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Does Brunei have Brunei English?

1) Introduction

This research is focused on the English variety that exists in

Brunei Darussalam called Brunei English. Following a lecture that
the researcher had prior to the research and due to the curiosity
of whether Bruneians are aware of this phenomenon, a study on
the attitudes to Brunei English was carried out. The researcher
had little knowledge on this topic, and once this matter was
brought up, it raised several questions: is there really a New
English in Brunei Darussalam? If so why has it not been made
aware of? What are the characteristics of this kind? Therefore a
survey was carried out, not only to study the perceptions of
other Bruneians of this matter but also to let others know of its
possible existence. The research question for this project will be:
Do students of Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) know about
the probable existence of Brunei English?

2) Literature Review

2.1) Country Information

Brunei Darussalam is an Islamic country that is 5,765 sq.

kilometres, located at the northern area of Borneo Island. Its
official language is Standard Malay, yet English and Chinese are
also spoken daily by the residents of the country. Moreover,
languages of minority groups namely Brunei Malay, Kedayan,
Tutong, Belait, Dusun, Bisaya, Murut (Lun Bawang), Iban, Penan,
and Mukah are also used in daily conversations, as well as the
languages of immigrant workers such as Filipino, Indonesian and
Thai (Coluzzi, 2012, p. 2). In diglossic situations, these minority
languages are of the low variety whereas the high ones are

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Standard Malay and English. As mentioned by Coluzzi (2012),

English has always been the language of administration since
1888 during the British protectorate period and it was given the
status similar to the Malay language since Brunei gained
independence on 1st January 1984.

2.2) Linguistic Situation

Martin and Poedjosarmo (1996) described Brunei as a country that

has linguistic diversity due to the various languages that are spoken
by the people in the country. However, speakers of these minority
languages tend to use more of Brunei Malay due to its status as the
national language of the country. On the other hand, the official
language, Standard Malay, is commonly used in formal surroundings
such as during public speeches as well as media broadcast (Martin &
Poedjosarmo, 1996). As for Chinese, Deterding and Salbrina (2013)
mentioned that there are several dialects that are used, such as
Hokkien and Mandarin, but the latter is becoming more widely used
as most Chinese rather speak in the dialect than using their own
heritage dialects (p. 6). In addition to that, they are also able to
speak Brunei Malay. While in the case of English, the younger
generation are capable of speaking basic English, given that the
sultanate practices bilingual education since 2984. This is the
opposite for the elders, where some may only have little or no
knowledge of the global language due to the fact that they were not
exposed to the language as much as their children currently are
having (Deterding & Salbrina, 2013).

2.3) English in Brunei or Brunei English?

As mentioned by McLellan (2015), it was found by McLellan and

Noor Azam (2012) that the people of high ranks at the Ministry of

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Education (MoE) prefer to think that there is no existence of Brunei

English in the country, as they aim to have their students to master
the British accent, as it is perceived as the language of academics.
Noor Azam and McLellan (2014) mentioned how linguistic
nationalists in Brunei only wish to see English having to be
perceived as a foreign language, where its sole purpose is to be
used only for international communication and not becoming a part
of the linguistic ecosystem (pp. 490). Deterding and Salbrina
(2013) on the other hand, wish to look at the situation differently,
where Brunei is able to give English its own specific flare and
therefore capable of having its own distinguished brand of the lingua

3) Methodology

For this research, Google Forms was used to create the survey,
which consisted of 9 questions. These questions were:

i. Gender
ii. Age
iii. Do you use English to speak with people of different ethnicity
in Brunei?
iv. What English accent do you think you use when speaking in
the language?
v. Why do you use your accent of choice? Please state your
vi. Please tick the sentences that you think are Standard
vii. Please tick the sentences that you think are not Standard
viii. Which of the phrases do you think are from Standard English?
ix. Do you think there is a Brunei English? Please give reason(s)
for your choice.

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The finished form was then distributed the news feed of the
researchers private Facebook profile and also to UBDs PMUBD
and Brunei Wawasan 2035 Facebook pages. The form was open to
public access for about 24 hours, from March 16 th 2015 at 9 p.m.
until 9 p.m. of March 17th, and this brought in a total of 64
responses. Calculations were automatically done by Google Forms
and the results are generated straightaway following new

4) Results

The first question asked about the gender of the respondent. The
survey accumulated 26 responses from males and 38 from females:
therefore it is shown that 59.4% of the results were contributed by
the latter gender, as seen in Figure 1 below:

Figure 1: Gender of Respondents

For this survey, there were 4 age groups for the respondents to
choose from, 16 25, 26 35 and 36 45 years old. Those who
are from the first age group are shown to be the ones who
responded the most, where 76.6% of the responses were from them,
while the second and third groups stood with 20.3% and 3.1%
respectively. These numbers can be seen from Figure 2 below.

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Figure 2: Age of Respondents

The survey then started off with the first title question at Question
3, by asking as to whether English is the language used when
speaking to people of other ethnicity, to which most of them, 45 out
of 64, said Yes while others chose No: as seen in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Result of Question 3

Question 4 asked about the English accent that respondents believe

to be using when speaking in the lingua franca, where the majority
of 53.1% chose the American accent while the British accent was
only selected by 20.3% of them, losing to the accent of Others
which has 26.6% votes.

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Figure 4: Result of Question 4

The next question is a continuation of the previous one, which

requires respondents to explain reasons for their accent choice. This
is a subjective question and therefore it is expected for various
answers to be given to Question 5.

As for Question 6, six sentences were provided in order to test the

knowledge on plural nouns. All but one of them is of Standard
English. The first sentence, as seen in Figure 5, has the least count
with 9 people thinking it as one of the standard dialect, followed by
the third sentence, which was chosen by 11 people.

Figure 5: Result of Question 6

Subsequently, Question 7 asked about the sentences that the public

see as being non-Standard by using six different sentences as well,
but the ones in Question 7 specifically focus on the grammatical
features of English.

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Figure 6: Result of Question 7

Further investigation continues with Question 8, which requires

respondents to choose the phrases that they think originated from
English. Six options were also given, and these are common daily
expressions which can be found in local newspapers and social
media websites such as Facebook and Instagram.

Figure 7: Result of Question 8

The final question ultimately asked about views of the respondents,

as to whether there is a Brunei English or not, and they were
required to give reason(s) for their choice. As seen in Figure 8 below,
most individuals, who make up the 57.8%, said Yes, and some,
rather than saying No, were uncertain.

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Figure 8: Result of Question 9

5) Discussion

This survey was initially meant for Universiti Brunei Darussalam

(UBD) students because the researcher was aiming to see whether
or not there is a general belief that Brunei English exists in Brunei
Darussalam. An error was made while publicising the Google Form
link as the researcher accidentally uploaded the link onto a public
group called the Brunei Wawasan 2025 instead of placing it at the
UBDs PMUBD Facebook group: an this was only realised after
several hours, where 12 people already filled in the form. Therefore
it was decided that the new aim would be to just investigate
Bruneians attitude towards the notion of Brunei English.

One of the things that were seen as important in order to determine

the existence of Brunei English is by finding out the inter-ethnic
lingua franca (Deterding &Salbrina, 2013) of the country. Question
3 was used as a tool to identify this, and Figure 3 shows more than
half of the respondents use English to speak with those who are of
different ethnicity, with a percentage of 70.3% as opposed to the
remaining 29.7%. This finding may conflict with what is being said
by Deterding and Salbrina (2013), where they claimed that Brunei
Malay is the language used by people of other ethinicities (pp. 34).
Ultimately, it can be safely assumed that English is on its way to

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overpowering the use of Brunei Malay within the ethnicities that are
in the sultanate. If there is a presence of a local variety of New
Englishes, Deterding and Salbrina (2013) believe that it is at the
third phase of Schneiders (2003) Dynamic Model called
Nativization. McLellan and Noor Azam (2014) on the other hand,
found reasons to believe that Brunei English is reaching the Phase 4.
Nonetheless, there should be some precaution when taking on this
hypothesis, simply due to the small number of sample that was
used for this study. 64 responses does appear to be a lot yet it
needs to be bear in mind that this might be an exaggerated
generalisation even though the population of Brunei Darussalam is
merely small, about 400,000 compared to other countries.

When asked about their accent, many people believed that they use
the American version rather than British, and to the researchers
surprise, more chose the Other accent rather than the latter: 34
votes for the U.S. accent which makes 53.1% of the total count, 17
for other accents which brings in to 26.6%, and 13 for British who
adds up with the remaining 20.3%, and no one chose the Australian
accent. The question that was raised upon seeing this result was the
reason behind Bruneians preference, thus Question 5 was set, in
order to discover the main reasons for their choices. However, it was
then realised that there was an error in the execution of this
question: respondents accents of choice were not specified in their
explanations hence there was a difficulty in analysing their opinions
hence reducing the accuracy of the findings for Question 5.

Given Reason No.

Influence by the media 16
Ease 7
Education 17
Grew up /got used with the 8
Unconscious usage/ Natural 6
Peer pressure 1

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Parents/ Family 1
Unsure 1
Malay/ Mother tongue 4
No accent 4

Table 1: Responses to Question 5

As seen in Table 1, Education is given by most respondents as the

reason for their accent of choice, where five individuals mentioned
British in their responses hence it can be assumed that these were
directed to their British accent choice. As for the second most given
answer, Influence by the media most responses relate media with
America, specifically seen in 7 of them: American movies,
American series, American cartoon, American youtubers and
only one person mentioned British movies,

Large influence from watching British TV shows and movies.

This may suggest that Bruneians perceive the British accent as an

academic language whereas the entertainment dialect is run by the
American accent. As mentioned by Deterding (2014), people in
Brunei seem to be greatly affected by popular media such as songs
and movies (pp. 430). The reason why education outweighs media
in this survey is probably due to the fact that there are people who
are between 26 to 45 years old, the older generation who learnt to
speak English due to the need to be intellectual. Other reasons that
respondents gave, which referred to a particular accent was the
Ease factor. For example, someone wrote this response and
referred to how easy it is to use American English,

I tend to go for simplicity and easy to pronounce. British and Australian

have their own unique accent which I love but in daily conversation, I will
still choose American English.

Another person also had something similar in mind,

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Because it's easier to speak in American accent, also, growing up

watching American cartoons may be a factor.

Hence these two may suggest that Ease is intended for the
American accent, although it cannot be used to generalise how
others feel about it because of the small number of sample, and the
fact that only 2 out of 7 responses clearly stated that they chose the
U.S. accent.

Other than learning the reasons for their accent choice, several
experiments were done in order to assess the knowledge that
Bruneians have of English, which was the main reason behind the
construction of questions 6 and 7. In Question 6, it was seen in
Figure 5 how there is a variation in the number of counts for each
sentence. The second sentence:

I bought my mothers gift in Singapore,

is to act as a control, to see whether how many would see this as a

Standard English sentence. From the calculations, 32 individuals,
which is half of the respondents of this survey ticked this sentence,
which shows that not everyone identifies to the possessive suffix s
in the word mothers. In addition to that, 45 people (70.3%) chose
the sentence,

Does the university provide free accommodations for the first year

in which the plural noun accommodations is seen as the norm even

though in reality there is no such plural as the word
accommodation already has a plural meaning (BBC, 2011). Another
English feature that Bruneians tend to confuse about is the usage of
the verb discuss. The verb discuss should not be followed by
about as the verb already means talk about (Englishtown, 2013).
54.7% believe that this is of Standard English, which might imply
that they think that this is a correct structure because of direct
translation from Malay. Discuss means berunding,

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membincangkan, bahas in Standard Malay and this is usually

accompanied with the word tentang which simply means about
(Malaycube, 2015). Other sentences had the plural nouns stuffs,
furnitures and fruits gotten the least numbers, with 9, 11 and 24
counts respectively. This might imply that these plurals are not
commonly used hence some are able to differentiate them as being

Question 7 on the other hand, was intended to test the knowledge

on identifying non-Standard English. There are two sentences that
act as the control for this test, the fourth sentence:

She is waiting for her fianc at the secretarys office,

as well as the fifth sentence,

He has had a bad day at work.

These two sentences can easily be ruled out by most people, but it
was found that there were some respondents who ticked these
sentences as ungrammatical, by having percentages of 7.8% and
23.4% respectively, as 5 people chose the fourth sentence while 15
ticked the fifth one. For the possessive sentence, people might not
see it as a standard form as it could also be seen in Question 6
because of the influence from Brunei Malay, as Deterding and
Salbrina (2013) stated that the use of determiners such as a, an,
the, my and your are varied in Malay but English requires their
singular noun count to be appropriately preceded by any one of
these determiners (pp. 65). The latter sentence plays with the
Present Perfect Tense form has had, and this appears to be a
structure that Bruneians do not always come across with, and
therefore for those who are not extensively familiar with the various
grammatical forms of English may not be able to recognise it as a
Standard form. The researcher also was not aware of this verb rule
until she was studying for her GCE O Levels. Another sentence that
was put among the others was the third sentence:

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My parents always emphasise on the importance of education,

where only 6 saw it as non-standard. This sentence was constructed

to see whether the claim by Deterding (2014) is true: that one of
Brunei English features that was found was the verb+preposition,
in this case, emphasise on. As seen in the results of the survey, it
can be assumed that the feature is a characteristic of the
sultanates variety of the lingua franca, because of the small
percentage of respondents who saw it as non-standard, with only

As for the others, sentences 1, 2 and 6 of Question 7 are clearly

non-Standard and most respondents ticked them off. The one with
the greatest number was the last sentence which was chosen by
90.6% of the respondents, in which it contains thats mean instead
of that means: a structure that is always commonly heard when
listening to Bruneian speakers conversing in English.

The following question then seeks to determine the number of

Bruneians who are able to identify the phrases that originated from
Malay. Question 8 gives 6 different phrases, four-eye meeting, rat
trail, hot hot chicken shit, purchase with purchase, dry season
and drop my water face. The researcher did not provide any
control sentence for this question as all of the above phrases have
their own localised meanings which are different to the traditional
usage by mother tongue speakers of English. Unfortunately there
was another error in carrying out this question, where the phrase
dry season is a common Standard English phrase that is used as a
geographical term, hence it is technically a phrase that originated
from English. The expression is usually seen as an idiom in Brunei,
to express the period when financials are limited that usually occurs
from mid-month to payday (Rosnah, Noor Azam & McLellan, 2002,
pp. 109).

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Hot hot chicken shit and drop my water face are obvious
expressions that were derived from Malay idioms hangat-hangat
tahi ayam and menjatuhkan air muka respectively, hence there
were no votes for these two, whereas purchase with purchase has
the second highest count, where 50% of the respondents believe it
to be originating from English. This phrase is usually found in local
supermarkets especially HuaHo, where it means that people can buy
other items that are on offer at lower prices when they use the
receipt of their earlier buy, in which it simply means that consumers
can buy offer items at cheaper costs simply by showing the
purchase receipt of the earlier one. When the usage of this
expression was tested using the corpus such as the COCA (2012), no
matching records were found, and this may indicate that this is a
term used only in Brunei. Rat trail, having 21.9% of votes and four-
eye meeting with 28.1%, were also looked into using the COCA
(2012) but there were no records of their usage in the American
corpus as well. This might further indicate that these can only found
in the Southeast Asian region, at least in Singapore and Malaysia, as
the Englishes found in these countries share some features
(Deterding, 2014; Deterding &Salbrina, 2013). Local newspapers
Brunei Times and Borneo Bulletin use these terms frequently, along
with Malaysian and Singaporean newspapers, as seen in the figure

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Figure 9: Use of Four-Eye Meeting

Figure 10: Use of Rat Trail

The last question then aims at looking into the attitudes of

Bruneians regarding the concept of Brunei English, to which more
than fifty-percent said Yes, with 57.8%, while others are more
unsure, at 35.9%, than they are certain that such variety does not

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exist. The explanations that were given by respondents varied, and

all of their responses can be seen in Section 7. Another difficulty
was encountered upon analysing these responses: some did not
specify their earlier choice, whether they answered Yes, No or
Unsure, and for this reason the analysis of these findings may not
be accurate.

Nonetheless, there are some that are worth noting: an individual

explained that Brunei English is English Kapal, which means that
the English variety that Brunei has is like rojak where it is a hodge
podge of multiple language features, especially those from Brunei
Malay and English,

The rojak language we use -as in the mix of brunei malay and english- is
what I see as Brunei English.

Similar thoughts were expressed by using the term mixing such as

in the words Nolah where No + lah and parkingkan keretaku
where the first word is a mixture of parking + kan. One also
mentioned about the different intonation that Bruneians speak in
that set them apart from other English users,

As a former oversea (sic) student, I managed to somehow recognise some

Bruneian speak english through auditory perception. I was never wrong, which I
found quite amusing.

While another person mentioned on the phonology of English

speakers in Brunei,

Pronunciation wise, yes. I noticed how people pronounced the 'TH' sound
as 'T' when both are separate entities. Example is third, thursday. Sometimes we
say it like 'tird' or 'tersday' unconsciously (In bahasa melayu, there is no word
with TH spelling so maybe that's why).

Some explanations indicate that there is no such thing as Brunei

English, simply because they identify the shared features as others
and not Bruneis,

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I don't think there is such a thing called Brunei English but rather, we tend
to be influenced by our neighbouring country's english such as the "Singlish" or
mixed-up malay + english, Though these type of english-language tend to be use
by the Chinese..Malay uses it as well,but only when they are speaking with the
chinese or when they are playing games (usually),If there is a "Brunei English"
type of English then it has to be the Broken English.

Whereas some may have said No because they were not aware,

What is that even..... .__. (sic) There are Bruneians to ~speak~ Singlish
but Brunei English.... I can only think of 'thats mean'. Other than that, no I'm not
aware of Brunei English.

Others believe that in order for the English in Brunei to be called as

Brunei English it has to be as well-known as other varieties,

It has yet to reach that level where it is prominent enough to be labelled

as a variety of English.

All in all, it seems that one of the main issues of identifying Brunei
English is its characteristics, what makes it another brand of
English? How does one define a New English?

6) Conclusion

All of these statements are not something new, as Deterding and

Salbrina (2013) among many other researchers also question this
matter: is Brunei English any different to the other New Englishes?
Deterding (2014) mentioned that it appears that Brunei English is
developing itself into becoming another distinct variety of English,
since it appears to be following the course taken by other
established New Englishes (pp. 430). It is difficult to be certain at
this stage, where the only way one can tell is through time and to
study more on the English situation in Brunei Darussalam. It is not
impossible for Brunei English to emerge since the average youth
usually has an average fluency in English which makes them fairly
intelligible and capable to communicate with foreigners. The

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researcher thinks that Brunei English will have its own unique
identity even though it may share a few features with other varieties
as previous studies seem to indicate that there are emerging
patterns that differentiate Brunei English from other Englishes. In
the researchers opinion, what stops the local brand from surfacing
and becoming well-known is the beliefs of the decision-makers, who
are struggling to grasp the idea of Brunei Darussalams very own
kind of English. It should also be considered how this study has
more than one flaw to it due to several oversights. Nonetheless,
what makes this an interesting research is the responses that were
received from people, discovering what they think of what could
possibly be a new English variety.