A number of languages are spoken in Brunei, but Standard Malay is the nation's official language. English is an important foreign language spoken in the country. Several indigenous languages spoken in Brunei are threatened with extinction. Here is a description of the linguistic landscape of Brunei.
The Official Language of Brunei
The 1959 Constitution of Brunei regards Malay as the official language of the country. There are many variants of the language, but Standard Malay is widely accepted as the national language. It is used for most official purposes, in courts, and as a medium of instruction in schools.
Brunei Malay or Melayu Brunei is the Malay variant that is spoken in Brunei in informal occasions, at home, between friends, and in shops. It also serves as the lingua franca in parts of East Malaysia. Presently, the growing popularity of Brunei Malay is threatening the survival of the other indigenous minority languages spoken in the country.
Minority Languages Spoken in Brunei
Indigenous Minority Languages
Brunei recognizes five indigenous minority groups inhabiting the country. These ethnic groups speak their own languages, namely Lun Bawang, Tutong, Bisaya, Belait, and Dusun. All of these languages are at risk of extinction. Only Lun Bawang is in a relatively better position among these languages, as it is spoken in Lawas, across the Malaysian border.
Brunei’s Chinese minority speak different varieties of Chinese like Hakka, Cantonese, and Hokkien. Mandarin acts as the lingua franca among the Chinese community of Brunei. It also serves as the language of instruction in some schools in China.
Indian and Nepali Languages
Brunei has a significant population of Indians who form a minority group in the country. A large expatriate community of about 7,500 Indians also resides here. Most Indians in Brunei originate from southern India and therefore Tamil, a South Indian language, is the most common language spoken by the Indians of Brunei.
Brunei also has a contingent of Nepali soldiers stationed in Serai. The most common language spoken by these soldiers is Gurkhali.
Immigrants to Brunei speak their own languages. Batak, Indonesian, Javanese, Betawi, Sundanese, Ambonese, English, Filipino, and Dutch are some of the languages spoken by Brunei’s expatriate communities.
Islam is the official religion of Brunei and thus Arabic, the language of the Quran, plays an important role in the country. Most adherents of Islam can speak and write in Arabic to some proficiency level. Religious and other schools in the country teach Arabic. The law mandates Islamic children aged 7 to 15 to attend a religious school, known as the Ugama School, 5 days a week for 3 hours. Arabic is taught in these schools. Also, there are 6 Arabic schools in the nation.
English is a widely spoken language in Brunei. The language is primarily used in business and official dealings. The Borneo Bulletin is an English newspaper that circulates in Brunei. The education system in Brunei is also bilingual, and English is one of the important languages of instruction in the educational institutions across the country. Since, 1985, English has served as the medium of instruction of most subjects from the primary school’s 4th year onwards. Recently, a new rule mandates the use of English in the teaching of math and science from the beginning of primary school.