Phonology of Malaysian English

Essay, 2011

14 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

2. Vowels
2.1 Vowel length
2.2 Vowel quality
2.3 Diphthongs
2.4 Triphthongs

3. Consonants
3.1 Consonant cluster reduction
3.2 Consonant substitution
3.3 Fricatives
3.4 Dental Fricatives
3.5 Glottalisation

4. Suprasegmental features
4.1 Stress
4.1.1. Stress position
4.1.2. Stress quantity
4.2 Rhythm
4.3 Intonation

5. Phonotactic features
5.1 Gradation
5.2 Liaison
5.3 Syllabicity

6. Conclusion

1. Introduction

To understand a language you have to know about the people speaking it and the cultural background of their society. Therefore this essay introduces with a brief overview of Malaysia´s history and culture.

When the British Empire colonized countries of every continent and built up new societies they spread English all over the world. The natives, however, dejected to adopt the British culture and language at first, but over the years new varieties of English were generated, somehow mix-ups with the local mother tongue.

In 1786 the first British ship reached Malaya and established English next to Bahasa Malaysia, the indigenous language of most Malays, both as official languages until 1967 when English was degraded to a strong second language. It is, even though only a small minority of Malays has English as their L1, still omnipresent in everyday life through mass media like television, newspaper and radio. According to Edgar Schneider in Malaysia “31.6 percent of all radio listeners listen to English radio stations” (Schneider 2007: 149). It is even the language of education, so children get in touch with it in school as well.

But since the teachers, journalists and newsreaders themselves are mostly of Malaysian origin their English is influenced by the various substrate languages of Malaysia, they speak so called Malaysian English (MalE) and pass it on to the following generations. As a consequence of the cultural diversity in Malaysia - 30% of the population is Chinese but also many people with Indian or Tamil background (Baskaran 2008: 278) live there - English has the role of a neutral lingua franca. MalE is one of many “New Englishes”, a variation of British English like Singapore English, which shares many features due to its geographic proximity.

In the following the specific phonologic and phonetic features of MalE will be analysed and contrasted to RP.

2. Vowels

Concerning vowels it is significant for MalE to have a smaller inventory of vowels than RP has. This is caused by a lack of distinction between the traditional vowel pairs.

2.1 Vowel length

English vowels are conventionally classified according to phonetic quality and length. First there is a remarkable difference in duration of certain vowels in MalE with a tendency to shorten long vowels as presented in the examples below:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

An explanation for the tendency to shorten long vowels may be the influence of Bahasa Malaysia, the indigenous Malaysian language, which lacks long vowels. (Baskaran 2008: 283)

In contrast, we can also find the phenomenon of lengthening short vowels what occurs especially in front of certain consonants like [n, l, r, s, f ]. Below examples for the five vowel pairs are listed once more.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The lack of contrast between long and short vowels can generate homophones and lead to misunderstandings since vowel length has a distinctive function. Therefore “I hope she´ll leave” and “I hope she´ll live” would have the same pronunciation, although the meaning is quite different (Platt, Weber, Ho 1984: 37).

2.2. Vowel quality

Vowel quality can be determined by the tongue-position, whether it is high or low and front or back positioned in mouth. MalE vowel quality differs from RP, Baskaran for example describes /ɔ/ and /ɑ:/ to be realised as a “half-open and more central vowel”( Baskaran 2008: 283) in MalE. Additionally, Pillai, Knowles and Zuraidah proved by the use of an instrumental study that the vowels in “north”, “wind” and “sun” are more open and centralised in MalE than in RP (Pillai 2010: 160).

Zuraidah claims that there is no distinction concerning quality, so the “pairs of vowels were realized as single vowels” (Pillai 2010: 161).

In analogy to vowel length there is also a lack of distinction between vowel pairs concerning quality and a study of Zuraidah showed that the 12 tested Malay speakers pronounced the following vowel pairs as the corresponding single vowel.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Another study by Subramanian, however, showed that there was a slight contrast between the paired vowels. As a consequence, Pillai explains the different results were accomplished in means of the different way of testing and choice of subjects (Pillai 2010: 161).


Excerpt out of 14 pages


Phonology of Malaysian English
University of Freiburg
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ISBN (eBook)
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428 KB
Phonology, Linguistics, English, Malaysia, Asia
Quote paper
Linda Baumgartner (Author), 2011, Phonology of Malaysian English, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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