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Misunderstandings in Brunei English

On 8 March 2017, Ishamina Athirah presented the inaugural FASS Graduate Seminar, discussing her PhD research on 'Misunderstandings in international communication in Brunei English'.

Analysis of a corpus of about 3.5 hours of recorded conversations between Bruneians and people from elsewhere yielded a total of 152 tokens of misunderstanding.

The biggest factor in causing these misunderstandings was found to be pronunciation. However, at the same time, unexpected lexis was also found to be a substantial factor, for example when Bruneian speakers used words such as ugama and initialisms such as JPM which their interlocutors did not understand.

The figures do not add up to 100%, as there was substantial cross-classification, with two factors sometimes contributing to a token not being understood. For example, one speaker said 'wharf ships' which was heard as 'water shift'. Pronunciation issues included the spurious [t] on the end of 'warf' and also the final /p/ of 'ships' pronounced as [f]; but in fact, the listener did not know the word 'wharf', so lexical factors are also implicated.

One interesting finding was that it was often the pronunciation of the listener that caused the problem, for example when a listener from France heard own friends as 'home friends', even though there is no hint of an [h] at the start of 'own'. The variable use of initial [h] typifies French pronunciation of English.

We hope that this graduate seminar will be followed by weekly presentations in which FASS research students share their research with their colleagues and thereby obtain valuable feedback about what they are investigating and also gain experience in presenting their findings.