Only in Malaysia
By LYNNE MCGREADY
ALLOW me to begin this article by defining the word “mistake.”
Mistake - “An error or fault resulting from defective judgment, deficient knowledge, or carelessness.”
Language “mistakes” in Malaysia, and their causes, have distressed me during my eight years in this wonderful country.
Let’s evaluate the “causes” of these language mistakes, shall we?
Are these errors due to “defective judgment”.I think not! Are we, in this country, “deficient” in our knowledge? I can hear a resounding “NO!” from Malaysians all around the world. Well, then this leaves “carelessness” as the cause. Ah, now there is a “kind of hush, all over the world, tonight” ... But I digress.
I have made a list of words and expressions common to Malaysians. Sometimes, I’m not sure whether I should work myself to death to try and change these mistakes or simply start using them myself. I believe their use has become habitual.
I know that many a Malaysian language “guru” has taken up the gauntlet against these expressions and errors. I am simply encouraging them to persevere until a change is finally made.
Follow you home. My first encounter with this expression was in a small town in Perak. My host wanted to tell me that she was going to drive me back to my hotel. Instead, she said: “Lynne, don’t worry I will follow you back to the hotel.” Had our plans changed? Was I going with someone else? Would she be following us in her car? I asked: “Our plans seem to have changed. Who will I be going with?” I was reassured that our plans remained unchanged and I did not pursue the use of expression, (after all she was being kind enough to drive me around her hometown.)
However, eight years since this incident, I am still being “followed home” or “followed to the airport” or “followed to work” in the same car!
Send you back. A very similar experience, but this confused me even more the first time I heard it. This time I thought “not only are my staff going to ‘send’ me with someone else, but we are also going ‘back’ – but back to where? Was I going back to Australia, my apartment, back in time?” I had no idea, until someone explained that “back” meant, “Home of course!” (The face was reading, “Idiot Mat Salleh!”). Got it! So the word “back” in Malaysia means home, right?
Borrow me some money. Admittedly, a few people have “borrowed me” a few ringgit to buy a drink or lunch in the food court. However, wouldn’t they have preferred to just “loan” me the money? Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, can we please either: Lend people money e.g. “Ki, can you lend me RM5 please? I will pay you back tomorrow.” “No way, Lynne! You still owe me RM1 from last month.” Borrow money from people e.g. “Ki, may I borrow RM5 please? I will pay you back tomorrow.” “Sure. I can lend you RM10. I am feeling rich at the moment.”
Bring and take. (Let’s not forget “took”). I once had a conversation that went a little like this: “Lynne, if we go to the meeting this Friday, let’s bring our laptop.”
The sentence structure is wrong. When you are looking at or viewing the movement of something from the point of its arrival, use “bring.” e.g. When you visit my home this weekend, please don’t bring me chocolates. When we are looking at or viewing the movement of something from the point of departure, use “take.”e.g. Whenever I go to the Dewan Philharmonic, I must take my shawl. It can get very cold inside the hall.
Open and close the lights. I do understand the issue of language interference. For example, in Malay we say “buka lampu” and “tutup lampu” so a direct translation would be “open and close the light.” However, if we know that it’s not the same in English, shouldn’t we try and make the change? I think we should.
Last time, Kuala Lumpur was such fun. “It still is!” I respond, but what is this “last time” you’re referring to? The 1950s, 60s or the 70s? Let’s be more specific with the last times we are referring to.
“We want to spend you lunch.” Thank you! I would love to have lunch with you and you can spend your money to buy the lunch this time, but please don’t spend me. We spend money, not people. Besides, why would you pay for lunch with something as priceless as me?
“Do you take beef, Lynne?” “I’m sorry? Take it where? The zoo, perhaps?” Well, yes I do like to eat the occasional steak when I can, but I’ll eat it right here at the table, thanks.
“See first.” My first encounter with this expression caused my head to spin and I mean literally. I was in a meeting with my team and I asked one of them if they would like to lead a particular project. Her response was “See first”. I turned around to look and there was nothing or no one there! Well, perhaps, you wanted to think about it, dear friend, but please don’t wait too long, okay? Meanwhile, I’m changing my glasses so I can see first better.
In conclusion, I know that there are many books about the common mistakes made by Malaysians in speaking English. I have also often asked myself if I am being too pedantic about the incorrect use of “follow” being a standard in Malaysian conversation.
However, my fear is that many teachers not only continue to ignore these errors, but also inject them into their students, meaning there will always have to be folks like me writing long articles to tell them “not to say that.”
We all know every country has its own local expressions and slang for English conversation. Coming from Australia, I know this all too well.
However, I feel it’s also essential to know the difference between local and common English usage, or we risk not being understood or taken seriously by our foreign counterparts. In short, shouldn’t we keep our P’s and Q’s for international conferences, and save our wah’s and lah’s for the coffee shops? See first, and let me know ah.