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Asian Englishes

ISSN: 1348-8678 (Print) 2331-2548 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/reng20

Code Switching in Malaysia


David Deterding
To cite this article: David Deterding (2012) Code Switching in Malaysia, Asian Englishes, 15:1,
98-102, DOI: 10.1080/13488678.2012.10801322
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13488678.2012.10801322

Published online: 11 Mar 2014.

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Download by: [University of Reading]

Date: 21 October 2015, At: 10:17

Asian Englishes, Vol. 15, No. 1, 2012

Book Review
Code Switching in Malaysia
Maya Khemlani David, James McLellan, Shameem Rafik-Galea &
Ain Nadzimah Abdullah

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Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2009, 230 + xvi pp.


Hbk (978-3-631-59564-0).
David DETERDING
This book contains thirteen chapters on code switching in Malaysia, divided
into three sections; code switching in the family domain, code switching in the
educational domain, and code switching in professional domains.
Section A has four chapters. In Chapter 1, Maya Khemlani David, Kuang Ching
Hei, James McLellan and Fatimah Hashim discuss the reasons for code switching
between English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil in home environments. In Chapter
2, Jariah Mohd Jan describes how the five children in one family switch between
English and Malay to persuade, demonstrate power over, and mock their siblings,
particularly when negotiating the use of computers. In Chapter 3, James McLellan
and Rosalind Nojeg analyse patterns of code mixing between Malay, English, and
the Bau-Jagoi dialect of Bidayuh based on the recording of two Bidayuh women
discussing a set of holiday photographs. In Chapter 4, Maya Khemlani David and
Caesar Dealwaris describe the language shift among three generations of one
extended family of Indians living in Kuching, with the first generation speaking
mostly Telegu, the second generation largely switching to Malay as well as some
Hokkien, and the third generation adopting English as their main language and
having almost no knowledge of their heritage language.
Section B, on code switching in the educational domain, has four chapters.
Chapter 5 is by Kamisah Ariffin, and it describes how university undergraduates
and their teachers switch between English and Malay during their classes at a
Malaysian university. In Chapter 6, Maya Khemlani David and Lim Chin Chye
analyse the language selection of four boys in a secondary school in Ipoh in the
north of Malaysia, showing that Malays tend to stick with Malay with a few words
of English, while Chinese mostly use English with some Malay and Cantonese,
and the Indians also predominantly use English with some Malay. In Chapter 7,
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Book Review Code Switching in Malaysia

Paramasivam Muthusamy and Rajentheran Muniandy investigate the language use of


thirteen Tamil undergraduates at Universiti Putra Malaysia, showing how they switch
between Tamil, Malay and English largely for habitual reasons but also often because
of lack of topic-related vocabulary. In Chapter 8, Karen Kow Yip Cheng makes a
strong case for the constructive role of code switching in the classroom, arguing that
it can achieve many functions, including conveying exact information, reiterating a
point, and establishing goodwill between teachers and different ethnic groups.
There are five chapters in Section C on code switching in professional domains.
In Chapter 9, Richard Powell compares the patterns of switching between Malay and
English in Malaysian courts with language use occurring in the courts of various
other countries around the world, including Kenya, Botswana, India, Pakistan, Sri
Lanka, the Philippines and Myanmar. In Chapter 10, Maya Khemlani David and
David Yoong Soon Chye analyse the language adopted by care-givers at a day-care
centre for the elderly in Petaling Jaya, particularly how they switch between English,
Malay, Cantonese and Tamil to care for the needs of their elderly patients and also
exert authority over them. In Chapter 11, Hadina Habil and Shameem Rafik-Galea
consider the language of internal emails sent in two Malaysian organisations, and
though they report that code-switching is common between colleagues, it apparently
never occurs in upwards communication with bosses. In Chapter 12, Maya Khemlani
David, James McLellan, Kuang Ching Hei and Ain Nadzimah Abdullah compare
the occurrence of Malay terms in the headlines of English-language newspapers
from 1957 with those of 2007, and they report that there is a greater occurrence of
this kind of code switching in the more recent data, especially when referring to
the names of local people, places and organisations, but also for animals and plants,
clothes, ethnic festivals and other cultural activities. In the final chapter of the
book, James McLellan discusses the compartmentalisation of English and Malay
in Malaysia, particularly how political leaders try to provide a space for English
for instrumental purposes while ensuring that it does not overwhelm the crucial
role of Malay as the national language, and also how some of them condemn code
switching even though in fact political leaders themselves such as the Chief Minister
of Sarawak often engage in extensive switching between Malay and English.
Many of the contributions in this book are written by the first two editors.
Maya Khemlani David is the first author of five chapters; and James McLellan is
the sole author of one and a contributing author of three others. In fact seven of the
thirteen chapters are written or partly written by one or both of these two authors.
Nevertheless, or perhaps as a result of this, there is wide range of fascinating research
into various facets of code switching in different domains in Malaysia.
Nearly all the research in this book is qualitative rather than quantitative. This
means that, although almost every chapter is illustrated with an invaluable collection
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Asian Englishes, Vol. 15, No. 1, 2012

of detailed transcripts illustrating the various kinds of code switching that is found
to occur in the different domains that are investigated, there is little attempt to
evaluate the frequency of occurrence of these code switching practices. While the
book therefore provides a rich tapestry of fascinating data on the occurrence of code
switching in Malaysia, it does leave us wondering in some cases how widespread
the practices are. For example the data in Chapter 11 consists of more than 150
email messages, and we are told that only a few represent upwards or downwards
communication (p. 172). But how many is only a few? And how confident can we
be about the claim of no code-switching taking place in messages sent to bosses?
Indeed, in many cases throughout the book we are left wondering whether the
examples given might just represent a few isolated instances cherry-picked from the
data.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with qualitative data, especially the rich
collation of data that is analysed carefully in this book. However, one inevitable issue
with analysis of code-switching data such as this is that some of the interpretations
might be questioned and alternative explanations can be proposed. For example, in
Chapter 1, in an interaction between a woman and her mother-in-law, we are told
it is clear that she is using English to express her concern (p. 15); but then, just a
few pages later, it is suggested that the woman uses English to exclude her motherin-law from the conversation (p. 18). How can we be confident about these two
interpretations, especially when they actually concern the same data extract? Then
in Chapter 2, it is suggested that use of the English first-person pronoun by one child
is to stress power wielding (p. 37), but in fact it seems that in all the data for the
language of children in this chapter, there is no use of Malay pronouns anywhere, so
we find utterances like you tak payah pay me (you dont have to pay me) (p. 39)
with the pronouns in English even when most of the rest is in Malay. Maybe use of
English pronouns by these children is the default, so it does not represent wielding
of power. In Chapter 5, it is suggested that the teacher engages in code switching
when addressing her class in order to explain things (p. 85). But while this is almost
certainly true in some cases, in the excerpt given there seems to be unconstrained
switching, and it is hard to see which cases are considered to be offering an
explanation. In Chapter 6, we are told that the use of the Malay word bengkak
(swollen) in the utterance You see here bengkak by Chinese students is mainly
for emphasis. But in what way does the use of this Malay term achieve emphasis?
Perhaps some elaboration would have been appropriate at this point. In one final
example regarding possible alternative explanations, it is claimed that one motivation
for switching in workplace emails is to exclude some people from the information
(p. 176), which seems a bit strange, as the best way of excluding someone from an
email interaction is surely by not including them in the list of recipients. Perhaps this
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Book Review Code Switching in Malaysia

explanation would have benefited from more details about the context.
One frustrating aspect of the presentation of many of the example transcripts
in this book is the widespread misalignment of the words. While this is mostly just
irritating, in some cases it makes the data rather difficult to interpret. For example,
on page 33 (from Chapter 2), an example of Malay-English code switching begins
with I tell you, I was so tired but it was kind of good too coz I, then on the next
line the word dapat (italicised to show it is Malay) is on its own, and the third line
consists of (could tidur lama and sleep longer). Presumably, could is the gloss
for dapat. But then, how does the tidur lama and sleep longer) fit in? And
why is tidur lama within the brackets that in this chapter appear to be used for
English glosses? I simply cannot figure this one out. Then, on page 52 (from Chapter
3), an example of switching between Bau-Jagoi and Malay includes, on one line, the
Bau-Jagoi words Doih koih puan kudu koih, on the next line paksa bayar NEG
(with the Malay words underlined) and on the third line the gloss 1pe know how
much 1pe obliged pay, and it took me some time to figure out that the paksa bayar
presumably should have been on the first line, and the gloss should have started with
NEG as the English equivalent for doih. It is a pity that this kind of difficulty with
reading some of the material may interfere with the value of the rich resource of data
that is collated in this book.
The varied adoption of italics and underling for the Malay words in in the two
examples discussed in the previous paragraph illustrates one other feature of the
book: the lack of common transcription conventions. While it is true that such varied
material might have made it hard to implement consistent conventions throughout,
there seems to be no reason why Malay words are sometimes bold, sometimes
underlined, sometimes italicised, and at other times we find combinations of these.
Furthermore, occasionally it is not entirely clear what some of the conventions
mean. For example, on page 34 (from Chapter 2), we find one child saying ah
[dreads]. What does this use of square brackets enclosing dreads indicate? Perhaps
uncertainty about the transcription? Or maybe this is describing some background
information about the attitude of the speaker? I cannot work this one out.
Unfortunately, there are also a few errors in the book which to a certain extent
undermine the confidence of some of the analysis. On page 6, we are told that
speakers wish to please or put their at ease, with no noun following their. On page
20, the context for Example 20 is stated as an elder brother talking to his younger
brother, which is clearly wrong as the interaction is actually between a husband
and wife. In fact, this context seems to have been copied from Example 19 without
change. On page 171, we are told that Communication provides the information that
individuals and groups need to make decisions by transmitting the date to identify
and evaluate alternative choices. Maybe this should be data rather than date? I am
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Asian Englishes, Vol. 15, No. 1, 2012

not sure. And on page 180, we are told that a previous study compares data from
newspaper texts in Malaysia and Brunei and Brunei Darussalam. One assumes that
this should be two countries, not three.
It is a pity that the final proof-reading was faulty, as there is a huge array of
splendid data collated in this book. Fortunately, even if the flawed presentation can
be confusing at times, and there are a few too many errors in the text, it does not
completely undermine the value of the material that is presented; and even though
there are many instances where alternative explanations could be offered or further
elaboration could have been provided, this is probably inevitable in any book that
presents extensive data on code switching. In conclusion, though some readers may
find some of the presentation annoying, and others may choose to question parts
of the analysis, many are likely to find the wealth of detailed material on code
switching provided in this book both fascinating and invaluable.

David DETERDING
University of Brunei Darussalam
Jalan Tungku Link, Gadong BE1410
BRUNEI
Email: dhdeter@gmail.com

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