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Having been a traveler and expat for nearly half my life and of course being a native speaker of English, I have found it increasingly interesting as to what ‘true English’ actually is anymore.
New Zealand of course is a colony and so we as well as all the other colonies should be lumped together at least for this post anyway. I’m living in Malaysia now and deal with a lot of people from African British colonies also, so my experience in the Colonial English vocabulary is varied.
For example, I notice in Malaysia that there are quite a few terms that I considered ‘quaint colonialisms’, but to the Malaysian people, are considered quite usual and acceptable. A few of these are as follows:
|Malaysian term used||Meaning in Malaysia||Meaning in UK|
|spoiled||No longer able to be used||Usually related to a child who has been given too much of something they love and so have become|
|scolded||Usually used to describe a teacher or a parent telling off a child for bad behaviour||Term used to describe either the severe telling off (using extremely harsh words) to as to almost beast the child with your words or to burn something severely.|
|come again||Can you repeat that again||To go to a place a second time, though had a brief common usage in the UK of ‘can you repeat that again’, but no longer in usage.|
|do my level best||To do the best you can||To do the best you can, but often considered used by those who are in the service industry, e.g. maids, butlers, drivers, etc|
|In the pink||In very good health||Unknown meaning|
There are of course many more. But what I want to look at here is not so much the words themselves but the reasons behind why some terms are latched onto and why we have a reaction to them.
So, why do some terms stick and others don’t?
Firstly, I do think it all comes down to the critical mass issue. If enough people are using it enough times in front of enough people, somehow it will stick. Others will pick it up and use it without even knowing it.
Secondly, historically of course those who were exposed to the colonial English early on were usually those who were connected to and surrounded by the language spoken at that time so tended to pick up phrases that were needed more often. In the early days, these may have been more likely to be in the service industry working for the plantation owners, the governors of the states, the people who required additional help e.g. the early colonials. How these early colonials treated their staff would have determined easily the kind of language that would stick.
So why has it stuck all these years and is still in usage?
For Malaysia, though the colonial aspect is finished, there are still some systems that remain. For example, there is still the maid and master mentality present, so considerably watered down, and though some of the relationships changed in nature, the actual phrases still were used as they were successful in describing what was needed to be said.
Also when Malaysia became independent, there was a sudden exodus of the British people and the British language. The school systems changed to Bahasa Melayu and English was relegated to a secondary position. This meant that those who did retain the language retained the old language and continued to use it without much new development in terms and usage.
It is only until now that (certainly in Kuala Lumpur), that this English issue has risen again. It is now common for most professionals to be not only fluent in English but native speakers with their own Malaysian accent. These people have adopted the new modern English terms and usages and sometimes (though not often) bring in the old colonial English but not often. This is a new development and strain of the English vocabulary, and most consider this to be the new English of Malaysia.
Upon talking to many Malaysians, their pride in their ‘Malaysian English’ is huge, and rightly so. Today the English language (not just in Malaysia) but in most countries in the world (particularly ex-colonies) has its own idiosyncrasies, all due to a variety of reasons. This is the nature of the new English, no matter where you are.
English has been an evolving language since the outset. So when we ask the question, is there such a thing as true English? The answer has to be no. But most importantly – no there never was and there never will be.
The future for English is clear. For those who are the travelers in this world who speak English, it is the appreciation of the differences in terms, vocabulary usage and phrases that will become increasingly consolidated, and these very differences will be the things that hold the culture and tradition of that country as well as their own original language.
What do you think?