Date of Award
Master of Arts
Teaching English as a Second Language/Applied Linguistics
John M. Levis
The language policies in Malaysia, having been controlled by the ethnic Malays ever since Independence Day in 1957, have hence dictated which language influences each major ethnic group is exposed to. With the official language as well as the language of instruction in public schools being Malay, ethnic Malays who speak it as a first language (L1) are typically monolingual speakers of Malay. The ethnic Chinese and Indians who usually speak Mandarin or Tamil as an L1 respectively are typically bilingual or trilingual. These different language influences might play a role in how speakers of each ethnic group produce Malaysian English (MalE) monophthongs and diphthongs, and this study investigated what those influences might be in the form of vowel variations. This study extracted formant values in the Bark scale from recordings made of the participants reading 12 of Wells’ (1982) lexical sets: FLEECE, KIT, DRESS, TRAP, GOOSE, FOOT, THOUGHT, LOT, STRUT, NURSE, FACE, and GOAT. The formant values were used to plot vowel charts to facilitate comparisons among Malay-, Chinese-, and Indian-influenced MalE.
It was found that Indian-influenced MalE (InMalE) varied the most from Malay-influenced MalE (MaMalE) and Chinese-influenced MalE (ChMalE) in their productions of the monophthongs KIT, DRESS, FOOT, LOT, and NURSE. MaMalE varied in FLEECE, and ChMalE varied in GOOSE. TRAP, THOUGHT, and STRUT exhibited no significant across-group variation. As for diphthongs, MaMalE did not diphthongize FACE. ChMalE’s FACE, on the other hand, moved higher and more backed, and InMalE’s moved higher and more fronted. For the diphthong GOAT, only InMalE varied their production by realizing GOAT as a monophthong.
These variations in vowel production may involve the role of language policy in Malaysia as well as the power imbalance among ethnic groups. If more Indian Malaysians are now Dominant Users of English, they speak English as an L1 and either Malay or an Indian language as their second language, in contrast to Malay Malaysians’ L1 of Malay and Chinese Malaysians’ L1 of a Chinese language. This difference, in combination with the power imbalance in Malaysia where the Malays hold the strongest political influence, with the Chinese not far behind, and the Indians largely ignored, might explain why InMalE varies the most from MaMalE and ChMalE. It might also explain why MaMalE and ChMalE exhibit fewer variations between each other. The study’s limitations are discussed and suggestions are provided for further research.
Sock Wun Phng
Phng, Sock Wun, "Vowel variations among speakers of Malaysian English" (2017). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 15603.