Recent research on the forms and functions of English in Malaysia has tended to focus on the changing status of English there, particularly since the late 1960s, when Malay, renamed ‘Bahasa Malaysia’, became Malaysia's sole official language and began replacing English as the predominant medium of instruction in the schools. As a result, most analyses of Malaysian English (e.g., Platt and Weber 1980; Wong 1982) have concentrated on a predicted ‘deterioration’ in the English proficiency of younger Malaysians, which has accompanied diminishing needs to use English. In so doing, these studies have often ignored another outcome of this change in the relative status of English and Malay: the many domains of language use in which these two languages are now coming into increasing contact.
After a brief review of the history of English in Malaysia, this chapter will examine patterns of lexical borrowing from Malay into English and of code mixing and switching between English and Malay by the current Malaysian élites, who still use and set the standards for English usage in Malaysia. It will be shown that an analysis of the forms and functions of these borrowings, mixes, and switches can enhance our understanding of variation in contemporary Malaysian English.
The development of English in Malaysia
English during the colonial period
The sociolinguistic setting of Malaysian English began to develop during the British colonisation, from the late eighteenth until the mid twentieth centuries, of the Malay Peninsula and of present-day Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo.