Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Characteristics of Malaysian Writing

Written by johnleemk on 10:49:53 am Aug 20, 2006.

One thing that's constantly struck me whenever reading friends' essays in school and local newspapers is the constancy of one particular tone of voice. I'm not exactly excellent at describing things (one reason I will never make a good fiction writer; I can't bring words to life because I don't know what words to use in the first place), but I'll try to picture it for you.

Essentially, Malaysians write in a particularly exuberant, polemical tone, typically enthusiastically praising or denigrating something, while maintaing a polite diction. Sometimes, it's clear that not much thought has been put into a piece by its author, who nevertheless tries to put the best possible spin on it by pulling something out of the trite phrasebook.

One example of this is (I'm quoting from memory, so it might be a bit paraphrased) an article in the New Straits Times some months back about racial polarisation. After the Merdeka Research Centre released its findings, the NST dispatched some journalist to study the environment of a food court in some urban shopping centre. The article was naturally poorly-written (the reason: local journalist what - well, at least that's what I think), as the journalist studied only one food court and made it sound like (s)he'd opened a heretofore untapped well of knowledge.

*gasp* Most Malaysians only eat with friends of one race! See, I discovered this to be true by looking at one food court, which is clearly representative of the Malaysian population! I don't dispute the findings, but please - it was such a shoddy piece of journalism. Despite this, the author apparently didn't have the balls to draw more of a conclusion than "As I left the food court, I knew I had a lot to chew on." What grates on me the most is not the chickening out, though, but the reliance on that phrasebook all Malaysians apparently have stored in our collective consciousness.

I mean, really, must we end every piece of writing with some trite, cliched, pseudo-conclusion that's typically nothing more than boosterism or a failed attempt to sound deep? You'll see what I mean if you pick up one of those model answer English essays available at any average Malaysian bookstore. The cliched Malaysian tone of voice practically seeps through it.

Having said that, I'm well aware that many Malaysians have escaped from the bondage of overusing trite stock phrases like "no mean feat". But still, it bothers me whenever I read the papers. And many Malaysians - especially bloggers - often resort to even more annoying tones.

Take Jeff Ooi, for instance. He has a unique style of writing that isn't exactly stereotypically Malaysian, but still often falls flat because of its boosterism or wild ravings about the evils of Kalimullah Hassan/Abdullah Badawi/Khairy Jamaluddin/P. Gunasegaram/et al.

Take this piece on on the 1988 constitutional crisis. Ignoring its obvious grammatical errors, the concluding sentence is far too melodramatic to be taken seriously:

Let's see what the de facto law minister at today's PM's Office say. Undo past wrongs now? Or perpetuate the same old, same old workings of Executive presiding over Judiciary?

Far too exuberant in its denigration of the government, it just ends up sounding like the whinings of someone attempting to end on a dramatic note, but instead provoking a muffled chuckle from the audience at the triteness of it all.

And then there are the less refined people who sometimes deign to comment at Malaysia Today. I won't bother critiquing Raja Petra Kamarudin's writings, because he's a nice guy, and he doesn't get on my nerves. What I take issue with is people who don't seem to realise their loudmouthed behaviour tends to discredit their point of view.

Of course, maybe I sound like I have a stick up my arse. But hey, it's my soapbox. You guys are just living with it. If you care enough to comment, the site's registration system isn't as screwed up as it once was. You can flame me on the good old (and dead) message boards, or drop me a line via email. A good brickbat always encourages further banter, and who knows? I might even meet that quota I've set myself.

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

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