Brunei Malay

Brunei Malay (ISO code 639-3, identifier kxd) is spoken in the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam and also in some nearby places in East Malaysia such as Miri and Limbang in Sarawak (Asmah 2008: 65), on the island of Labuan (Jaludin 2003: 35) and around Beaufort in western Sabah (Saidatul 2003). Of the population of about 400,000 in Brunei, about two-thirds are native speakers of Brunei Malay (Clynes 2001), and the language is generally used as a lingua franca between the other ethnic groups (Martin 1996), so even most Chinese Bruneians, numbering about 45,000 (Dunseath 1996), are reasonably proficient in Brunei Malay. Although Standard Malay is promoted as the national language of Brunei (Clynes & Deterding 2011), in fact it is only used in formal situations, such as government speeches and television and radio broadcasts (Martin 1996). The language that is spoken most extensively is Brunei Malay, though English is also widely used by the educated elite (Deterding & Salbrina 2013).

Brunei Malay is generally treated as a dialect of Malay (Jaludin 2003), though some would regard it as a language in its own right (Martin 1996, Steinhauer 2005). Nothofer (1991) estimates the level of lexical cognates between Brunei Malay and Standard Malay to be about 84%. The pronunciation of Brunei Malay differs quite substantially from Standard Malay, particularly in having only three vowels, /i a u/, compared to the six of Standard Malay, /i e a o u ə/ (Asmah 2008: 55; Clynes & Deterding 2011), and also in having no initial /h/ (Clynes 2001). These issues will be discussed in greater detail below.

In fact, Brunei Malay is rather closer to Kedayan, the dialect traditionally spoken by land-dwelling farmers, and also to Kampung Ayer, the dialect spoken by the community that lives in the Water Village in the capital of Brunei (Martin & Poedjosoedarmo 1996). Nothofer (1991) estimates the level of lexical cognates between Brunei Malay and Kedayan to be 94%, and that between Brunei Malay and Kampung Ayer also to be 94%. In terms of phonology, the most salient differences between Brunei Malay and Kedayan are the absence of /r/ in Kedayan (Soderberg 2014), while Brunei Malay has /r/ word-initially, medially and finally; and the presence of initial /h/ in Kedayan, while Brunei Malay has final /h/ but no initial /h/. Kampong Ayer also has no /r/, but unlike Kedayan, in Kampung Ayer /j/ tends to occur in place of the /r/ of Standard Malay and Brunei Malay (Martin & Poedjosoedarmo 1996).