First published on May 1, 2001:
I AM convinced that your articles on Malaysian English are a waste of good paper. Americans, Australians, and even the English, do not speak English properly. English is an evolving language witnessed by the fact that the Oxford English Dictionary now incorporates words from many other languages (including Malaysian) that have become a part of everyday English.
Americans use the word “gotten” in most sentences. North Queensland Australians use “eh” at the end of most sentences. Scottish, Welsh and Irish are almost impossible to understand without a lot of practice and patience.
So, what’s wrong with Manglish? It’s no worse than Singlish, Ozlish or Yanklish. Americans, Australians, Kiwis and South Africans are proud of their strange versions of English.
My Australian nephew was recently told to provide a list of 25 Australian words and sayings as a part of his school “English” test.
With a bit of my help, he received a 96% pass rate with gems such as “smack us in the eye with a hunk a dodger, mate” (“pass the bread”), and “I dips me lid” (“I take my hat off to you” or “I respect you”).
In Malaysia, English is the third or fourth language for nearly 50% of the population. When I met my partner and her Standard Two daughter six years ago, their English was perfectly understandable, albeit scattered with amusing slices of Manglish.
I found it very appealing and sensual to hear the language spoken in such an interesting way. When one says “my tyre has lost its flower,” the meaning is quite obvious except to the most stupid person.
During our four-month travel through western Europe last year, we noted that Holland is the only country where English is widely and properly spoken. Switzerland was the worst and in most other countries, we resorted to graphic demonstrations of a chicken flapping its wings to make it clear that we wanted chicken on our baguettes.
The lack of good English in the general population of western Europe has not prevented them from succeeding in the developed world, or in successfully trading with English-speaking countries.
In Australia, you can buy many books teaching “Australian English,” where international tourist promotions say “G day” and “chuck another shrimp on the barbie” (put another prawn on the barbecue). Where are the books on Manglish?
Do we really want to talk like Prince Charles or Queen Elizabeth?
So long as others can understand what you mean, that’s really all that matters. Don’t let any inexperienced, narrow-minded, arrogant, English-speaking foreigner tell you otherwise.