Friday, October 5, 2012
A Manglish Primer
Contrary to popular myth, I didn't invent Manglish. Nor would I blame it on the Chinese either. As a distinctive language in its own right, Manglish has been evolving quietly and discreetly since the British introduced English to these shores - but it has only been in evident use for about half a century. Prior to 1945 local Anglophones generally attempted to speak "the King's English" (later replaced by the BBC Overseas Service Standard English). Or else they were content to squawk at each other in some lewd and loud local lingo.
When British rule ended in 1957, out went the rules of spoken English - and that's how Manglish rapidly became a functional intermediary between our official first and second languages, Bahasa Malaysia and Business English. I first heard Manglish spoken when I entered the garment (ackchwurly government) primary school - the same year Britain handed Malaya back to the Malayans. To celebrate Independence, we unstiffened our upper lips and reveled in the ecstatic freedom of "seemply tokking kok." No longer would we tolerate being accused of speaking Bad English. We could now proudly proclaim our mastery of Good Manglish.
At home my parents communicated in a curious mixture of Cantonese and Missionary English - which wasn't quite the same potent concoction as Street Manglish. Somehow the species of English spoken in pre-Merdeka days didn't have the gutsy gutturality of Proper Manglish - perhaps because the local Anglophones were in awe of their Colonial masters and suffered from cultural cringe.
Those with middle class aspirations attempted to speak what they thought was "the King's
English" (later replaced by BBC Overseas Service Standard English). But they kept pretty much within their own racial boundaries, demonstrating the efficacy of the Divide-&-Rule Policy. A great deal more inter-ethnic socializing occurred in the post-Merdeka years, and this eventually produced an organic amalgam of vernacular idiosyncrasies - the glorious outcome being what is today universally known as Manglish.
In Singapore some folks speak Singlish - which, naturally, has a lot in common with Manglish, since both societies sprang from the same polyglot roots. However, the use of Singlish appears to be diminishing as the literacy level rises - and along with it, social aspirations. But I may be wrong. I wouldn't be at all surprised to receive an indignant email from Sylvia Toh Paik Choo of the Singlish Preservation Trust setting the record straight. In fact a Singlish rap album (Why You So Like Dat? produced by Siva Choy) made the charts in the early 1990s, proving that Singaporeans do possess a sense of humor.
|Siva Choy raps in Singlish on his hit album Why You So Like Dat?|
Manglish, in any case, seems to be thriving in Malaysia. Indeed there is a growing body of literature in Manglish (mostly generated by me) which has found its way into British Council language courses as teaching aids. Furthermore, studies such as this one have been commissioned by serious anthropological journals (none of which, alas, still exists) - which hardly augurs well for the continued growth and development of this embryonic industry.
A real pity, as the terangslation - pardon, translation - of the World's Great Books into Proper Manglish (so that they will become accessible to everyone regardless of social background) will inevitably be retarded, along with the intellectual vibrancy of the nation. Manglish, after all, is the Great Equalizer. No one could possibly pull rank or put on airs when communicating in Manglish. You doan belif me ah? Seemply abzob all the impoting facks, and den go araun booshitting like nobody's beezniz until peeple oso ting you are a regular/decent/down-to-earth kind of ﬂer.
A Word of Warning: If you happen to be a Mat Salleh (read White-Skinned Furriner), we advise you not to attempt speaking Manglish to every Malaysian you meet - unless specifically invited, or else you've lived here long enough to appreciate the indescribable delights of sambal belacan, durian and tempoyak (a piquant relish made from fermented durian). Otherwise you may inadvertently cause serious offence (Bladihel, you look down upon us ah? Yuting we cannot spikking your bladi langwidge one ah?) and find yourself arrested under the Infernal Sensitivities Act. Nonetheless, you may enjoy studying Manglish purely out of linguistic interest (so you can understand wat de local peeple are saying about you lah).
Credit must be given to two cunning linguists (and excellent musicians), Messrs Julian Mokhtar and Rafique Rashid, who sparked my interest in undertaking a formal study of Manglish phonetics and usage - which led to a standardization of spelling and the compilation of a Manglish glossary in 1988. The preliminary results of my research were published in ADOI! (Times Books International, 1989) and since then I have been commissioned to produce a growing body of literature in Manglish - including original poyems and terangslations of eggcerpts from Shakespeare, which appeared in the popular magazine, Manglish Review - whoops, I mean, Men's Review - in the mid-1990s.
MANGLISH IN ACTION (Part One)
A man walks into a department store and is greeted by a good-looking sales promoter.
SALESGIRL: Iffning, sir, how are you? Today got speshul awfer one. Leemeeted stork oni. Impotteds from the Germ Ernie. Got two-ear guarantee. 39.99 oni and summore you baiwanfriwan!
CUSTOMER: Aiseh, you look just like Hongkong star Anita Mui, don't get angry ah...
SALESGIRL: Ofcos aidontch-main, sir, I oso like Anita Mui wat, but whynotchew buy one and get one free, can gif to your gurfren?
CUSTOMER: Where I got gurfren, no taim lah. Eh, wat is your name ah, can tell ornot?
SALESGIRL: Aiyah, arfturds your gurfren jailus. Mister, better you buy now, tomollow awfer feenish oridi.
CUSTOMER: Aitoyu got no gurfren lah. How about you ah, got vacancy ornot? Eh, you feenish work we go for sahper, okay?
SALESGIRL: Aiyoh, aiskad oni lah, you so fast-fast one! Plis lah, sir, you hairp me, I hairp you lah, oni 39.99 wat, no nid to be so chipsket one lah!
CUSTOMER: Here's my card, plis call me wen you have freetaim, okay?
SALESGIRL: Betayudon gif card, sir. Managemen not allaud.
CUSTOMER: Bladihel, I gif to you, not to managemen wat!
SALESGIRL: Velly solly, sir, cannot like dat one, arfturds I lose my job den how? Solly ah.
CUSTOMER: Barsket, yuting you so bew-tifool ah?
MANGLISH IN ACTION (Part Two)
Coffeeshop scene featuring a gaggle of garrulous pensioners enjoying a few rounds of Guinness.
PENSIONER 1: Aitelyu de barger so-poorting, dah. Lastaim working for debladigarmen, 20-over years, boy. Fraskes oni, deﬂer. Den olafasudden resign and join praivet sector... and wat happen 3 years later? Kena retrench, dah. Hauken dat old fart ﬁnd anudder job. I arsk yu. Dailah.
PENSIONER 2: Huseso, dah, doan tokkok, man. His brudder-in-law told me deﬂer kena lowtree man, ﬁrst prize summore. But he wen araun telling wankain sob story, and now deﬂer shiok oni. Tax exile in Labuan. Left his wife and married a Thai pondan – doan laugh ah, I hear damn seksi one, more beatifuller dan woman - and de barsket started his own ooi-dio production kompeni. I tink she got fren in porn beezniz. Many Thai people name Porn wat, heh heh.
PENSIONER 3: Eh, who you tokking about, dah? De fatty bom-bom Singh, izzit?
PENSIONER 2: Yala, Ajaib, yuting who?
PENSIONER 3: Alamak! Yesterday oni I saw de barger!
PENSIONER 1: Ya, ka? Where?
PENSIONER 3: Infrun Central Market lor.
PENSIONER 2: Wat deﬂer doing there?
PENSIONER 3: Nothing much, lah, seemply stand outside KFC in white suit, look like Kernel Sanders lah, shaking hands with customers oni.
PENSIONER 1: Must be wang habis oridi lah, easy come easy go... marry golddigger pornstar summore. Aisehman, taim for anudder raun. Kamon, lah, I spen you ﬂers. Orait!
PENSIONERS 1, 2 & 3: Bawtums up, dah.
MANGLISH IN ACTION (Part Three)
Two old schoolchums bump into each other on the street.
PANG: Hoy, Dol! Long taim no see, man! So weh-yuattash now?
DOL: Aiyo, Pang, izzit? Steel wid debladigarmen, lah, watudu, got six mouse to feed, man. How about you, meelianair oridi ah'?
PANG: Ha ha, sofanochet, not so easy mah. But working on it lah. Running my own carpet cleaning kompeni. Eh, here's my card...
DOL: [READING CARD] Wah, Acksikutip Dairector... tera, man! Steel barechiller orwat?
PANG: Yala, where got taim to find wife, man. Make money first, den chewren. Dat's wat my old man orways tell me.
DOL: Ha ha ha, good advice.... eh, I oso got card. Here, keep in touch, okay, oldfren.
PANG: [READING CARD] No booshit, man! Head of Maintenance Department ah? Wah, not bad, not bad.
DOL: Gimme a call anytaim. Use my hamfone number, okay?
PANG: Okay, man, next week I caw you. We go for makan lah... eh, Dol, you like seafood ornot?
DOL: No problem, towkay! Everyting oso I makan [WINKS]. Minum osoken. Cheevas Reegull, yutingwat!
A COMPACT GLOSSARY OF COMMON MANGLISH WORDS & PHRASES
ackchwurly - originally "actually" – used in Manglish as a sentence starter, e.g., "to be perfectly honest" or "frankly spikking ah."
ackshun (oni) - derived from "action" – meaning "to show off."
aidontch-main - corruption of "I don't mind" - the extraneous syllable 'ch' indicates that the speaker is well aware of the subtleties of the English language and is making an effort to sound the 't' in "don't."
aisehman - contraction of "I say, man!" A totally meaningless utterance, most commonly used by those with absolutely nothing to say.
aiskad (lah) - confession of nervousness, as in "I'm scared, don't have the guts to do it."
aisodono - expression of ignorance, probably imported from India, originally: "I also don't know" (polite variation of "Damned if I know!").
arfturds – contraction of "afterwards" – often used to imply consequence or effect, e.g., "You don't hit me ah, arfturds I tell my farder!"; also used in place of "later" ("We go and see pickcher first, arfturds can have sahper.")
atoyu (wat) - gentle expression of triumph: "What did I tell you?"
baiwanfriwan - ploy used mainly by Chinese shop assistants to promote sales: "If you buy one, you'll get one free!"
barfellow – originally "buffalo" – a reference to bulk, usually signifying a clumsy oaf or plodder.
barger – corruption of "bugger" – literally, pain-in-the-butt or nuisance.
barsket - uncouth interjection; term of derision, often preceded by the prefix "bladi." Probably a mangled compound of "blasted," "bastard" and "bugger. An all-purpose expression of acute annoyance, as in "Goddamn" or "Blast it!"
betayudon - mild warning, as in "You'd better not do that."
bladihel - exclamation conveying intense irritation; corruption of "bloody hell!"
boh-sia – originally a Hokkien expression meaning "mute" but now loosely applied to teenage girls who hang out with, or put out for, sugar-daddies; frequently misheard as "Bosnia," which arouses instant embarrassment, confusion, moral outrage or sympathy, not necessarily leading to charitable acts.
bollsdar - rude retort favored by Malaysian Indians, especially Sikhs; essentially a scrotal reference devolved from "balderdash" or "bollocks." (The deliberate slurring of the commonly heard vernacular suffix 'lah' imparts a more emphatic measure of vulgarity.
cari makan – popular Malay idiom, literally "looking for food" or "to eke out a living" – but usually employed as a rationale for selfish and myopic behavior.
cheh – expression of total disgust, usually indicating that the user finds the entire subject vile, filthy, contemptible and unworthy of further discussion.
chipsket - contraction of "cheapskate," somebody not known to be generous; also used to describe anything low-cost.
dai-lah - term of commiseration, usually mock, used in situations where an element of anxiety is present, e.g.,"Oh dear, now you've blown it!" or "Oh well, that's the end of that!" or "Shit! I'm in real trouble."
debladigarmen - contraction of "the bloody government" - widely used scapegoat for all of life's disappointments, delays, denials, and prohibitions.
defler - contraction of "that fellow."
(doan) tokkok - playful insult ("Don't talk rubbish!"); the etymology of tokkok is uncertain but it probably derives from "talk cock" (as in "cock and bull" stories).
fatty bom-bom – a juvenile reference to bulk; synonymous with "fatso" – a jocular and universally understood description of obesity.
filim – mispronunciation of "film" – usually refers to movies, whether analog or digital.
fler - personal and/or impersonal reference, originally a contraction of "fellow" but frequently applied in neuter gender, e.g., "You flers better wochaut!" ("Don't any of you try to be funny!")
fraskes - noun applied to any individual caught in an unenviable impasse; someone whose case is frustrating; could also imply sexual deprivation.
gifchan (lah) - half-serious plea, as in "Give us a chance, will you?" Could also mean: "Please do us a favor."
gurfren - slurring of "girlfriend."
hauken - another elastic expression applicable in almost any situation, e.g., "That's not right!" or "Impossible!" or "You don't say!"
ho-laif - adverb, meaning "perpetually" (contraction of "whole life").
huseso - "Says who?" or "Who says so?" (alternatively, hused).
hutoyu - mild challenge, as in "Who told you?"
izzit - expression of mild unbelief: "Is that so?"
izzenit - from "isn't it?" but applied very loosely at the end of any particular statement to elicit an immediate response, e.g., "Yused you will spen me a beer, izzenit?"
kennonot - request or enquiry, contraction of "Can you or can you not?"; also used as "May I?" or "Will you?" or "Is it possible?"
kenoso - affirmative, "can also"; in other words, "It's quite all right with me" (see osoken).
kopi money - unofficial commission; bribe.
lastaim - denotes the past ("last time"), though not necessarily in any specific sense: e.g., "Las-taim we orways see filim but nowadays stay home and watch dividi oni."
latok - corruption of "datuk"; (i) "grandfather" in Malay; (ii) a tutelary spirit residing in trees and sacred spots; or (iii) an honorific bestowed on individuals deemed worthy (e.g., Malaysia's best-loved cartoonist Lat, who's now a "Latok"). Latokship is a much sought-after status symbol (for which some are willing to pay handsomely).
mais-wan - possessive pronoun, meaning "it belongs to me" or "it's mine." Etymologically part of a family including yos-wan ("yours one") and dias-wan ("their's one").
mebeken - contraction of "maybe can": in other words, "It may be possible…"
nemmain - casual dismissal: "Never mind."
notshai-wan - from "not shy one" - meaning "shameless" or not standing upon ceremony.
nola - a dilute negative, used as a device to interrupt, deny, or cancel someone else's statement.
olafasudden - melodramatic variation on "all of a sudden."
oridi - contraction of "already."
osoken - affirmative, interchangeable with kenoso ("also can"); in other words, "Anything goes!" or "Fine by me!"
ow-tah (punya) - temi of disparagement, meaning "utterly substandard."
owk-steshen - from "outstation" - a relic of Colonial days when officials were often absent from their posts doing field work; in other words, "out of town" or "abroad."
podah - extremely dismissive term derived from street Tamil, as in "Go to hell!" or "Get stuffed!" or "Fuck off!"
rigadingwat - interrogative used exclusively by telephonists and secretaries when you demand to speak to their bosses: "What is it regarding?"
sahper - "supper," usually a major pig-out after a nocturnal shopping spree or pub-crawl.
seehau - mangling of "let's wait and see how it turns out."
shiok (oni) - expression of intense pleasure, etymology obscure.
sofanochet - meaning "it hasn't happened yet"; can also be shortened to nochet, a slurring of "not yet."
sohau - polite interrogative, usually used as greeting, e.g., "Well, how are things with you?" or "how goes it?"
so-poorting - expression of sympathy or condolence: "You poor thing!"
sorait - universal apology or palliative ("It's all right.")
tera (oni) - noun describing someone who inspires awe, "a real terror." Often has a positive connotation, as in "defer wankain tera ladykiller lah!"
tan-slee - corruption of "Tan Sri" - the equivalent of a knighthood.
tingwat - highly adaptable expression stemming from "What do you think?" May be used as a challenge ("Who cares a hoot what you think!"); a rhetorical question ("Well, how about that?"); or as a friendly insult ("Please don't inﬂict your abysmal ignorance on us!") - depending on context and intonation.
wankain -(wan) - adjective denoting uniqueness, oddness, weirdness, extraordinariness: contraction of "one of a kind" (with "one" repeated for rhythmic symmetry). Sometimes rendered as wankain-oni (to emphasize the uniqueness).
watudu - rhetorical question: "But what can we do?" An excellent excuse for apathy.
weh-yuattash - polite question when introduced to a stranger: "Where are you attached to?" (in other words, "What do you do for a living?")
wochaut - from "watch out" - an ominous threat favored by gangsters and polticians.
yala - non-committal agreement, liberally used when confronted with a bore. A string of "yalas" issuing forth from your hapless listener is a sure sign that he or she wishes to terminate the conversation as soon as possible.
yesa - general expression of interest, usually inserted as a question during conversations, as in "Oh, really?"
yu-a-yu - term of friendly accusation, meaning "You're really too much!"
yugifmisi - imperative indicating intense curiosity, as in: "Let me have a look!"
yusobadwan - expression of mild reproach: "Hey, that's not very nice!"