Malaysian English

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Life in Malaysia

Malaysian English (MyE), formally known as Malaysian Standard English (MySE), is a form of English used and spoken in Malaysia. It is distinct from Malaysian Colloquial English, which is also known as Manglish. According to the English Proficiency Index, about 60% of Malaysians surveyed are proficient in English. Due to the lack of use of English and the lack of English medium schools (which were phased out after the 1969 race riots) to accommodate English speakers, the language has been in rapid decline since the 1970s.

Varieties of English in Malaysia

The English language in Malaysia may be categorized into three levels: the acrolect, mesolect and basilect.[1][2] The acrolect is used by those with near-native level of proficiency in English, and only a relatively small percentage of Malaysians are proficient in it. The acrolect is internationally intelligible, and it is used for official purposes or formal occasions and written communications.[3] The mesolect is a localised form of English that is used by competent speakers of English, and it may be used as an informal medium of communication between different ethnic groups of Malaysia. It may use some colloquial terms, and its grammar and syntax may show some deviations from standard English. The basilect is used highly informally by those with limited proficiency and vocabulary in English, and has features of an extended pidgin or creole with syntax that deviates substantially from standard English.[4][5] The basilect may be hard to understand internationally, and is often referred to as Manglish.[6]

As with other similar situations, a continuum exists between these three varieties and speakers may code-switch between them depending on context. Most professionals and other English-educated Malaysians speak mesolect English informally between themselves, but may also use a basilect depending on the circumstances. All three varieties may be seen as part of Malaysian English,[7] however, some prefer to see Malaysia English as a form distinct from the basilect Manglish that tends to ignore English grammar,[8] while others see the basilect as the "real" Malaysian English.[9] There is also no consensus opinion on what a standard Malaysian English may be. Some regard the mesolect as substandard and a local dialect.[3]


Manglish refers to the colloquial, informal spoken form of pidgin English in Malaysia that some considered to be distinct from more "correct" forms of Malaysian English.[8] It exists in a wide variety of forms and primarily as a spoken form of English. It is the most common form of spoken English on the street, but is discouraged at schools where only Malaysian Standard English is taught. Its lexis strongly influenced by local languages, with many non-English nouns and verbs commonly used, and it is significantly different grammatically from standard English.[4] There are colloquialisms in English that are not common outside of Malaysia, which are also used colloquially as substitutes in other languages in Malaysia. In Manglish, Malay or Chinese grammatical structure may be used with English words, and is often done quite spontaneously, sometimes for comic effect.


Malaysian English originates from British English as a result of British rule in what is now Malaysia. It therefore shares many of the features of British English, however, it also has components of American English, Malay, Chinese, Indian languages, and other languages in its vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar. Malaysia English shows a tendency towards simplification in its pronunciations and grammar, a feature it shares with other new Englishes. For example, in pronunciation, diphthongs tend to become monophthongs in Malaysian English, stops may be used instead of dental fricatives, and the final consonant clusters often become simplified.[10] There are 6 short monophthongs in Malaysian English compared to 7 in British English, and it tends to show a lack of differentiation between long and short vowels (for example, "beat" and "bit" are homophones in Malaysian English). There are however slight differences in pronunciation in the states in the central and southern parts of the Malay Peninsula from those in the north and East Malaysia.[4] There are also some variations in its vocabulary.


  • Malaysian English is generally non-rhotic.
  • Malaysian English employs a broad A accent, as such words like "cab" and "tab" appear with /ɑː/ rather than /æ/.
  • The /t/ in words like "butter" is usually not flapped (as in some forms of American English) or realised as a glottal stop (as in many forms of British English, including Cockney).
  • There is no h-dropping in words like head.
  • Malaysian English does not have English consonant-cluster reductions after /n/, /t/, and /d/. Hence, for example, "new", "tune" and "dune" are pronounced /ˈnjuː/, /ˈtjuːn/, and /ˈdjuːn/. This contrasts with many East Anglian and East Midland varieties of British English and with most forms of American English.
  • Fricatives 'th' (θ and ð) are pronounced [t] for [θ] and [d] for [ð].
  • 'L' is generally clear.
  • Diphthongs 'ow' ([əʊ] or [oʊ]) are just [o] and 'ay' ([eɪ]) is just [e].


The grammar in Malaysian English may become simplified in the mesolectal and basilectal varieties, for example, articles and past tense markers may sometimes be omitted, the question structures simplified, and the distinction between countable and mass nouns may be blurred.[10][3] In the basilectal variety, omission of the object pronoun or the subject pronoun is common. The modal auxiliary system is also often reduced, and sometimes a verb may be absent.[11] The colloquial form often has Malay or Chinese grammatical structure.

Particles are commonly used in colloquial Malaysian English, a notable one is enclitic "lah" used at the end of a sentence.[11]


In the acrolect which is internationally comprehensible, non-English terms are nevertheless used. These are typically words for which there are no direct equivalence in English or words that express local reality, for example bumiputera, kampong, as well as titles such as Yang di-Pertuan Agong and Tunku. Words from the Chinese or Indian languages may also be used, such as ang pow or dhoti. In the mesolect, local words and phrases for which there are English equivalents may also used, for example tidak apa or ulu. In the basilect, the use of local terms may be extensive even if most words used are English, and local expressions or exclamations such as alamak often form part of the speech.[5]

Word usage

In the first half of the 20th century, Malaysian English was similar to British English (Br E) (albeit spoken with a Malaysian accent). However, in the post-colonial era (after 1957), the influx of American TV programmes has influenced the usage of Malaysian English. There is no official language board, council or organization to ensure the correct and standard usage of Malaysian English, because after independence, Malay replaced English as the official language. The University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate continues, however, to set and mark the GCE O-Level English Language "1119" paper which is a compulsory subject for the Malaysian Certificate of Education (the English Language paper set by the Malaysian Ministry of Education is the same as the English Language "1119" paper for GCE O-Level).

To a large extent, Malaysian English is descended from British English, largely due to the country's colonisation by Britain beginning from the 18th century. However, because of influence from American mass media, particularly in the form of television programmes and movies, Malaysians are also usually familiar with many American English words. For instance, both "lift/elevator" and "lorry/truck" are understood, although the British form is preferred. Only in some very limited cases the American English form more widespread, e.g. "chips" instead of "crisps", "fries" instead of "chips" and "diaper" instead of "nappy".

Words with different meaning in Malaysian English

Some words and phrases used in Malaysia have different meanings than in British or American English.

Word / Phrase Malaysian meaning American / British meaning
parking lot parking space parking garage (US)
photostat a photocopier; also used as a verb meaning "to photocopy" a historical copying machine using a camera and photographic paper, which was superseded by the photocopier. See Photostat machine.
flat low-cost apartment or flat apartment (US)
apartment medium-cost apartment or flat flat (UK)
condominium high-cost apartment or flat commonhold (UK)
to follow to accompany, e.g. "Can I follow you?" meaning "Can I come with you?" or, "I will follow you." meaning "I will come with you." to go after or behind, e.g. "The police car was following me."
to revert to come back (reply) to someone, e.g. "I had sent our clients an email this morning, but they have yet to revert." to return to a previous state, e.g. "We reverted to our initial plan of hosting the party in a restaurant."
to send to take someone somewhere, e.g. "Can you send me to the airport?" to cause something to go somewhere without accompanying it, e.g. "I sent this letter to my grandma."
blur condition of a person who is dazed, confused, appears mentally slow, e.g. "You look very blur right now, take a break." vague, visually indistinct, e.g. "Everything is just a blur when I take my spectacles off."
keep to put something away e.g. in a pocket or bag to own and retain something indefinitely
to fix to build or put something together to repair something

Words only used in Malaysian English

Malaysian English has its own vocabulary which comes from a variety of influences. Typically, for words or phrases that are based on other English words, the Malaysian English speaker may be unaware that the word or phrase is not present in British or American English. These words are also present in the vocabulary of some continuums of Singapore Standard English.

Malaysian British / American
handphone (often abbreviated to HP) mobile phone (British), cell phone (American)
public telephone or public phone payphone
outstation out of office
keep in view (often abbreviated to KIV) kept on file, held for further consideration
MC (medical certificate) sick note, aegrotat
bungalow detached house
bank in (cheque) deposit a cheque (UK) / deposit a check (US)

Many words of Malay origin have made it into the standard form of Malaysian English used in the media, literature and formal speech. For example, Menteri Besar (Malay for Chief Minister) even has a plural form in English - Menteris Besar.[12]


Syntactical differences are few although in colloquial speech 'shall' and 'ought' are wanting, 'must' is marginal for obligation and 'may' is rare. Many syntactical features of Malaysian English are found in other forms of English, e.g. British English and North American English:

  • Can I come too? for "May I come too?"
  • Have you got any? for "Do you have any?"
  • I've got one of those already. for "I already have one of those."
  • It's your shot. for "It's your turn."

Phonology and pronunciation

Officially, Malaysian English uses the same pronunciation system as British English. However, most Malaysians speak with a distinctive accent. The accent has recently evolved to become more American, due to the influx of American TV programmes, the large number of Malaysians pursuing higher education in the United States and also because a large number of English speaking Malaysians in cities are employed in American companies. For example, this increased the emphasis on "r" in words such as "refer" and "world".

Role of Malaysian English in Independent Malaysia

Even though Malaysian English is not the official language of Malaysia, it is still used among Malaysians in business. About 80% of urban businesses in Malaysia conduct their transactions in English (both Malaysian English and Manglish). However, American English has quite a strong foothold in international businesses in Malaysia. Malaysian English is also widely used in advertising sectors, especially commercial advertisements aired in private TV stations, primarily Media Prima TV stations. Plus, Malaysian Chinese and Malaysian Indian people have tendencies to speak in English instead of Malay when they are interviewed on television. In terms of education, private universities and colleges in Malaysia mostly use Malaysian English for their identities.

In music industry, singers such as Siti Nurhaliza, Yuna and Reshmonu also performs songs in English. There are several English newspapers in Malaysia namely The Star, The Sun, New Straits Times and Malay Mail. There are also many English radio stations such as, Mix FM, LiteFM, Fly fm, Traxx FM and Red FM. However, Malaysia does not have any television station which broadcasts purely in English. The Government National Language policy requires local TV stations to air at least 25% Malaysian-made programmes (either Malay or English). Some privately owned TV stations (such as TV3, NTV7, 8TV and Astro Hitz.TV) do air some English Malaysian-made programmes. A few Malaysian-made TV programmes in Malay carry English subtitles and vice versa.

See also


  1. ^ The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Languages & Literature, p 61, edited by Prof. Dato' Dr Asmah Haji Omar (2004) ISBN 981-3018-52-6
  2. ^ Baskaran, M. (January 1994). "The Malaysian English mosaic". English Today. 10 (1): 27–32. doi:10.1017/S0266078400000857. 
  3. ^ a b c Kiwan Sung, Bernard Spolsk, eds. (28 January 2015). Conditions for English Language Teaching and Learning in Asia. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. pp. 208–209. ISBN 9781443872928. 
  4. ^ a b c Azirah Hashim, Rachel Tan (24 January 2012). Ee Ling Low, Azirah Hashim, eds. English in Southeast Asia: Features, Policy and Language in Use. John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 57–59. ISBN 978-9027249029. 
  5. ^ a b Jantmary Thirusanku and Melor Md. Yunus (2012). "The Many Faces of Malaysian English". IRSN Education. 2012. doi:10.5402/2012/138928. 
  6. ^ Toshiko Yamaguchi, David Deterding, ed. (7 April 2016). English in Malaysia: Current Use and Status. Brill. p. 13. ISBN 9789004314306. 
  7. ^ Ee Ling Low, Azirah Hashim, eds. (24 January 2012). English in Southeast Asia: Features, Policy and Language in Use. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 56. ISBN 978-9027249029. 
  8. ^ a b Lim Chin Lam (14 October 2011). "Primer on Manglish". The Star. 
  9. ^ Alistair King (8 October 2013). "Just don't call it Manglish!". The Star. 
  10. ^ a b Toshiko Yamaguchi, David Deterding, ed. (7 April 2016). English in Malaysia: Current Use and Status. Brill. pp. 12–13. ISBN 9789004314306. 
  11. ^ a b Azirah Hashim, Rachel Tan (24 January 2012). Ee Ling Low, Azirah Hashim, eds. English in Southeast Asia: Features, Policy and Language in Use. John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 62–65. ISBN 978-9027249029. 
  12. ^ "Najib chairs 108th Meeting of Mentaris Besar and Chief Ministers". Bernama - Malaysian National News Agency. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. 

External links

  • British Council Malaysia, English Language Development
  • Manglish: For and Against, Should Malaysians speak Manglish or proper English?
  • Common English Mistakes Shows many of the mistakes made by Malaysians when speaking English and shows the true English equivalents.
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