentation see Gill 2002:110-112; cf. Nair-Venugopal 2000:49), arguing that it
would weaken the further development of the Malay language. Hence, it was only in
2003 that the new English-medium policy for teaching Maths and the Sciences was
put into effect. In sum, Malaysias recent language policy has been marked by non-
linear developments and opposing tensions and tendencies,3 and it is too early to
predict its long-term effects.

3 The tensions can be sensed reading Gill (2002), a book which strongly argues in favour of upholding
high standards of Malaysian English for the Malaysian business community and also for the population
at large to be able to empower themselves and create opportunities on the Malaysian and international

04.Articles(Schn-final 04.5.11 2:35 PM 54

Asian Englishes, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2003

3.3. Towards Nativization: Indicators of Phase 3

Given the developments of the last few decades, where does Malaysian English
stand, then, in the light of the Dynamic Model? I claim that despite the opposing
forces just discussed it has proceeded substantially into phase 3, nativization.

3.3.1. Politics, identity, and sociolinguistsics of language use

Politically, the characteristics of phase 3 apply: Malaysia gained her
independence decades ago but retains loose ties with Britain, for instance through
membership in the Commonwealth. The same can be stated for the identity
constructions of the various population groups. The number of expatriate Malaysians
of exclusively European ancestry is very small, but their heritage is also accepted by
the minority group of so-called Eurasians, people of mixed European and Asian
descent; their identity is clearly genuinely Malaysian but at the same time accepting
a part-European heritage. Similarly, the Malays and also the other major population
groups at least those who had an English-medium education see themselves
both as Malaysians and as members of their respective ethnic groups in addition to
the experience of the colonial British heritage which has influenced their world
In terms of its sociolinguistic status and domains of usage, English is still widely
spread and deeply rooted in the country, most notably in urban environments.
Bilingualism in English and Malay, and multilingualism in these two plus further
ethnic languages, are extremely common. In inter-ethnic communication, English
still holds a very strong position: The mesolect is the variety that is used for
intranational communication, between Malaysians of varying ethnicity, as a medium
of local communication (Gill 2002:52). In addition, English has been undergoing
nativization, i.e. it is being acquired as a mother tongue by some Malaysians: In
Kuala Lumpur and other urban areas of Malaysia there has emerged a new
generation of Malaysians for whom English has become the first language and by
whom the original ancestral language has been discarded (David 2000:65). While
this is of course a most significant development in the present context, it should not
be overestimated either: The proportion of native speakers of English of local origin
in present-day Malaysia mostly Eurasians but also some urban Indian and
Chinese families is relatively low (Asmah estimates it to be about one per cent of
the population), and, perhaps more importantly for an assessment of their potential
future impact, they do not form a community that can be culturally or
geographically defined (Asmah 2000:13). Still, David (2000) documents its vitality
by citing slang terms which these young Malaysians coin and use to express their
group identity.

04.Articles(Schn-final 04.5.11 2:35 PM 55

Evolutionary Patterns of New Englishes and the Special Case of Malaysian English

Beyond the issue of its native-speaker status, however, English is widely

available for daily exposure and easy acquisition, at the very least with respect to
passive language skills. English is readily accessible in the mass media, through
radio, TV, and newspapers (Nair-Venugopal 2000:48): it is noteworthy that 31.6 %
of all radio listeners listen to English radio stations (Gill 2002:85). Asmah
(2000:19) argues that English is acquired quite naturally, even if only passively, by
small children also in the kampung (village in a rural area) through watching
popular TV blockbusters: According to her findings, they tend to understand the
English TV programmes remarkably well even if they could not formulate a fluent
sentence in English. Some early, informal acquisition of English also operates
through the influence of elder siblings even in non-English speaking families (Platt,
Weber & Ho 1983:9). And finally, the fact that basilectal English is also used by
blue-collar workers, as shown by Morais (2000) and others, testifies to the range of
informal domains into which Malaysian English has diffused.
All of this evidence suggests that at least in some circles the outreach and
attraction of English in Malaysia goes significantly beyond the confines of formal,
international and business uses, attributed to it in the light of the national language
policy. Nair-Venugopal (2000) shows that in some business training sessions
informal, mesolectal Malaysian English is the natural language of choice, called for
by social needs to strengthen solidarity and decrease social distance. In other words,
in many social contexts an informal register of Malaysian English has clearly
become an unmarked language of everyday informal communication. English has
lost its much of its former elitist character (cf. also Gill 2002:91).
Even more than that, it is quite clear that mesolectal Malaysian English may
serve as a carrier of a distinctly Malaysian identity (a role which should be reserved
for Bahasa Malaysia). Here are a few pertinent statements: nativised English ... is
perfectly acceptable for communicating socially and informally and gives one a
strong sense of identity (Gill 2002:47). We have developed a generation of
Malaysians who very comfortably communicate in informal English English
which is Malaysian in identity and this is reflected by the distinct phonology
influenced by their ethnic tongues, lexical items which are socioculturally grounded
and syntactic structures which are distinctly Malaysian in form. This is the English
that is used by Malaysians to create rapport and establish our sense of identity (Gill
2002:91). ME [is] the sociolect of pan-Malaysian identity (Nair-Venugopal
2000:224). Actually, trying to adopt a native-speaker, foreign (i.e., British or
American) accent is usually rejected as put on (Salleh 2000:57-58). Quite
obviously, colloquial Malaysian English in its natural settings enjoys what
American sociolinguistic theory would label covert prestige a very powerful
force in language and dialect maintenance and evolution (Chambers 2003:241-244).

04.Articles(Schn-final 04.5.11 2:35 PM 56

Asian Englishes, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2003

3.3.2. Structural nativization: linguistic developments and effects

Malaysian English has undergone structural nativization, i.e. developed
distinctive traits and features of its own, on all levels of language organization. Of
course, some of these features are shared with other varieties, more so with those in
close geographical proximity (most notably, of course, Singapore). Some others
may be unique to Malaysian usage, but essentially it is the mix of features in their
respective sociostylistic contexts that gives each variety of English its distinctive
For the level of phonology, Zuraidah (2000) provides a comprehensive listing of
pronunciation features of what she calls Malay English, the ethnic variety
influenced by Malay as the speakers mother tongue. These include the following:

* merger of [i] and []: feel fill, bead bid all have [i]
* merger of [u] and []: pool pull, Luke look all have [u]
* merger of [e] and []: set sat, man men all have [e]
* merger of [] and []: pot port, cot caught all have [o]
* variant realizations of []: schwa tends to get replaced by a full vowel, the
quality of which frequently depends upon orthography
* monophthongization of diphthongs: e.g. coat, load with [o], make, steak with
* shift in the placement of accents.

In addition, it is obvious that Malaysian English is characterised not only by

segmental characteristics but also, and perhaps more distinctively, by
suprasegmental features, like intonation and a syllable-timed rhythm. Some
pronunciation features also set off ethnolects from each other.
According to my own observations, the following phonotactic features are
widely audible in educated Malaysian English and in the mass media:

* Omission of single coda consonants:

In monosyllabic words with a CVC structure, the final consonant may be
omitted. In the examples which I have collected the process is constrained to
voiceless stops; phonetically, omission varies with replacement by a glottal stop
(particularly when it concerns [-t]). Examples include spea(k), flo(p), priva(te),
no(t), bu(t), abou(t), wha(t), ta(lk), loo(k), go(t), a(t) home.

4 The following descriptive statements are based partly upon the literature (with sources identified) and
partly upon observations of my own during my recent stay in Malaysia in December 2003.

04.Articles(Schn-final 04.5.11 2:35 PM 57

Evolutionary Patterns of New Englishes and the Special Case of Malaysian English

* Reduction of word-final consonant clusters:

Like in many other varieties of English, in a two-consonant sequence at the end
of words the final consonant is frequently not pronounced. In all the examples I
observed the omitted consonant is an alveolar stop (a condition not found in other
dialects): earlies(t), affor(d), wen(t), an(d), stric(t), difficul(t), suppose(d),
firs(t), distric(t).

* Variant stress patterns:

Multisyllabic words are frequently stressed on syllables different from those that
receive main stress in British English. Typically, this also has consequences for the
pronunciation of certain vowels; for instances, vowels which are unstressed in BrE
and realised as schwa receive stress and a full vocalic quality. The following
examples are from educated speakers of Malaysian English in formal, public
contexts: [kdemk] academic, [kmprtens] competence, [provad]
provide, [spekt] aspect, [rsentl] recently, [kriet] create, [knsnd]

* Stops for dental fricatives:

Replacing a word-initial dental fricative by a homorganic stop is a feature which
is widespread amongst colloquial varieties of English; in Malaysia it is apparently
used higher up the sociostylistic cline than in other locations. The process seems
particularly frequent with voiceless consonants: I recorded thirty, thanks, three, and
think with an initial [t-], but also this as [ds].

* Quality of the SQUARE vowel:

To my ear, the vowel in words like there or where has a clearly monophthongal
and remarkably open quality in Malaysian English, so there is pronounced [].

On the level of morphology, what struck me as fairly widespread also in rather

formal contexts was the deletion of nominal inflectional endings, mostly the plural -
s (occasionally also a genitive -s), as exemplified by the following phrases (with
signalling zero or missing forms): you do certain thing; the difference
between your opinion and other people opinion; different person have different
perception of falling object; I was one of the earlies victim of this.
Considering the syntax of Malaysian English, the distinction between
sociostylistically defined strata is most important, of course, but essentially the
emergence of distinct structural uses can be observed on all levels. It is noteworthy
that, as predicted by the Dynamic Model, many of the innovations are located at the
interface of lexis and syntax: Many of these features ... involve the selection of

04.Articles(Schn-final 04.5.11 2:35 PM 58

Asian Englishes, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2003

complement structures (to-infinitive, -ing-participle, etc.) following particular verbs,

adjectives, etc. [... or] the use of phrases where clauses would be usual in other
varieties (Newbrook 1997:244). A large number of syntactic phenomena can be
observed in mesolectal and basilectal styles; here is a small random selection of
examples (sources: Platt, Weber & Ho 1983; Newbrook 1997; Morais 2000; 2001;
Nair-Venugopal 2000, Gill 2002):

* Missing sentence constituents:

By restricting to 300 minutes ...; because did not own an Atur telephone;
Pollution choking to death more rivers; being forced to work on rest days and
no overtime pay; They very nice to me; Is very difficul; why they don have
ready; Eh, not that expensive.

* Variant complementation patterns:

... instead of merely present detached information; ... with a view to take legal
action; ... interested to join KMT; ... ready in accepting ...; ... youll never end

* Missing concord in noun phrases:

... much ... resources; ... neither of that ...; ...much more of these qualities ...;
because of this two languages ....
In addition to these and many other features of informal Malaysian English,
there are some structures which appear in acrolectal styles as well, with varying
degrees of frequency these might constitute the core of an endonormative
orientation. Newbrook (1997:238-240) lists three such structures, namely SVO order
after no more, never (e.g. Never I am going to lend him money again.), got have as
an auxiliary with bare infinitive (e.g. I got go there before.), and already as a
completive marker preceding the verb (e.g. My father already pass away.).
My own observations suggest that certain nonstandard features show up
occasionally also in formal and public contexts, although this need not imply that
they are considered generally acceptable (which may turn out to be a long-term
result of such uses on a more regular basis, however). An example is the lack of a
plural marker in I was one of the earlies victim of this. There is one feature,
however, that struck me as almost ubiquitous in formal Malaysian English, namely
the omission of an article specifically in (pre- or post-)modified noun phrases.
Variable article usage is widely documented for New Englishes, and Asian Englishes
in particular, but in this specific structural context the ease with which Malaysian
speakers construct a noun phrase without a specifier is remarkable. Here are some
recorded examples: I was educated at University of Malaya; Study by NN

04.Articles(Schn-final 04.5.11 2:35 PM 59

Evolutionary Patterns of New Englishes and the Special Case of Malaysian English

suggested that ...; English is used at tertiary level; ... perception of falling
object; English football league has ...; and Leading diploma programs that lead
you to [] local and international degree. The last example, which I observed on a
poster advertising English courses (!) in the centre of Kuala Lumpur, indicates that
this pattern is absolutely accepted in a formal context; there is obviously no
awareness of the lack of an article in this structure being remarkable in any way.
Not surprisingly, the lexis of Malaysian English has incorporated borrowings
from indigenous languages. This includes many spheres of life, predominantly
culturally distinctive terms (e.g. tudung), including words for different ethnic kinds
of food. Lowenberg (1991:367-369) shows that Malaysian policy thrives upon what
he calls banner words; he cites gotong-royong, adat, bumiputra, or rakyat as
examples. David (2000) probes into another segment of vocabulary which is both
regionally and socially restricted, namely newly-emerged adolescent in-group slang;
she lists the following examples (amongst many others): dungu stupid, wasted
sperm useless individual, chun nice, lepak blues, bang criticise, slambar
relax, or Like reallah!
Finally, there is an additional phenomenon that can also be subsumed under the
notion of structural nativization, namely the emergence of code-shifting and code-
mixing as an unmarked communicative device. In their daily interactions speakers
who share a multilingual repertoire freely insert words from one language into a
stretch of discourse that is basically in another, or they simply mix languages in
largely unconstrained ways. It is not surprising that in a multilingual country like
Malaysia, and especially among the young who have expressly been raised
multilingually, this occurs on a fairly regular basis. There are signs that this mixed
code is assuming the role of a positive identity carrier, either in addition to or
replacing Malay and/or mesolectal English in that social function (Lowenberg
1991:372; Nair-Venugopal 2000:55; David 2000:71; cf. Malaysian students
interview statements reported below and Thompson 2003 on the same process in the

3.4. ...And Beyond??

Certainly, at this time it would be futile to claim that Malaysia has moved or is
moving beyond stage 3 of the Dynamic Model. However, in cyclic models
overlapping phenomena from successive phases are to be expected, so it may be
asked if there are any traces of even later stages discernible in Malaysia.
A feature which typically marks the transition between phases 3 and 4 is the
complaint tradition. This attitude of upholding an external norm and complaining
about the presumed loss of old standards can also be observed at times in Malaysias

04.Articles(Schn-final 04.5.11 2:35 PM 60

Asian Englishes, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2003

public discourse, in laments on falling standards of English (Asmah 1996:520; cf.

Nair-Venugopal 2000:17; Lowenberg 1991; Gill 2002), commonly voiced in
English-language newspapers.
While Malaysian English, even in its acrolectal form, is not yet accepted as
adequate in formal contexts, and the linguistic orientation is still exonormative, an
endonormative orientation and its future codification are occasionally envisaged in
statements like this: There is as yet no grammar of Malaysian English and this will
need to be written before this variety can be accepted by the local and international
community of users of English (Morais 2000:104). A few of the papers in Halimah
and Ng (2000) tentatively address the issue and possibility of accepting certain
elements of Malaysian English usage as correct in her educational system. Gill
(1999) advocates the development of endonormative standards, and Gill (2002)
presents a strong case for a future codification of Malaysian English, talking of the
need to develop our own standards, for example, Standard Malaysian English (28).
While for the time being she argues for educated non-native English as a
pedagogical model (58ff.), she also explicitly posits the existence of a pragmatic
post-independence / endonormative phase of Malaysian English (69ff.).
Literary creativity, another indicator of the acceptance of a local variety, in
Malaysian English is documented and surveyed, for instance, by Merican (2000).
Codification entails the production of dictionaries that typically also serve to
strengthen and stabilise a newly-emerged language variety, giving it the dignity that
in conservative circles goes with the availability of a reference work. As yet no
exclusive dictionary of Malaysian English is in the making, but a distinct
lexicographic coverage of Malaysian English, together with Singaporean English, has
begun with the publication of the second edition of the Times-Chambers Essential
English Dictionary (1997) and with the inclusion of Malaysian words in the
Macquarie Junior Dictionary (1999) and the Grolier International Dictionary (2000).


It is appropriate to finish a paper that has attempted to outline a dynamic

evolutionary pattern with a look into the future, and the future is the era of the young
so I would like to conclude by citing their voice. At Universiti Kebangsaan
Malaysia I was given a chance to talk for an extended period of time to a multi-ethnic
group of students on issues relating to their language attitudes and experiences, their
assessments of the current situation and language policy, and possible future
developments. Here is a brief summary of essential aspects of their views.
* An exonormative, prescriptive viewpoint, regarding only Standard,

04.Articles(Schn-final 04.5.11 2:35 PM 61

Evolutionary Patterns of New Englishes and the Special Case of Malaysian English

presumably British, English as correct, seems deeply entrenched in their

educational traditions. A linguistically purely descriptive perspective, arguing
that any language variety is fully acceptable as long as it is shared by its
speakers and serves its communicative functions appropriately in its respective
contexts, for them seems difficult to accept.
* The students believe that there is a noticeable difference between Malaysian
and Singaporean English, although the impact of ethnic differences is even
more discernible than this regional, or national, one. A student from Johor
Bahru, more than the others, insists on being able to tell a Singaporean by
his/her accent but adds that additional components of culture and lifestyle, like
dressing, add up to the perception of a difference. It is generally agreed that,
linguistically and otherwise, Singaporeans tend to be more self-confident than
Malaysians, and this shows.
* They all, irrespective of ethnic backgrounds, fully accept Bahasa Malaysia as
the national language, and confirm that they use it freely in all contexts and are
fully at ease with it.
* Confronted with Asmahs statement Malay and English are both essential in
nation-building (2000:20), the students reject the implied binarism, the focus
of Malaysias language policy upon these two languages exclusively. Instead,
students, particularly those of non-Malay descent, would like to see their own
ethnic native languages recognised more generally as important elements of
the countrys heritage and reality.
* They are also suspicious of the compartmentalization of languages associated
with different topics, implied in the new policy of teaching only Maths and
Sciences in English. Instead, they feel that it should be possible to use any
language to discuss any subject, also in education.
* Certainly speaking good English is a goal worth striving for these students.
They do not associate a standard, British or American-oriented accent with a
negatively evaluated attitude of putting on.
* At the same time, they unanimously accept the propositions that a mesolectal
variety of Malaysian English is widely used to express in-group solidarity in
informal contexts and that such an accent is also a carrier of a Malaysian
* Interestingly enough, however, they seem emotionally even more attached to
the practice of continuously mixing the languages which they command,
mainly but not exclusively Malay and English. This topic caused them to
become most strongly personally involved in our conversation. They clearly
state that code-mixing for them seems the most natural way of using and
choosing between languages and felt it to be a most direct expression of their

04.Articles(Schn-final 04.5.11 2:35 PM 62

Asian Englishes, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2003


In sum, it can be stated that the Malaysian students I talked to wish to see the
cultural and linguistic heritage of Malaysia recognised and employed in all of its
richness and diversity.


Asmah, Haji Omar. 1996. Post-imperial English in Malaysia. In Joshua A.

Fishman, Andrew W. Conrad and Alma Rubal-Lopez (eds.), Post-imperial
English: Status change in former British and American colonies 1840-1990.
Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 513-555.
Asmah, Haji Omar. 2000. From imperialism to Malaysianisation: A discussion of
the path taken by English towards becoming a Malaysian language. In
Halimah and Ng (eds.), 2000. 12-25.
Chambers, Jack K. 2003. Sociolinguistic theory. 2nd ed. Oxford, Malden:
David, Maya Khemlani. 2000. The language of Malaysian youth an exploratory
study. In Halimah and Ng (eds.), 2000. 64-72.
Gill, Saran Kaur. 1999. Standards and linguistic realities of English in the
Malaysian workplace. World Englishes 18:2. 215-231.
Gill, Saran Kaur. 2002. International communication: English language challenges
for Malaysia. Serdang: Universiti Putra Malaysia.
Giles, Howard. (eds.) 1984. The dynamics of speech accommodation. (International
Journal of the Sociology of Language 46.) Berlin, New York: Mouton de
Grolier International Dictionary. World English in an Asian Context. 2000.
Macquarie University NSW: Macquarie Library Pty.
Halimah, Mohd Said and Ng Keat Siew (eds.) 2000. English is an Asian language:
The Malaysian context. Kuala Lumpur: Persatuan Bahasa Moden Malaysia and
Sydney: Macquarie Library.
Jenkins, Richard. 1996. Social identity. London: Routledge.
Jernudd, Bjrn. 2003. Development of national language and management of
English in East and Southeast Asia. In Humphrey Tonkin and Timothy Reagan
(eds.), Language in the 21st century. Amsterdam,Philadelphia: Benjamins. 59-66.
Lowenberg, Peter. 1991. Variation in Malaysian English: The pragmatics of
languages in contact. In Jenny Cheshire (ed.), English around the World:
Sociolinguistic Perspectives. 364-375.
Macquarie Junior Dictionary. 1999. Macquarie University, NSW: The Macquarie

04.Articles(Schn-final 04.5.11 2:35 PM 63

Evolutionary Patterns of New Englishes and the Special Case of Malaysian English

Library Pty.
Merican, Fadillah. 2000. Going native and staying strong: Malaysian fiction in
English. In Halimah and Ng (eds.), 2000. 107-38.
Morais, Elaine. 2000. Talking in English but thinking like a Malaysian: insights
from a car assembly plant. In Halimah and Ng (eds.), 2000. 90-106.
Morais, Elaine. 2001. Lectal varieties of Malaysian English. In Ooi (ed.), 2001.
Mufwene, Salikoko S. 2001. The ecology of language evolution. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Nair-Venugopal, Shanta. 2000. Language choice and communication in Malaysian
business. Bangi: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
Newbrook, Mark. 1997. Malaysian English: Status, norms, some grammatical and
lexical features. In Edgar W. Schneider (ed.), Englishes around the world. Vol.
2: Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Australasia. (Varieties of English Around the
World, G18, G19) Amsterdam, Philadelphia: Benjamins. 229-256.
Platt, John, Heidi Weber and Mian Lian Ho. 1983. Singapore and Malaysia.
(Varieties of English Around the World, T4) Amsterdam, Philadelphia:
Salleh, Habibah. 2000. Which English? And, does it matter? In Halimah and Ng
(eds.), 2000. 57-63.
Schneider, Edgar W. 2003. The dynamics of New Englishes: From identity
construction to dialect birth. Language 79:3. 233-281.
Thomason, Sarah G. 2001. Language contact: An introduction. Washington, DC:
Georgetown University Press.
Thompson, Roger M. 2003. Filipino English and Taglish: Language switching from
multiple perspectives. (Varieties of English Around the World, G31)
Amsterdam, Philadelphia: Benjamins.
Times-Chambers Essential English Dictionary. 1997. 2nd ed. Singapore: Federal
Zuraidah, Mohd Don. 2000. Malay + English -> a Malay variety of English vowels
and accent. In Halimah and Ng (eds.), 2000. 35-45.

Prof. Dr. Edgar W. Schneider

Chair of English Linguistics
University of Regensburg
Department of English and American Studies
D-93040 Regensburg, Germany
Fax: +49-941-9431990