Fri Apr 24 20:54:11 UTC 1998

It's hard to remain silent when the conversation veers towards such
critically important matters as durian and coffee ...

In response to Jim's latest comments:

> 1. Raffles' simile says how good durian tastes but gives no clue as to what
> it tastes like. The closest approximation in my experience to its flavor
> and texture is cheesecake.

I'd bet that many Chinese would disagree here, as evidenced by how they
loathe cheese but adore durians.

> 2. David's comments about the how much sugar Malays put in their tea and
> coffee reminded me of the linguistic puzzle that the coffee machines at
> National University of Singapore presented when I was there in 1992. There
> were three bilingual buttons: one said in English "Coffee with milk and
> sugar" and in Chinese "Kafei" (= coffee); one said in English "Coffee
> without sugar" and in Chinese "Kafei wu tang" (= coffee without sugar); and
> the third said in English "Black coffee" and in Chinese "Kafei wu" (=
> coffee crow). The puzzle was: if you push the 2nd button, do you get milk
> in your coffee? I reasoned that the difference between "Kafei" and "Kafei
> wu tang" should be "with vs. without sugar" and "Kafei" corresponded to
> English "Coffee with milk and sugar", so button #2 should be coffee with
> milk and no sugar. But I was wrong: it was coffee with neither milk nor
> sugar. "Black coffee"/"Kafei wu" is coffee with sugar and no milk; the
> relevant piece of background that I needed in order to solve the puzzle is
> that no one around there takes coffee with milk but no sugar, so coffee
> with neither milk nor sugar is the only culturally relevant coffee without
> sugar.

I wonder how many readers would have got button three right, ie. known
that crow coffee contains sugar.

Markedness plays a crucial role here:  throughout South East Asia, with
sugar is the unmarked option, *without* sugar has to be specified
explicitly.  But milk exhibits interesting geographical variation.  In
Malaysia and Singapore, *with* milk is unmarked, so, for example in Malay,
_teh_ and _kopi_ get you the milky versions, while if you want it black,
you have to add the loan Chinese crow: _teh o_, _kopi o_.  In contrast, in
Indonesia, *without* milk is unmarked, so, in Indonesian, _teh_ and _kopi_
come black, and if you want milk you have to say so explicitly: _teh
susu_, _kopi susu_.  And as you might expect, in the Indonesian islands
closest to Singapore, Batam and Bintan, you get a transitional zone, with
_teh o_ and _kopi o_ for black, _teh susu_ and _kopi susu_ for the milky

Now let me go and put the kettle on.

David Gil
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

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