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British and Malaysian English differences

This article outlines the differences between Malaysian English or more popularly Manglish, the form of street Malaysian English spoken by most Malaysians 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.

It is necessary 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.


Despite being traditionally based on British English, Malaysian English has, in recent decades, been 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 spelled center (American), although colour and color are used interchangeably. In schools and in the print media, Malaysians default to spelling the British way, i.e. "vapour" instead of "vapor" and"organise" instead of "organize"

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


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. For example, the phrase "Why you so like that one?" means "Why are you behaving in that way" in standard English. In Cantonese, a similar phrase would be rendered as "Dímgáai néih gám ge?" or literally "Why you like that?" The "one" in the sample phrase does not literally mean the numeral one, instead it is used more as a suffix device. It is also sometimes rendered as "wan."

Other common characteristics are anastrophe and omission of certain prepositions and articles. For example "I haven't seen you in a long time" becomes "Long time never seen you already." Or, in Singlish (used in Singapore), natives will usually say "Long time no see".



Words only used in British English

To a large extent, standard Malaysian English is descended from British English, largely due to the country's colonisation by Britain beginning from the 18th century. But because of influence from American mass media, particularly in the form of television programmes and movies, 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, fries instead of chips.

Words or phrases only used in Malaysian English

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, the Malaysian English speaker may be unaware that the word or phrase is not present in British or American English.

Malaysian British / American
Handphone (often abbreviated to HP) Mobile phone or Cell phone
KIV (keep in view) Kept on file, held for further consideration
Outstation Means both 'out of town' and/or 'overseas/abroad'.
MC (medical chit). Often used in this context, e.g. 'He is on MC today' Sick note
Love Letter. To receive a 'Love Letter' could mean to receive a letter of reprimand or some official notifications (usually negative). E.g. I received a 'Love Letter' from the bank about my account. No equivalent.
Can Yes/Alright
Photostat Photocopy, Xerox
Cannot No
One hundred over, one thousand over etc. Over one hundred, over one thousand etc.
Meh/Ke An optional suffix usually used to donate a question mark to yes, as in "yeah meh?" or "ye ke?" i.e. "Are you sure?", with the former being more commonly used amongst those of Chinese descent and the latter by Malays. No equivalent.
Mar Mostly used as a suffix. Derived from Chinese languages, where "ma" is grammatically correct. For instance, (mandarin) "ni zhi dao ma?" would literally mean "Did you know?", except that there is an extra word behind: ma. Another example, a person would say "I didn't know mar"; which somewhat has the same meaning as "I didn't know la" but is softer than "la". When the person says "I didn't know mar", it indirectly states that the person is being apologetic about not knowing something. No equivalent.
Ar An optional suffix usually used to donate a question mark, as in "Sure ar?" or "Are you sure ar?", i.e. "Are you sure?" No equivalent.
Lah/La/Lor A popular suffix to phrases and sentences. Originates from Chinese language (and its dialects) where its usage is grammatically correct, for instance, (cantonese) "M hou gam yeung la" would literally mean "Don't be like that", except that there is an extra word at the end, "la". Another example: "cannot, lah", i.e."Sorry that's not possible." and "Rest some more-lah.", i.e. "Please rest for a while longer,"; It is important to note that the tone of which the prefx s spoken greatly affects the context of the statement. Example, saying "Okay -lah" while squinting one eye and hesitating the -lah, would be to give a mediocre opinion about something (as in "The food was okay-lah"). Meanwhile, to say a short increasing pitched -lah as in "Okay -lah. We'll all go to Ipoh later", would be to agree about something. "Lah" is also generally used to soften an otherwise angry/stern tone, such as: "Stop it lah" as opposed to just an abrupt "Stop it!", or "Don't be like that la" as opposed to "Don't be like that". It is usually perceived as less insulting when a "lah" is added in sentences such as those, and typically means that the person uttering the sentence is not angry, unless of course, it is said in a harsh tone. No equivalent.
Gostan To reverse, especially in the context of driving motor vehicles. A contraction of the term "go astern" (Mostly used in Kelantan). To reverse, to go backwards

Different Meanings

This is a list of words and phrases that have one meaning in British English and another in Malaysian English

Word / Phrase American / British meaning Malaysian meaning
@ short for 'at' an indicator that the name following is a nickname or alias, usually used by Chinese, e.g. for Tan Siew Khoon @ Jimmy, his nickname/alias is Jimmy
driver anybody who drives / is driving a personal chauffeur / odd job man, often sent on errands
last time on the previous occurrence previously
a parking lot a parking garage (from US English) a parking space, e.g. "That new shopping mall has five hundred parking lots."
an alphabet a set of letters used in a language a letter of the alphabet, e.g. "The word 'table' has five alphabets."
bungalow A small house or cottage usually having a single storey and sometimes an additional attic story that is free standing, i.e. not conjoined with another unit. A mansion for the rich and/or famous; or a fully detached house, regardless of the number of floors it has. Lately, some housing developers have taken to using terms such as "semi-detached bungalow".


In Malaysian English, the last syllable of a word is sometimes 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 'Pazlin' may sound almost identical when spoken by Malays, whereas this confusion would not arise when spoken by a British Speaker.

See also

External links

  • - common proper noun list used in Malaysian languages

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