Formality and Informality Dimensions of Language Use by Chinese Speakers in Sarawak


  • Yann-Yann PUAH Universiti Malaysia Sarawak
  • Su-Hie TING Universiti Malaysia Sarawak



This study examined the influence of formality on language choice by Chinese speakers for the religious, transaction, education and employment domains. A survey was conducted on 300 Chinese speakers in Kuching, Sarawak (150 Foochow, 150 Hokkien). The participants were presented with at least one formal and one informal situation in the four selected domains and asked to indicate the main language used. The results showed that for the religious domain, formality does not influence the language choice, and the Chinese speakers spoke mainly Mandarin, some English and a little of either Hokkien or Foochow for informal discussions on the religious text, talking with the priest or monk, and praying. As for the transactions domain, the use of Bahasa Malaysia transcends the formality of interactions. The Chinese speakers rely on Mandarin and some Chinese vernacular languages when interacting in the market, food court, shops and when using public transport services but Mandarin usage lessens and there is a corresponding increase in English usage, indicating that English is associated with formality. In the education domain, interestingly it is Mandarin which is not influenced by formality dimensions but there is a clear pattern of decreasing use of Bahasa Malaysia and increasing use of English in more formal interactions involving teachers, as contrasted with genera workers and administrative staff. In the employment domain, English is mainly used for meetings but in interactions with colleagues of the same hierarchical status, Mandarin and Bahasa Malaysia are main languages used with colleagues from the same and different ethnic groups. The study shows a functional differentiation of languages for the Chinese speakers on an incline of formality of domains of language use but it is only clear for English which is seen as a formal language. Mandarin and Bahasa Malaysia are unaffected by formality in some domains but in other domains they represent the less formal languages. The underlying factors for this disparity will be discussed.




How to Cite

PUAH, Y.-Y., & TING, S.-H. (2018). Formality and Informality Dimensions of Language Use by Chinese Speakers in Sarawak. LSP International Journal, 3(1).