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Malay is one of the major languages in the world, but there has been relatively little detailed research on its phonetics. This Element provides an overview of existing descriptions of the pronunciation of Standard Malay before briefly considering the pronunciation of some dialects of Malay. It then introduces materials that may be used for studying the phonetics of Malay: a short text, the NWS passage; and a map-task, to generate conversational data. Based on recordings using these materials by two female and two male consultants who are academics at Universiti Brunei Darussalam, the Element next offers an acoustic analysis of the consonants and vowels of Malay, the syllable structure arising from fast speech processes, as well as the rhythm and intonation of the Standard Malay that is spoken in Brunei. Finally, it suggests directions for further research on the phonetics of Malay.
Brunei Malay (ISO 639-3: kxd) is spoken in the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam and also in some nearby places in East Malaysia such as Miri and Limbang in Sarawak (Asmah 2008: 65), on the island of Labuan (Jaludin 2003: 35) and around Beaufort in western Sabah (Saidatul 2003). Of the population of about 400,000 in Brunei, about two-thirds are native speakers of Brunei Malay (Clynes 2001), and the language is generally used as a lingua franca between the other ethnic groups (Martin 1996), so even most Chinese Bruneians, numbering about 45,000 (Dunseath 1996), are reasonably proficient in Brunei Malay. Although Standard Malay is promoted as the national language of Brunei (Clynes & Deterding 2011), in fact it is only used in formal situations, such as government speeches and television and radio broadcasts (Martin 1996). The language that is spoken most extensively is Brunei Malay, though English is also widely used by the educated elite (Deterding & Salbrina 2013).
Malay (Bahasa Melayu) is a member of the Malayic subgroup of the Austronesian language family. This subgroup includes languages like Gayo in Sumatra (Eades & Hajek 2006), Minangkabau in Sumatra, and Iban in Borneo, as well as many local dialects of Malay found in Borneo, Sumatra, Peninsular Malaysia, and eastern Indonesia (Adelaar 2005).
In this chapter, first the consonants and then the vowels of Singapore English will be discussed before we consider suprasegmental features such as rhythm, intonation and stress placement. We will also attempt to compare the sounds of Singapore English with the English found in other countries in the region.
It is important to describe the phonology of each variety of a language on its own terms, without reference to external norms and preconceived notions of how certain words ‘should’ be pronounced. To this end, we will discuss the vowels of Singapore English by means of the lexical keywords suggested by Wells (1982) and listed in Table 2.1.
Following Wee (2004a), an extra keyword poor is adopted, as in Singapore the vowel in poor, sure and tour is different from that in cure and pure. We will consider issues such as this, as well as mergers like that between fleece and kit and also the quality of the vowel in face and goat, later in this chapter.
It is important to establish that, in this chapter and elsewhere, we are often talking about tendencies, not absolutes. Many of the features that are discussed are ones that sometimes occur, but there is no suggestion that they are always found, even with data from one speaker recorded on a single occasion. For example, if we say that final pronouns tend to be stressed, we do not claim that they are always stressed, just that they are stressed more often than might be expected in many other varieties of English.