Tuesday, April 19, 2016

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 18 - Contractions

It's been a bit hard to sit down and catch up on a few days of writing since I've been on the road visiting friends in Brooklyn, so I made a effort to try and do that today. Decided to knock out Day 18 first, since the writing muse has gone determinedly silent, irritatingly so.

I am Malaysian born and raised, although I lived abroad for a decade or so. The rhythms and forms of speech are quite unlike anything I've encountered in any other region of the world in my travels - it's not exactly patois, which, according to Merriam-Webster, is 'a form of a language spoken in a particular area, and is different from the main form of the same language'. Malaysian English - or Manglish, as it's commonly known - is a combination of 3 or more different languages/dialects along with standard English, and often incorporates Malay/Indian/Chinese/various dialect words into one single short sentence.

After I finished the main poem, I looked at it and decided, just for the heck of it, to translate it into Manglish for an amusing (and hopefully explanatory) side-by-side comparison.

#18: Contractions
Prompt: Write a poem that incorporates the sound of home

I speak a language of contractions.
A century plus of British rule and being a Commonwealth country
Gave us the Queen’s English but didn’t take away
The colours and flavours of our own tongues:
Malay, Indian, Chinese, and the ethnic tribes
Of Sabah and Sarawak across in East Malaysia.
Being so near the Equator where heat shortens dresses
Sleeves, pants, and hair
Even speech is succinct.
‘Why do you need to do that?’ translates to ‘Whylah?’
(The ‘lah’ being a Malaysian multipurpose suffix
Which has no equivalent in the English language
But which changes or adds weight
According to context).
‘I don’t want to be your friend any more’ – ‘Dowan friend you’
‘Let’s see, maybe it’s still possible’ – ‘See lor’
(The ‘lor’ having the same purpose as ‘lah’
But derived from Cantonese instead).
‘How can you do this to me!’ – ‘Whatlah you!’
Even our food suffers from this brevity:
Stir-fried flat rice noodles with prawns
Cockles, scallions and fishcakes – char kuey teow
White rice with Indian-style dishes, vegetarian or meat
That you choose from at the stall – nasi kandar.
The human condition
Distilled to its bare essences in a word or three
Leaving space in the heart, room in a life
For so much more.


We speak short-formlah.
The orang putih rule last time so we speak Englandlor
But our England very powderful one
All rojak – Melayu, India, Cina
Lagi got Sabah Sarawak punya slang jugak.
Here very hot wor, so everything short:
Baju, seluar, rambut
Even we speak also banyak short one.
Mat Salleh panjang lebar say ‘Why do you want to do that?’
Say ‘Whylah?’ cukup.
We dowan friend you. See lor. Whatlah you.
‘Stir-fried flat rice noodles with prawns
Cockles, scallions and fishcakes’ – aiyo why until so high class one?
Char kuey teow onlylah!
‘White rice with Indian-style dishes, vegetarian or meat
That you choose from at the stall’
Laugh die me liao – nasi kandarlah, bodoh!
Is called ‘sik fook’ tahu, orang Cina say
Eat is good fortune. So eat more don’t bising so much
Nanti got no room for dessert and ice-kacang wei.
Perut penuh, hati also penuh kan.

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