Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sexy Grammar!

My interview from today's Star with Ronald Carter who co-wrote the Cambridge Grammar of English: A Comprehensive Guide with Michael McCarthy.

There's nothing sexy about grammar books, right? Wrong, totally wrong! This grammar describes the spoken language along the written for the first time ever and comes up with some real surprises about how the language is used.

Malaysian English an inferior variety? No, it's just as valid as British English says Carter ... and for that matter every other linguist and lexicographer (dictionary compiler) that I've ever spoken to. Read the article to see why, if you're not convinced.

I do want to talk about Malaysian English at length some time, but it's such a big topic and I have so many thoughts about it ...


CW said...

I agree that Malaysian English is not an inferior variety - it's just a variety (even if the term Manglish does have negative connotations to it).

I'd love to hear your thoughts about Malaysian English Sharon! Are you a fluent speaker, by the way? :)

irene said...

I learnt in class last semester that most people speak two varieties of English -- the first being a dialectal or colloquial version used in informal situations, and the second being the standard English we learn in schools, which we use in formal and business-related situations. We switch between the two as necessary.

This means that Manglish isn't wrong usage of English, and may not even demonstrate a poor grasp of the language -- because I can Manglish with my friends at the mamak, and go all stiff and polite in the Queen's English over the phone at work!

I support Manglish as being part of our Malaysian culture ;)

bibliobibuli said...

agree with both of you

but we actually speak more than two varieties ... think about how we change the way we are talking according to the people we are talking to. malaysian english is affected by the speaker's first language too and by the level of formality of the interaction. we are very flexible creatures!

"manglish" is derogatory and i don't actually like it

one academic at UM dr. loga baskeran (i think her name is) wrote about how we have a basolect version of the language (the real uneducated "pasar" variety), the mesolect (which most malaysians use when they speak english with "lah" and so on) and the acrolect, or the variety that the most educated users speak, perfectly acceptable in international contexts (that would be the variety you well-read folks would speak)

but it still differs from standard british english, principally in the choice of vocab and in pronunciation. this interests me a great deal and i have a whole lot of examples. (used to teach a module on this!)

i have a bee in my bonnet about malaysian english speakers feeling a bit inferior about their variety when they don't need to!

irene said...

Prof Loga Baskaran is one of my lecturers :)

Amir said...

I think the term "Manglish" was coined by Antares back in the 80s. Or at least, he was the one who made it popular.

Hmm, how many words can you think of that were invented by writers who are still alive? There's William Gibson's 'cyberspace', for one.

bibliobibuli said...

did singlish come before manglish??

cleverly jokey expressions that became a hat to wear

dr. loga was your lecturer, irene! small world, hey! she did some v. interesting research. i'm out of touch with how things are going with the study of linguistics here, but would love to hear that UM is planning to build a corpus (data base of malaysian english). it's something that needs to happen but would require funding

Obiter Dictum said...

Great piece!

Local flavors always add to the language, make it spicier.

Obiter Dictum said...

A corpus like that would be fantastic.

Jordan said...

It's tricky to balance the two seemingly mutually exclusive ideas that all varieties of English are valid and that there is indeed such a thing as being right or wrong (and we shouldn't forget that there is). As you and the writer of the book suggest, it's all about context. Or, as the writer says, appropriacy. Immensely interesting.

Speaking of appropriacy: I sent a link to your article to a guy I know who has a really good language blog, and his response (besides fact that he really enjoyed the article) was this:

"That's what the public find difficult to accept – that there's a
continuum of appropriacy."

Appropriacy? I don't wanna get all prescriptivist, but it ain't in
the dictionary!


bibliobibuli said...

yes, the word 'appropriacy' isn't in the dictionary and i got quite a shock when i realised this. it is the word used in all the academic papers, EFL textbooks, grammar, ... at conferences ... by grammarians (like michael swan and here ronald carter)in interviews ... by my lecturers on my M.Ed course ...

and clearly the dictionary compilers have slipped up somewhere. probably because the latest dictionaries are compiled by use of a corpus and no-one thought to feed some EFL texts in!

am writing to my friends at OUP to get it put in

the continuum is a very useful idea. and of course at the top of that continuum is the sort of language we'd feel proper in a formal context so THERE we'd make judgments about right and wrong, as i do quite often myself lah!

a nice snippet i didn't have room to include: it seems that google have a project to put a huge concordance online which could be used by teachers and students in the classroom. now that would be exciting.

Subashini said...

This is an interesting topic, because I've always wondered where I stood on the issue. My family's "mother language" is Tamil, but I've been babbling English since the cradle... so I'm always stumped when people ask me what's my first language. English, la! I mean, I dream in English. I can't read Tamil, although I speak it fairly well (even though some might make fun of my Sri Lankan accent!)

Anyway, I hope I'm not digressing. It's just really fascinating. The other day I got all riled up over someone else making derogatory comments about how written English (as a standard, international mode of communication) should be best left to "native speakers," which of course left me wondering: does the concept of 'native speaker' hold true anymore?

English colonialism --> spread of English --> native speakers are no longer native. That's my dua sen, in a nutshell. Hee.

But I'm genuinely curious about what others think about this. I hope this is not wholly unrelated to what we're talking about here...

bibliobibuli said...

the term "native speaker" has become fairly meaningless in a world where english is so widely spoken (and carter said this too)

but as far as the term is useful you are a native speaker and so are an awful lot of malaysians

and british "native speakers" for e.g. often speak "non-standard" forms of english anyway!

goodbye simplistic labels

irene said...

The term 'native speaker' is confusing as Australians, Americans and British (among others) all speak English, and their brand of English -- accents included -- can be very different. They're all native speakers, so which one was that person referring to?

Alexandra said...

hi! I really do not know and see what the discussion is about on people feeling inferior to those who speak the "standard" variety. Afterall,the "standard" derived from the London dialect in the 16th century when Mr. Caxton brought the printing press into England. The reason of choice is purely non-academic. Only to better sell books as the middle-class was raising in numbers and gaining in the level of literacy.
I find speaking in the Malaysian Variety of English, or being able to speak in it makes me proud. It is, afterall, mine. =)