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Review of  Brunei English

Reviewer: Gabriela Anidora Brozba
Book Title: Brunei English
Book Author: David Deterding
Publisher: Springer Nature
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 25.1301

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David Deterding and Sabina Sharbawi’s “Brunei English” is the fourth volume in the series Multilingual Education. The book consists of an introduction and seven main chapters, followed by appendices, references and an index, all preceded by some explanations regarding the conventions used in the transcriptions and a list of abbreviations.

Chapter 1 “Introduction” (pp. 1-11) starts by briefly presenting the history of Brunei, its population, the languages spoken. The appropriate label for the English variety used in Brunei is also discussed. It illustrates what Schneider (2007: 50) calls the substitution of “English in X” by “X English”, in his model the transition from phase 3 to phase 4 (i.e. from “nativization” to “endonormative stabilization”). This is followed by a discussion of the substantial variation characteristic of Brunei English (henceforth BruneiE) and a presentation of the data, which consist of spoken material from 53 formal interviews (38 female and 15 male participants) and the informal interview of Umi -- data from the University of Brunei Darussalam Corpus of Spoken Brunei English (UBDCSBE) -- , and written data from 2 local newspapers (“The Brunei Times” and the “Borneo Bulletin”), texts from the “Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Centre”, and from the online forum “BruDirect”.

As the title indicates, the second chapter, “Education in Brunei” (pp. 13-21), presents the history and status of the educational system in Brunei, with a focus on English-related educational policies.

The analysis in chapter 3 “Phonetics and Phonology” (pp. 23−47) is based on the UBDCSBE data which consist of 53 readings of the “Wolf” passage, an identical number of five-minute interviews, and a more extensive interview with Umi, a 33-year-old female speaker, whose English is fluent (p. 10), but it also builds, among other materials, on written assignments by first-year undergraduate students (p. 39). The sections on segmental phenomena (pp. 24-41) illustrate and discuss the tendency to replace the dental fricatives [θ] and [ð] with [t] and [d] respectively, the simplification of consonant clusters in word-final position, the addition of [t] after words, the realization as a glottal stop [ʔ] of /t/ and /k/ when they occur in word-final simple codas, obstruent word-final devoicing as well as some unexpected patterns of voicing (e.g. “racing” [reɪzɪŋ], p. 31), /l/-vocalization and /l/-deletion, the increasing incidence of post-vocalic /r/, the tendency to level the length distinction, such that the lexical sets (as proposed by Wells 1982) KIT and FLEECE or FOOT and GOOSE seem to have merged to single vowels. It seems that sometimes first-year undergraduates confuse the FACE vowel with the TRAP vowel (see Fig. 3.2 on p. 39), while there is also a tendency to monophthongize the FACE and GOAT vowels. The authors also discuss the relative absence of reduced vowels in BruneiE (i.e. they are quite rare), as well as some cases of spelling pronunciations and some idiosyncratic pronunciations (pp. 41-42). The remaining sections (pp. 41-47) deal with suprasegmental phenomena: lexical stress, rhythm, sentence stress, de-accenting, the sharp rise in pitch at the end of in the utterance known as “uptalk” or “high rising terminal” (p. 46).

In chapter 4 “Morphology and Syntax” (pp. 49-70), the authors first look at the occurrence or absence of inflectional suffixes (pp. 50-57) in count and non-count nouns (i.e. the plural suffix “-s”), as well as at the 3rd person singular suffix “-s” which reflects novel agreement patterns and which unexpectedly attaches to modal verbs as well (p. 58). Also addressed are the issues of the comparative merits of a phonological (in terms of cluster simplification, especially for the past tense suffix -ed) versus a morphological account of the deletion of the suffix “-s”, the pluralization of what are non-count nouns in native varieties of English, and variability in the use of these suffixes. The next four sections (pp. 59-64) discuss tenses, the use of “will” to refer to regularly occurring events, tentative “would”, the use of auxiliary “do” in affirmative sentences without showing particular emphasis, and the use of “already” as a perfective aspect marker or the substitution of present perfect by past perfect. In the remainder of the chapter (64-70), the authors examine the frequent occurrence of null subjects, subject-auxiliary inversion in embedded questions, the absence of determiners in general and the omission of articles for names of countries in particular, the use of affirmative answers to negative questions; the rather fuzzy boundaries in the distinction between “Adj to V” and “Adj V-ing” constructions (p. 69) and the use of non-prepositional verbs with a preposition.

Chapter 5 “Discourse” (pp. 71-87) is divided into 16 subsections highlighting the most typical discourse patterns in BruneiE. Particular attention is paid to the use of discourse particles: those analyzed include “bah” -- “perhaps the favourite particle for Bruneians” (p. 72), “lah”, “ah” and “kan” (used to form questions). This is followed by a discussion of “yeah” as a discourse continuation marker, the relative use of “sort of” and “kind of”, and the various uses of the particle “tsk” (pp. 75-76). So-called topic prominence is discussed in relation to resumptive pronouns and “-wise” as a topic marker. Reduplication is also touched upon and what the author calls the “substantial tolerance for repetition of lexical items” (p. 79), explained by the presence of lexical doublets, tautological expressions, the use of the expression “and so forth” or a tendency for unnecessary explicitness. Finally, lengthy sentences (seen as influence from Malay) and run-on sentences are illustrated.

Chapter 6 (pp. 89-106) on the vocabulary of BruneiE covers lexical borrowings from Arabic, especially for religious terms, and from Malay for a wide variety of semantic fields ranging from words belonging to a special register used in referring to or addressing the royal family to traditional local cuisine, dress codes or other culture-specific entities, calques (e.g. “four-eye meeting”, p. 98). The authors note the frequent use of initialisms (e.g. “KL” for Kuala Lumpur, p.100), clippings and a special type of blends (probably influenced by Malay, where speakers blend the first parts of the words involved rather than the beginning of one of them and the end of the other, “aircon” or “promex”, p. 102). There is shift in meaning or connotation, and special terms for participants in various sports are also to be found in BruneiE.

In chapter 7 (pp. 107-116), the authors sketch some possible underlying reasons for recurrent patterns of mixing, among which they list: the “inability to think of a word” (p. 111), the need to explain something, the lack of equivalents for religious terms and food items, direct quotations or stylistic reasons. Attitudinally, it seems that in Brunei a speaker is expected to switch freely between English and Malay if he or she can speak both languages or else the respective linguistic behaviour would be deemed strange or even rude (p. 116).

Finally, chapter 8 “Brunei English in the World” (pp. 117-125) touches upon issues related to the intelligibility of BruneiE, some pedagogical implications, the future of BruneiE, and the status of BruneiE in light of Schneider’s dynamic model (2003, 2007, 2011). The authors write that unlike Singapore English which “is assumed to be in the fourth stage of development” (p. 118), namely endonormative stabilization, BruneiE must be still during the third stage, i.e. nativization, since “English is not so widely adopted as a lingua franca in Brunei” (p. 119).

The “Appendices” (pp. 127-153) are subdivided into five parts: appendix A includes the biographical data of the female speakers in the UBDCSBE corpus, appendix B those of the male speakers, appendix C is a rendition of the “Wolf” passage, appendix D contains the full orthographic transcripts of the .wav files of the recorded conversational data in the interview with Umi, of which illustrative excerpts are included in the chapters 3-7, and appendix E provides details the 15 discussion threads from the “BruDirect” online forum (identification code, title, the date of the initial post and the URL where it can be accessed).

The book is a clearly structured overview of BruneiE. The authors keep a constant focus on comparative characteristics of BruneiE. The first author is a specialist in Singapore English but comparisons are also drawn with other Asian Englishes such as Malaysian English or Hong Kong English. The description and analysis of linguistic features of BruneiE are placed in the larger context of World Englishes, including natively spoken varieties. The potential influence of local languages is given careful consideration. Also, words of caution appear several times throughout. (An exception is the discussion of the absence of hypothetical conditional constructions which might seem categorical and cannot be falsified given the limited corpus available, an issue admittedly noted as a shortcoming by the authors themselves several times throughout the book.) The discussion of controversial sociolinguistic issues is both informative and objective.

Finally, the volume is beautifully edited and is almost typo-free, with the exception of “with” (p. 78) which should be “which”, “mature” (p. 110) which should be “nature”, “model” instead of “modal” (p. 120), and “prepositions” not “propositions” (p. 124). A few other minor formal flaws are related to the references: with a few exceptions, the articles listed in the references from those journals that have issues do not have the number of the issue mentioned (e.g. Cane, Collins or Deterding and Kirkpatrick in “World Englishes”, Fuchs in “English World-Wide”, Smith in “TESOL Quarterly”, Low in “Language and Speech”); some articles that constitute chapters in edited books are missing the pages (e.g. Noor Azam Haji-Othman 2012b), and the notation for the first names of the referenced authors are at times inconsistent (e.g. “Hussainmiya, B. A.” but “Gupta, Anthea Fraser”). However, these are truly minor faults that do not minimize the value of the content nor the pioneering effort of the authors in having put together the first monograph on a variety of English that has not even been thought of or categorized as such by the large public, specialized or uninitiated.

In conclusion, this comprehensive and insightful book constitutes an invaluable addition and resource for researchers interested in New Englishes.

Schneider, E. W. (2003) The dynamics of New Englishes: From identity construction to dialect birth. “Language” 79 (1): 233-281.

Schneider, E. W. (2007) “Postcolonial English: Varieties around the World”. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schneider, E. W. (2011) “English around the World: An Introduction”. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wells, J. C. (1982) “Accents of English, vol. I, An Introduction”. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Gabriela Brozbă is a junior lecturer in phonetics and phonology, as well as pragmatics at the University of Bucharest with a PhD degree in Philology, specifically Applied English Linguistics. Her main research interests include phonetics and phonology, non-native Englishes, sociolinguistics, pragmatics, and dialectal variation, among others. She is the author of two published books: Between Reality and Myth: A Corpus-based Analysis of the Stereotypic Image of Some Romanian Ethnic Minorities (2010), and The Phonology of New Englishes (2012).