English in Malaysia

Postcolonial and Beyond

by Hajar Abdul Rahim (Volume editor) Shakila Abdul Manan (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection 300 Pages
Series: Linguistic Insights, Volume 183


The main thrust of this edited book is the development of Malaysian English (ME) as a new variety of English from the 1950s to the first decade of the 21st century. The book comprises nine chapters on different aspects of the variety based on original research.
The journey ME has taken as a postcolonial variety is discussed in terms of its linguistic development within the current frameworks of World Englishes (WE), particularly with regard to the evolution of new Englishes. Thus, the book discusses a range of ME linguistic and development issues such as lexis, phonology, modality, discoursal features, linguistic style and variation based on a variety of spoken, written, formal, informal, literary and non-literary language data. The findings from the studies contribute new knowledge on how ME has developed and also importantly, the realities and prospects of the variety as a dynamic and rich New English.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editors
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Postcolonial Malaysian English: Realities and Prospects: Hajar Abdul Rahim / Shakila Abdul Manan
  • Introduction
  • English in Malaysia
  • The beginning
  • ME feature pool
  • Pre-Independence to Post-Independence English in Malaysia
  • ME Realities
  • Malaysianisation
  • ME in WE
  • ME forms
  • The Malaysian English dilemma
  • ME Prospects: Beyond the Postcolonial phase
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Websites
  • Malaysian English Lexis: Postcolonial and Beyond: Hajar Abdul Rahim
  • Introduction
  • Culturally-motivated Lexis in Standard ME
  • Nativisation in Mesolectal ME lexis
  • ME Lexis – Beyond Postcolonialism
  • Conclusion
  • Acknowledgement
  • References
  • The Monophthongs and Diphthongs of Malaysian English: An Instrumental Analysis: Stefanie Pillai
  • Introduction
  • Previous Work on ME Pronunciation
  • Methodology
  • Informants and data
  • Analysis
  • Findings
  • Monophthongs
  • Diphthongs
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • Acknowledgement
  • References
  • Phonological Variation in the Speech Production of Malaysian Learners of English: Alias Abd Ghani
  • Introduction
  • Learner Language and Variation in Language Learner’s Phonology
  • Studies on Language Learner’s Phonology
  • Language Learner’s language as the Product of Stylistic Variation
  • Models of Variation in Learner Language
  • Research Methodology
  • Subjects Selection
  • Background of the Subjects
  • The Phonological Variables
  • Test Design and Content
  • Data Analysis
  • Results: The Phonological Variation of Malaysian English (ME)
  • The Target Phoneme /θ/
  • The Target Phoneme /ð/
  • Ordering of Variants and Index Scores
  • Stylistic Patterning of Variants
  • Stylistic Patterning of Phoneme /θ/
  • Stylistic Patterning of Phoneme /ð/
  • Phonological Patterning of the Target Phoneme /θ/
  • Phonological Patterning of the Target Phoneme /ð/
  • Group Performance across the Four Different Verbal Tasks
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Modal Expressions in Malaysian English: Peter Collins
  • Introduction
  • The “Evolutionary Status” of ME
  • Modality: The Modals and Quasi-Modals
  • Diachronic Variation
  • The Corpora
  • Results and Discussion
  • Modal expressions of obligation and necessity
  • Must
  • (i) Deontic must
  • (ii) Dynamic must
  • (iii) Epistemic must
  • Should
  • (i) Deontic should
  • (ii) Epistemic should
  • (iii) Quasi-subjunctive should
  • Have to
  • (i) Deontic have to
  • (iii) Dynamic have to
  • Modal expressions of prediction and volition
  • Will
  • (i) Epistemic will
  • (ii) Dynamic will
  • Be going to
  • (i) Epistemic be going to
  • (ii) Dynamic be going to
  • (iii) Deontic be going to
  • Want to
  • (i) Dynamic want to
  • (ii) Deontic want to
  • (ii) Epistemic want to
  • Conclusion
  • Acknowledgement
  • References
  • Discoursal Features of Malaysian English in Malaysian Short Stories: Rita Abdul Rahman Ramakrishna
  • A Nativised Variety: Malaysian English
  • Features of ME in Malaysian Literature in English
  • Data Sources
  • Feature 1: Borrowed Interjections
  • Feature 2: Code Mixing
  • Feature 3: Code Switching
  • Conclusion
  • Acknowledgement
  • References
  • The Linguistics of Creativity: Nativising Malaysian Postcolonial Creative Writings in English: Shakila Abdul Manan
  • Introduction
  • Literary Developments in English in Malaysia
  • Nativisation Strategies
  • Analysis and Discussion
  • Lexical borrowing
  • Syntactical and morpho-syntactical changes
  • Code switching
  • Figurative language
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Malaysian English in Postcolonial Adaptations of Shakespeare in Malaysia: Nurul Farhana Low Abdullah
  • Introduction
  • The Instant Café Theatre (ICT) and Local English Theatre
  • The Context of ICT’s adaptation of The Merchant of Venice
  • Malaysian English in Merchant
  • Local Reception to the Adaptation of Merchant
  • Romi and Joo Lee dan lain-lain
  • Conclusion
  • Acknowledgements
  • References
  • Miscommunication in Filipino-Malaysian Interactions: Intercultural Discourse in English: Francisco Perlas Dumanig / Maya Khemlani David
  • Introduction
  • English in the Philippines
  • Malaysian English
  • Intelligibility of English in Asia
  • Cultural Differences and Miscommunication in Interactions
  • Methodology
  • Findings
  • Miscommunication Due to Different Lexical Features
  • 1. The use of particle lah in Malaysian English
  • 2. Differences in lexical items and meanings
  • Miscommunication Due to Different Phonological Features
  • 1. Miscommunication due to different pronunciation
  • 2. Dropping of (r)
  • Syntactic Features
  • Miscommunication Due to Different Pragmatic Features
  • Language and Cultural Differences
  • Malaysian English and Philippine English in cross-cultural encounters
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index


Malaysian English (ME) is a new variety of English. It is a dynamic, exciting and rich variety spoken by a uniquely diverse community of speakers. With its illustrious history which dates back to the late 18th century, ME has evolved from a native variety that was dominant during the British colonial era into a localised variety. Given this and the recent developments in the field of World Englishes (WE), a publication that discusses issues on ME as a new variety of English, beyond the postcolonial phase is necessary. Comprising nine chapters, beginning with a chapter on the realities and prospects of ME, this book charts the chronological, linguistic as well as functional development of ME from the late colonial period to the first decade of the new millennium. In keeping with the theme of the evolution of ME from around the time of the country’s independence, each chapter features recently completed research related to the development of ME’s lexis, phonology, modality, discoursal features, linguistic style and variation. Based on data obtained from formal and informal settings, oral and written sources, and literary and non-literary language, the works reported in the chapters, we hope, do not only provide researchers in the area with new knowledge on ME but also contribute towards the literature on the development of New Englishes.

The book was originally mooted as a departmental book project by researchers at the English Language Studies Department, School of Humanities, Universiti Sains Malaysia. However, as the project progressed, it became clear that the project would benefit from the contribution by researchers in other institutions who are also keen ME researchers. We are therefore happy that this publication is in fact a product of a multi-institutional collaboration as the contributing authors are researchers from three different institutions within and outside Malaysia. These researchers’ interest in the area and dedication to good work that can contribute to the body of knowledge on ME, has made the publication of this edited volume possible from the time of its inception three years ago. Their patience is exemplary as they tire ← 7 | 8 → lessly worked and re-worked on their chapters to address the issues raised by the reviewers. In this connection, it goes without saying that the publication of this book, in its present form, owes much to the anonymous reviewers who generously put in the time and effort to provide authors with comments and suggestions for improvement. On behalf of the authors we extend our appreciation to all the reviewers for their kind contribution.

The collaborative effort in producing a publication such as this does not stop with the authors and reviewers. Technical support is also crucial to the success of a publication. To this end, we would like to thank Adrian Stähli at Peter Lang for his kind assistance throughout the publication process, and Rosni Habib and Nurmahfuzah Malek at Universiti Sains Malaysia Press for their help in preparing the manuscript for publication.

We would also like to acknowledge the encouragement and support given by Universiti Sains Malaysia in the form of research funding for some of the studies reported in the chapters and for the publication of this book.

Last but not least, this book on Malaysian English is a labour of love. The tremendous effort and time dedicated to its fruition will be all worthwhile when it benefits everyone who uses it in one way or another.



Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang

January 2014 ← 8 | 9 →


Postcolonial Malaysian English: Realities and Prospects

At the end of “the colonial momentum” under which English in Asia had progressed, “a new phase has begun through something like an act of deliberate choice on the part of Asians” (Fernando 1972: 71)


English in Malaysia is a postcolonial variety. It was inherited from the British who ruled Malaya for over 150 years until the country’s independence in the middle of the 20th century. Although it was initially the colonisers’ native as well as administrative language, the colonisers’ long period of abode, the nature of their stay in Malaya and the institutionalisation of English through missionary and English-medium schools, inevitably caused English to be transplanted, used and acquired by the locals. Over time, the locals’ contact with English, through formal instruction and informal interaction and usage resulted in the emergence of localised variations of the native form used by the colonizers. During British rule, the educated form used by the locals was near native and therefore considered “standard” while non-educated forms were considered deviant and stamped as ‘non-standard’. Post-independence, the command of the colonizers lingered long after they had left, but the forms that emerged during the colonial period evolved further due to various internal and external factors. The English language in Malaysia, as in many other former colonial varieties, essentially experienced naturalisation in the context of usage through readjustments at the phonological, structural and lexical levels. Present-day English in Malaysia is therefore a localised variety. It ← 9 | 10 → is Malaysian English (ME), a form of English that demonstrates the characteristics and features of a new variety of English. Malaysian speakers use English in various formal and informal situations and for various communicative purposes. The term ME therefore, represents all the various forms of English used by Malaysian speakers.

English in Malaysia

The beginning

The history of English in Malaysia began when the British landed on the island of Penang off the northwest coast of the Malay Peninsula in 1786. British presence since then, until the country’s independence in 1957, saw the English language transplanted and consequently adjusted and readjusted to local conditions and requirements to evolve into a postcolonial variety. As with other postcolonial varieties therefore, English in Malaysia is the product of specific evolutionary processes closely tied to its colonial past, which spanned over 150 years, and also importantly, to its 50 odd years of postcolonial experiences.

Mufwene theorizes that English developed in former colonized nations depending on the type of colony they were, “trade colonies”, “exploitation colonies” and “settlement colonies” (2001: 8-9). In trade colonies, the variety used between English traders and locals was not a standard one and the language contact would have caused the emergence of pidgins. However, when the nature of the colonisers’ presence morphed from trade to exploitation, there was more language contact between the colonial and local languages. Based on the language contact situation between the colonial and local languages, Malaysia or Malaya as it were, following Mufwene (2001), was an exploitation colony.

Throughout their colonisation of Malaya, naturally, the British used English as their language of administration. And to help them run the colony, the British brought in officers who were native speak ← 10 | 11 → ers of English, non-British officers from other colonies who spoke English and set-up English-medium schools to train the locals as administrators (Kirkpatrick 2007). Besides British colonial policies, Christian missionaries were also responsible for setting up English-medium schools, particularly in strategic urban locations in Malaya. The establishment of these schools, where English was the medium of instruction, essentially marked the beginning of the institutionalisation of English education in Malaya during British colonisation. The institutionalisation of English in exploitation colonies such as Malaya and India, gave rise to “non-standard and ‘school’ varieties of English” which later evolved into localised varieties, particularly post-independence (Kirkpatrick 2007).

Unlike settlement colonies like Australia and New Zealand, exploitation colonies were “to provide wealth to the colonizer” (Kirkpatrick 2011: 21). To this end, the British established its human resource for the cultivation of wealth in the Malay Peninsula not just by using local peasants but also by recruiting immigrant workers, particularly from India and China. The presence of the British colonials and the influx of immigrants in the 19th century forever altered the ecology of the dominant Malay social and linguistic spaces of the Peninsula and inevitably sowed “the seeds of Malaysia’s current multicultural and multilingual society” (Kirkpatrick 2011: 21). Thus, besides the institutionalisation of English, the change in the linguistic scenery which came about with the emergence of a culturally and linguistically diversified speech community must also play a role in the evolution of English in Malaysia. As Anchimbe points out, from a genetic linguistics perspective, “language is not an independent entity but is embedded in the life and acts of its speakers (hosts) and their community (habitat)”, and alterations in the feature pool and environment of the speech community will without fail result in changes in the language (2009: 344).

ME feature pool

Rooted in the country’s colonial history therefore, the sociolinguistic ecology of ME is rather complex. Malay is the most common lan ← 11 | 12 → guage among Malaysians but the country, in fact, has a diverse linguistic panorama of speech communities. Malaysia’s population comprises various ethnicities and hybrid communities1 but the three main ethnic groups are Malays, Chinese and Indians. The mother tongues of these speech communities are Malay (various dialects such the Northern Malay Dialect, Johor-Riau, Kelantanese, etc.), dialects of Chinese (e.g. Cantonese, Hokkien) and Indian languages (Tamil, Bengali, etc.) respectively, but generally-speaking, because of the education system of the country, Malaysians also know the English language. Therefore, the common assumption is that most Malay-Malaysians are bilingual (with differing levels of proficiency in English) while others whose mother tongue is not Malay are most probably trilingual (with differing levels of proficiency in Malay and English). In such a rich and diverse collection of speech communities, each one deeply connected to its native language and culture, the use and development of English cannot help but be influenced by local cultural environments, and the speakers’ need to convey experiences, ideas, and meanings that are closely tied with their local cultural and social situations.

Pre-Independence to Post-Independence English in Malaysia

Before the arrival of the British and the introduction of English-medium schools, education in the Malay Peninsula was in the form of Islamic schools where children were taught practical skills and the Qur’an (Gaudart 1987; Foo and Richards 2004). Colonial reports suggest that the British did not give much attention to education in the Malay States until the Colonial Office in London took over admin ← 12 | 13 → istration in 1867 and that was when officers who served in the Malay states began to show interest in the locals’ culture and language (Gaudart 1987; Stevenson 1975). 2 With colonisation and the arrival of labourers from India to work in rubber and tea plantations, and from China to work in the tin mines, vernacular schools began to be established for local and immigrant communities. The British built Malay-medium schools for the Malays, as an alternative to the religious schools, and the Chinese and Indians set-up Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools for their communities respectively. Of the various vernacular, religious and mission schools that existed then, the best system was provided by the English-medium schools. The vernacular schools were basically left to provide their own syllabus and used the native language of the community as the medium of instruction. The disparate systems that existed in Malaya throughout the colonial period resulted in a ‘Fragmented Education system’… and there was no standard English curriculum (Foo and Richards 2004: 230).


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (April)
development variety phonology
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 300 pp., num. graphs and tables

Biographical notes

Hajar Abdul Rahim (Volume editor) Shakila Abdul Manan (Volume editor)

Hajar Abdul Rahim is an Associate Professor of Linguistics and a principal member of the International Corpus of English (ICE) Malaysia. Shakila Abdul Manan is an Associate Professor of English Language Studies and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Malaysian Studies. The editors are staff members of the English Language Studies Department, School of Humanities, Universiti Sains Malaysia.


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