Wednesday, February 17, 2016

On the etymology of world currencies

The Chinese yuan (元), the Japanese yen (円) and the Korean won (원) all derive from the Han character 圓, i.e. "round (referring to the circular shape of coins)".

The Indian rupee (ਰੁਪਈਆ) and the Indonesian rupiah (روپیہ) both derive from the Sanskrit 'rupya' (रूप्य), i.e. "wrought silver" or "a coin of silver".

The dīnār (دينار) - used in Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Macedonia, Serbia and Tunisia - comes from the Greek δηνάριον (denárion), itself from the Latin dēnārius, i.e. "penny".

The Danish krone, the Norwegian krone, the Swedish krona and the Icelandic króna, are all cognate with the English and British 'crown' (an old currency used in Great Britan, the latter equal to 1⁄4 pound sterling). They all derive from Latin 'corona' (crown).

The Deutsche mark and the Finnish markka both have common etymological roots in a medieval unit of weight.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The English language in the Philippines... through the eyes and ears of an embarrassed Malaysian

My recent experiences have shown me that the average white-collar educated Filipino speaks and writes far better English (by that, I mean both in terms of wider vocabulary and more accurate grammar) than his/her Malaysian counterpart. The random government and corporate circulars that I have browsed through thus far have all been written in English to a standard that I can barely fault. And yet, these same white-collar professional Filipinos continue to speak and write Tagalog in their daily lives, and in all its glory.

To the untrained Malaysian ear, a Filipino speaking English may sound weird (and I have witnessed my Malaysian colleagues sometimes wrongfully dismissing our Filipino counterparts’ English as “not so good” just because they cannot comprehend what they are saying). But if they were to just listen more carefully, and even transcribe the words ad verbatim, they would be surprised to discover that the spoken English employed is far better than most of our average Malaysians. I can tell you, we are not qualified to judge their English.

The Philippines and Malaysia both have a common history of having once been colonised by an English-speaking Western country - the United States and Great Britain, respectively - until the middle of the last century. Both countries inherited the language of their colonial masters. The key difference lies in their respective ability to maintain the standard of the inherited language in their education systems and public life.

My point: I do not see the Filipinos getting all up-in-arms and paranoid about Tagalog being marginalised and Filipino culture and identity being threatened, just because their education system produces a strong English-speaking nation (and the same analogy would apply for Hindi vs. English in India). I wonder, then (quite rhetorically), why that should be the case in Malaysia, where English as taught as a “Second Language” in school, has to be watered down to “second-class language” standard, so that it will sit at a level below that of the national language just to be politically-correct. The Pinoys would laugh themselves shitless if they ever saw the standard of our SPM 355 “Bahasa Inggeris” examination paper, deeming it fit only for their primary school children.

Malaysia inherited the Queen’s English along with the Cambridge-based education system (to my mind, the one good thing the Pommies left behind after departing our shores). And within two generations, the powers-that-be, under the banner of “patriotism”, have completely balls’ed it up. Sometimes, I am tempted to just tell my Filipino guests and friends with a tinge of embarrassment, “You know... this may surprise you, but we don’t actually speak English in Malaysia.”

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The line that divides music from noise, and bliss from agony

Dear 105.7

I am acutely aware that Queen’s “We Are The Champions” made it to Lite FM's Top 500. However, you have played the song for what feels like about a thousand times in the past one month, quite frankly I never liked the song in the first place (noise is more like it), and now you have played it to death, Hades and beyond the Event Horizon, I am actually beginning to hate it more than the sound of fingernails on chalkboard, so STOP IT ALREADY!

And whilst you are at it, would you mind kindly flushing out your current list of songs and refreshing your playlist? It is beginning to sound like you have set the same 90-minute audio cassette on auto-replay 24/7 for the past few months.

Thank you.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Cutting across the cultural-linguistic divide

Had lunch at a Nyonya restaurant up in Cameron Highlands recently. A young Malay girl takes our orders. She speaks to us in pure Malay. And then she writes down our orders entirely in Chinese. Very nicely written Chinese characters, mind you (yes, I was watching closely). She doesn’t really have to do it, because the menu is entirely bi-lingual in English and Chinese (actually, the English text dominates, and the font is larger) to suit the tourists.

No, this is not a startling revelation. We all know that many young Malaysians of non-Chinese extraction today attend Chinese schools. So what is my point, you ask?

1. Here is a Malay girl who has taken the conscious decision to practise daily a foreign language that she has learnt. That the cooks round the back probably only read Chinese is besides the point. How many of us Malaysians of non-Malay extraction can still string a proper sentence in Bahasa Malaysia, years after leaving school (and they key word here is proper)?

2. How often do we see Chinese Malaysians yapping away in Chinese among themselves, oblivious to the fact that they are in the company of people who do not understand the Chinese language? If this young Malay girl can adapt to her external environment by writing down orders in Chinese, why can't more Chinese Malaysians in turn adapt to those around them by learning the art of linguistic courtesy and speak a common language when in the presence of others who do not speak our lingo? We demand greater access to mother tongue education, yet our lack of courtesy makes us our own worst enemy and does us no favours.
3. And while all this is going on, the Malaysian government is stubbornly refusing to formally recognise Chinese private secondary schools. Yet, here is a Malay girl who has chosen to adapt to a Chinese-centric work environment, by using daily what she has learnt from school. 
My point? All of us Malaysians - from grass-roots to government - have something to learn from this young Malay waitress from Cameron Highlands - who speaks her native Malay fluently, and writes Chinese characters beautifully. She has cut right through cultural-linguistic lines. We all ought to do the same.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Of those whom we so despise in corporate life

It is quite remarkable how some people work with a “cowboy” approach. “Shoot from the hip; don’t think, just shoot.” They just bull-doze through with what they think should be done, with zero consideration of organisational structures and processes. There is much to be said for the need for constant change and challenging the ways we currently do things - but there is a difference between challenging status quo for improvement, and being totally out-of-sync with reality on the ground.

They have neither awareness nor appreciation of other colleagues’ job scopes, expecting them to do everything under the sun at their beck and call, as if people have no other more pressing duties to attend to than to drop everything and entertain them - they only know how to demand for results, without realising what it takes to get things done. They think their team-mates are their cage-bound, Ferris-wheel-running hamsters.

They do not make proper use of proper online processes - sending out last-minute meeting invitations to non-existent e-mail addresses and booking non-existent meeting rooms, and expecting that the invitees will turn up. They think they are the Emperor of China.

They talk loudly on the telephone, forgetting that office space is shared space, and human beings were born with ears and could do with a certain degree of quiet while at work. They conveniently forget that if a conference call is required, there is such a thing as a teleconference room, where the entire office does not have to be subjected to listening to their meeting. They think they are as charismatic and attention-worthy as The Late Night Show with David Letterman.

They send out group e-mails without identifying the recipient(s) in the headers, the contents of which are cryptic one-liners that are vague to the point of being totally useless, and then expect that people will take sensible action on them. They think everyone can read their minds and speak Martian.

They spread themselves a hundred miles wide, but only an inch deep - they have no sense for details, and are incapable of seeing both the forest and the trees (let alone the branches and the leaves). They love big words, but have no idea when those words really, really mean in real-life. These people need to get out of their swanky suits and Prada high-heels, and spend a month on the shop-floor with the real boys doing real work.

Overly-eager to please, they mindlessly agree to the customer’s every whim and fancy - but they forget that ultimately, their allegiance is with the company, and the ones who will end up picking up the shit from their over-commitments and lofty promises to the customers are their own colleagues. They derive their existence from making enemies out of their allies, forgetting whose side they are actually on. And then they wonder why the office is full of indifferent and uncooperative workers who display neither interest nor enthusiasm toward their cause.

Their high-handed approach inevitably results in high attrition rates within the organisation. And true to the injustices of corporate reality, when the last of the silent heroes whom they abused and manipulated have been martyred, they are hailed by the powers that be as the true survivors and heroes, ready to rise up the food chain and groom the next generation of cess-pots like them.

C’est la vie dans le monde de l’entreprise.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Facebook rant: There is more to life than “Like”!

While I sincerely appreciate the hundreds of times you have clicked “Like” on my Facebook posts, it would give me a really warm and fuzzy feeling if – once in a while – you make your humanly presence felt by saying something (and in any language you choose, other than “click”). That way, at least I know that you are still sound of mind, and have not devolved into an amoeba.

There... my Facebook “spit-the-dummy” for the morning. I think I’m done. Good day to all of you. Oh, shucks... is it Valentine’s Day already?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A tribute to the classic Ladybird storybooks

I grew up reading well-loved Ladybird books such as King Arthur, Robin Hood, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp. My son is growing up with Hi-5, an iPad and YouTube.

I would like him to enjoy the stories that I read when I was growing up like him. I would like him to know what the significance of the words “Open Sesame!” and “rubbing the lamp” are. I would like him to know how Sir Lancelot of the Lake defeated Sir Turquine of the Fort in a duel, and what the “Twelve Labours of Hercules” are. I would like him to know that there was a wealth of children’s books and fairy tales long before the Internet and a purple dinosaur called Barney came onto the scene.

I would also like Ladybird UK to give me one good reason why they do not continue to print these well-loved and timeless (read: no revisions required, just re-print them as they were and in Kindle format, if that is the way to go in the 21st century) classics despite them still thriving healthily in the children’s book publishing business after all these years. As a parent of Generation X who grew up on and loved these storybooks, I believe I speak for many of my contemporaries when I appeal for the resurrection and return of these literary treasures for the sake of our children and grandchildren many of whom will grow up not knowing an iota of these wonderful tales.

The collage below is a small tribute to just some of the classic Ladybird storybooks that helped to shape my childhood, my grasp of the English language at a very early age, and my rich imagination. And for that, I have my parents to thank for instilling the Ladybird reading habit in me.