English in the British Colonies: ASEAN

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English in the British Colonies: ASEAN

The British Empire was the dominant global power, with many colonies and a lot of outposts all over the world. It has a lot of reasons why the British Empire had to colonize other countries such as industrialization, world market, political motive, rise in population, etc. To illustrate, for the industrialization, the rise of demand in England, they had the new technology like steam power and harvesting machines that increased the production more and more. In contrast, it is the cause of needed more resources in England, so to meet the rise in demand, England started to find the resources from other place. Moreover, it is also about the political motives that like a war between England and France or other European countries. They wanted to make themselves be an impressive and strong political nation, so it is like a competition that they competed each other to reign the land.

During the 1500s and 1600s, international trade of Asia was controlled by the European countries as they can get many advantages from this trade to their own countries. As a consequence, the European countries became stronger; on the other hand, Asian countries and monarchy system became weaker. About 1800s, the European countries started to establish their power above the Asia, especially in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia.

The British colonization in Southeast Asia, British had colonized four countries in Southeast Asia that is ‘Burma’, ‘Malaysia’, ‘Singapore’, and ‘Brunei Darussalam’. So, when the British come to occupy, they also bring many things to the colonized countries such as knowledge, culture, and also language.

Burma (Myanmar)

The British conquered Burma is not like other colonies which keep up their ethnic identity; Burma was a province of British India. Therefore, Burmese had two set of ruler: the top is British and Indians in the middle. In 1935, the British separated Burma from India, and it was effective in two years later or in 1937. In 1948, Burma was able to arrange its dependence from Great Britain.

Nowadays, Myanmar or Burma has the primary language of instruction that is Burmese; moreover, English is the second language that was taught. To illustrate, English was the first language of instruction in higher education in the past as when Gen Ne Win reformed educational system to ‘Burmanize’. English language was used by educated people and the national government.

Burmese English

Burmese English is similar to Indian Englishbecause of the historical ties to India during British colonization.

The system of spelling in Burmese English is based on the British English; in contrast, American spellings have become popular as the first Burmese-English dictionary was created by Adoniram Judson who is an American. For example, color, check, encyclopedia.

Many Standard English words were borrowed to Burmese English and may words use in a different situation. For example, ‘pavement’ (British English) or ‘sidewalk’ (American English) is usually called ‘platform’ in Burmese English. Furthermore, many words were pronounced with the British accent, such asvitamin/ˈvɪtÉ™mɪn/.

In Burmese pronunciation, consonants are unaspirated such as the k, p, and t because of the general rule like in Indian English.

Between Burmese English and Standard English, there are some pronunciation differences.

Burmese English

Standard English




Pronounced with a high tone (drawn-out vowel), as in Burmese



Pronounced with a nasal final instead of an open vowel



Pronounced with a nasal final instead of an open vowel



e.g. "tuition," commonly pronounced[tÉ•ùʃìÉ´]



Pronounced as 2 syllables



Pronounced as 2 syllables



Pronounced as 2 syllables





Pronounced with a short, creaky tone (short vowel)



Pronounced as a nasal final

consonantal finals (.e.g.stop)


Pronounced as a glottal stop (as in written Burmese, where consonantal finals are pronounced as a stop)


During World War II, Singapore was occupied by Japanese Empire from 1943 to 1945. Finally, Singapore reverted to British Control when the war ended. And Singapore became an independent republic on 9 August 1965 because of the separation from Malaysia.

Singaporean English or Singlish

Singaporean English or Singlish is the English language spoken in Singapore which was influenced by Chinese and Malay. There are two main forms that are Standard Singapore English (SSE) and Singapore Colloquial English.

Standard Singapore English’s roots derived from the country’s 146 years (1819 to 1965) under British colonial rule. British colonial government used English as the official language. Moreover, in 1959 when Singapore obtained self-government and got the independence in 1965, the Singaporean government keeps English as the official language because of the economic prosperity. The use English in Singapore have many advantages; for example, decreasing the gap between the diverse ethnic group, being the first language use of the nation, or helping Singapore development and integration into the global economy.

There are many difference rules between Standard English and Singlish. For example, in term of Morphology, Singlish has a lot of grammatical endings that is not necessary in Standard English and speakers have to take into conversation. Furthermore, Plurals and past tenses are not needed. For example,

English Standard


What happened yesterday?

What happen yesterday?

Where do you go?

You go where?

So the bicycle went first.

Then bicycle go first ah.

Moreover, the main difference from Standard English is the frequent repetition of words that was used to emphasis and intensity and auxiliary verbs are missing. In contrast, Standard English is not used repetition, even for intensity: the word is only said one time.

For example,

English Standard


Don’t ask who!

Don’t ask who lah!

Why do you ask?

Why you ask ask ask?

How smart you are.

How smart you.

Brunei Darussalam

Brunei Darussalam became a British protectorate in 1888 and in 1906 Brunei Darussalam also was assigned to be a colonial manager of British Resident in 1906. In 1952 a new constitution was written after the occupation during World War II by Japanese Empire. Moreover, in 1962 the monarchy was ended by a small armed rebellion that was help by the British. Brunei got its dependence from the United Kingdom on 1st January 1984.

Brunei is a country that has many languages regional such as Malay, English, Chinese, Arabic, Nepali, etc. The official language is Standard Malay, but Brunei English is very popular and it is widely spoken as it is spoken by the most of the population. English has been an important language of education in Brunei since the inception of public education.

Learning both English and Malay in Brunei tend to get squeezed out the minority language such as Tutong and Dusun. In addition, people who attend the top school of the nation usually have an excellent foundation in English; in contrast, people who attend to lower schools often have a little skill in English.

Brunei English

Brunei English are different from Standard English in some points such as pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, etc.

These are some of remarkable features of Brunei English’s pronunciation.

  • The consonant at the start word ‘th’ like ‘thin’ and ‘thank’ tends to be pronounced as [t] rather than [θ].
  • The vowel in function words such as ‘of’ and ‘that’ tends to be a full vowel rather than [É™].

One current change that seems to be taking place is that Brunei English is becoming rhotic, partly influenced by American English and partly influenced by the rhoticity of Brunei Malay.

Next, there are a few examples of remarkable features of Brunei English grammar.

  • Plural nouns are added –s suffix, even they are uncountable nouns in other varieties of English. For example, ‘equipments’, ‘infrastructures’, and ‘jewelleries’
  • Adding suffix ‘-s’ on verbs to indicate a 3rd person singular subject is variable.
  • ‘would’ is often used to indicate something that is not definite.

The last is about the vocabulary in Brunei English.Many words from Malay are borrowed into Brunei English. For example, the words ‘titah’ (a Sultan’s speech), ‘sabda’ (another Royal family’s speech), ‘tudong’ (a head-dress worn by women), and ‘puasa’ (‘fasting’). The words from local food usually loan from Malay, such as ‘kuih’ (a local cake), as in ‘A variety of Malay kuih and sliced fruit will also be served’.


In the 1800s, the British East India Company partly controlled India. At that time, they interested in a base in Malaya. In 1786, the British under Francis Light occupied Penang and established Georgetown and they took Province Wellesley in 1800.

Malaysian English

Malaysia has two types of English: Malaysian Colloquial English (MySE), and Malaysian English (MyE).

Malaysian Colloquial English is known as‘Manglish’. It is aportmanteau wordof the ‘Street English’. It is common to speak with friend, but it is forbidden in school.

Malaysian English (MyE) is a form of language that used and spoken as a second language in Malaysia. It originates from British English because of British rule. In addition, its vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar have composed by many languages such as American English, Malay, Chinese, Indian languages, etc.

Malaysian English uses the same pronunciation system like British English; however, most of Malaysian people speak with a distinctive accent. The accent of Malaysian people get an influenced from American TV programs; moreover, many people study higher education in the United States and American companies in Malaysia that employed English speakers in cities.

These are some feature of Malaysian English.

  • Generally, Malaysian English is non-rhonic, all [r] are pronounced in Malay.
  • Malaysian English employs a broad an accent, such as the words like ‘cab’ and ‘tab’ appear with [ɑː] rather than [æ].
  • The [t] in words like ‘butter’ is usually not flapped (as in some forms of American English) or realized as a glottal stop (as in many forms of British English, including Cockney).
  • There is no h-dropping in words like ‘head’.
  • Malaysian English does not have English consonant-cluster reductions after [n], [t], and [d]. For example, ‘new’, ‘tune’ and ‘dune’ are pronounced [ˈnjuː], [ˈtjuːn], and [ˈdjuːn].
  • Fricatives 'th' ([θ] and [ð]) are pronounced [t] for [θ] and [d] for [ð].
  • 'L' is generally clear.
  • Diphthongs 'ow' ([əʊ] or [oÊŠ]) are just [o] and 'ay' ([eɪ]) is just [e].

Comparing the words has different meaning between British English and Malaysian English.

Word/ Phrase

Malaysian meaning

British/ American Meaning

parking lot

parking space

parking garage (US)


low-cost apartment

apartment (US)


medium-cost apartment

flat (UK)


high-cost apartment

Common hold (UK)

to revert

to come back (reply) to someone

to return to a previous state

to send

to take someone somewhere

to cause something to go somewhere without accompanying it

Moreover, Malaysian also has the words that were used only in Malaysia. It comes from a variety of influences. Sometimes, the words are also representing the influence of some continuums of Singapore Standard English. In the media, literature, and formal speech used, any words of Malay origin that have made into standard from Malaysian English.


British / American

handphone (often abbreviated to HP)

mobile phone or cell phone

public telephone or public phone


Malaysian Chinese, Malaysian Indian

Chinese Malaysian, Indian Malaysian

keep in view (often abbreviated to KIV)

kept on file, held for further consideration

MC (medical certificate)

sick note, aegrotat

mee (fromHokkienwordmi)


bank in (cheque)

deposit a cheque


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