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British and Malaysian English differences

Differences in British and Malaysian English: This article outlines the differences between Malaysian English, often called 'Manglish', the form of the English language spoken in Malaysia, and British English, which for the purposes of this article is assumed to be the form of English spoken in south east England, used by the British Government and the BBC and widely understood in other parts of the United Kingdom.

One has to make a distinction between Manglish and the English spoken by Malaysians speaking so-called proper English.

While there are still certain peculiarities in the latter (especially in terms of intonation, accent and choice of words), proper Malaysian English is merely a normal variation in the way English is spoken and does not deviate significantly from common English. It is intelligible to most English-speaking peoples around the world.

Pure Manglish however can be likened to pidgin English, and it is usually barely understandable to most speakers of English. (except Singaporeans who also speak a similar patois known as Singlish)

In this article, Manglish will be used to refer to the patois, and proper will be used to refer to the variation of English that is spoken by Malaysians speaking "proper" English.

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proper: Despite officially being based on British English, Malaysian English is strongly influenced by American English. This can be commonly seen in web based media and documents produced within organisations. Typically, the writer is unaware of the differences between British and American English, and just uses the default settings on their installed software spellchecker. For example, centre (British) is typically spelt center (American), although colour and color are used interchangeably.

In schools and in the print media, Malaysians default to spelling the British way: "vapour" instead of "vapor" "organise" instead of "organize"

Manglish: Manglish does not possess a standard written for, although many variations exist for transcribing certain words. For most purposes it is a spoken tongue.


Manglish: Much of Manglish grammatical structure is taken from Chinese dialects. Many also claim the structures have also been borrowed from the Malay language, but the amount of borrowing from Malay dwarves in comparison to the borrowing from Chinese.

Consider this phrase: "Why you so like that one?"

In normal English, it means: "Why are you behaving in such a disagreeable manner?".

In Cantonese, a similar phrase would be rendered: "tim kai lei kum keh?" Literally: "why you like that"

In Malay, a similar phrase can be given, i.e. "Kenapa engkau macam itu?" but it would not sound very natural.

Note: The "one" in the sample phrase does not literally mean the numeral one, but is used more as a suffix device.



Words only used in British English

proper: To a large extent, standard Malaysian English is descended from British English (this is largely to the country's colonisation by Britain in the early 20th century). But because of media influence, 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 is the American English form more widespread, e.g. "chips" instead of "crisps".

Words or phrases only used in Malaysian English

proper: Malaysian English is gradually forming its own vocabulary, these words come from a variety of influences. Typically, for words or phrases that are based on other English words (see 'KIV'), the Malaysian English speaker may be unaware that that the word or phrase is not present in British or Malaysian English.

Handphone (often abbreviated to HP)Mobile phone
KIV (keep in view)Kept on file, held for further consideration
OutstationMeans both 'out of town' and/or 'overseas/abroad'.
MC (medical certificate)An absence from work due to a medical condition. Often used in this context, e.g. 'He is on MC today'

Words or phrases which have one meaning in British English and another in Malaysian English

Word / Phrase British meaning Malaysian meaning
@short for 'at'an indicator that the name following is a nickname, usually used by Chinese, e.g. for Tan Siew Khoon @ Jimmy, his nickname is Jimmy
driveranybody who drives / is drivinga personal chauffeur / odd job man, often sent on errands
hikewandering round the countryside for pleasurean increase, especially in tax or prices (British English would call this an increase or a raise)
last timeon the previous occurrencepreviously
slippersShoes worn in the bedroom, or before going to bed, often with lots of furry coatingShoes that do not fully enclose the foot, worn outside (flip flops)


Often the last syllable of an word is not pronounced with the strength that it would be in British English.

Also, 'p' and 'f' are sometimes pronounced somewhat similarly among speakers of Malay descent. For example, the two Malay names 'Fazlin' and 'Pazli' may sound almost identical when spoken by Malays, whereas this confusion would not arise when spoken by a British Speaker.


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