The sociolinguistics of code and style choice in Malaysian business settings : an ethnographic account.
This thesis reports an ethnographic study of the social
meanings underlying code and style choice in the situated
discourse of two business organisations in Malaysia. It
explains choice in these contexts against the broader
contextual backdrop of English as the traditional normative
code of Malaysian business, and Malay as the national
language and linqua franca. The language of seminar
presentations and training sessions, selected as a type of
formal speech event in such contexts, was analysed to
determine if the norms governing English are in place and
how they are interpreted in these contexts. An integrated
theoretical framework, comprising an ethnography of
communication with elements drawn from Accommodation Theory
and the Markedness Model of code-switching, was employed to
explain institutional and individual choices.
In explaining choice, the study provides a contextualised
model of the varietal range and stylistic continuum of
Malaysian English (ME) based on the ethnographic evidence.
It reveals that ME is the unmarked choice in Malaysian
business, rather than approximations to exonormative models,
such as Standard British or General American English. These
varieties of standard English were, in fact, marked choices,
although the formality of the workplace settings might have
predicted otherwise. Neither was there consistent adherence
to standard English usage, despite the use of register, nor clearly defined functional norms of spoken English.
Instead, variability in speech forms was clearly
demonstrated and three types or variants of ME were evident.
A subvariety which was identified as Educated Malaysian
English (EME) was oriented to as the educated speech norm.
But far more evident was a norm of communicativeness' which
was alluded to as a point of reference, by informants in the
interview data. Another subvariety, identified as
Colloquial Malaysian English (CME), was the familiar and
solidarity code while the last subvariety identified was a
pidgin or broken' English. ME was spoken in ethnically
distinct ways, mainly in the prosody of the native languages
of the speakers, as ethnolects. Malay, was a marked code
and the marked choice despite being the national language
and linqua franca. However, Malay was marked only in
relation to tacit organisational policy and its use was not
proscribed. But its use was not encouraged either.
The study demonstrated that style shifting along the full
varietal range of ME, the use of a seamless mixed code and
code-switching into Malay, were more common ways of speaking
in these settings than the use of normatively prescribed
patterns. This challenges generally held notions and
expectations regarding the use of English in Malaysian
business settings. Such choices are explained as locally
motivated pragmatic selections within the specific contexts
of the workplace settings and in relation to the larger
context of the Malaysian sociolinguistic situation.