Or "Malay as she is spoken by a Welch academic".
The bookseller of Woodley market came up trumps for me this last Saturday, with a 1947 edition of "Teach Yourself Malay". A more substantial volume than Hamilton's 'Malay Made Easy', it moves away from the 'yell at the servants' paradigm and shows that its author, one M.B. Lewis, had a genuine love of Malay literature that transcended mere quotidian practicality in favour of language so flowery it could be displayed at the Chelsea Flower Show.
Flicking through at random, one comes at first to some delightful dialogues, redolent of pith-helmeted Hamiltonian lunacy:
"If you are free on Friday, come up river crocodile-shooting, will you?"
"Your coollies, Mat, are often late assembling."
"Bring me the chisel when you come back."
"The prisoner, who was deaf, could not hear what the judge said."
And clearly Lewis was a man with a feel for life's necessaries:
"Nurse, come here a moment, will you?"
But for Lewis these are clearly distractions to be put aside in favour of slightly mildewed copies of chronicles and tea-stained reams of pantuns.
"Then without a moment's pause he lit the fuse and set spurs to his horse."
"The queen sat under a pandan tree with all the wives of the magnates in attendance. The king took much pleasure in watching the court maidens sporting there, each following her own inclination."
Wouldn't we all?
And his approach to everday grammar is evident in this delightful translation from a 16th century prose romance:
"The said Hang Mahmud to his wife, whose name was Dang Merdu Wati, 'Lady, it were well that we should go to Bentan so that we may more easily seek a livelihood. Moreover, it is a large settlement; it were well that we should move thither, we and our child'."
One wonders if he spoke English like that. And the following pantun may tell us more about Lewis's personal life than he realised:
"In the swamp the monkeys play
Swinging down from leafy tree.
Plain, uncomely others say;
Sweet and fair she seems to me."
Poignantly, however, the book gives the occasional "twitch of the curtain" to reveal just how dire life in Malaya must have been in 1947.
There is, for instance, this given as an example of correspondence:
"I apologise for this shabby scrap of paper. I had to buy it because there was nothing else to be had. We reached a very low ebb when the war was on. We had scarcely more than we stood up in. But what does it matter, as long as we are still alive?"
And the following comes from an Engish-Malay translation exercise:
"In consequence of reports received by the District Officer that many persons are hoarding food far in excess of their needs... No one is allowed to keep in his house more rice (sugar, flour etc) than is sufficient for 3 days consumption... The officer in question hs power to enter and search any house to enforce this regulation."
One wonders why they rebelled.