Language Contact and Change
Chapter 2: The Historical Background of Malaysian English
2.1 Introduction Although this volume focuses on contemporary Malaysian English (ME), it must be emphasised that the propensity for and direction of change observed in the language today have a history. In order to comprehend the processes of change that have led to the creation of a distinctive, localised variety of English in Malaysia, it is crucial to examine aspects of the early history of the region. Of particular importance are the formation of a complex multiethnic, multilingual community in the Malay-Thai Peninsula (henceforth, the Peninsula), the trans- plantation of the English language into the region, the interactions between the diverse language groups during various periods in history, the evolving status and functions of the languages in contact, and the emergence of the multilingual community that uses ME today. The reconstruction of these key events will set the stage for a more holistic understanding of the contact situation within which ME emerged. At the same time, it will also contextualise the current impetus for change in this postcolonial variety of English. During its evolution in the region that is today Malaysia, English has come into contact with a range of diverse, typologically-distinct languages that include dialects of Malay; numerous southern Chinese languages such as Hokkien, Hakka, Cantonese, Teochew, Hainanese, Kwangsai, Hokchiu, Henghua and Hockchia;4 various languages spoken by the local South Asian communities such as Tamil, Telegu, Malayalam, Singhalese, Urdu and Bengali; languages of the indigenous groups of Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo such as Jakun, Semai, Kadazan, Bajau, Dusun,...
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