Tuesday January 22, 2013
Thank you – for what?
By ALISTAIR KING
Letters and emails from Malaysians often end by thanking the reader, a rather un-English tradition that may have its roots in the Malay phrase: Sekian, terima kasih.
Several readers have written in to ask “Why shouldn’t we end a letter with Thank you?” This is because I once asked readers of MOE’s Right For Business column NOT to end a letter in this way. So, should we or shouldn’t we?
One reader, Alvin, suggests that it is a form of kow-towing, while another reader, Alice, suggests that is “a gesture of thanking the person for being so kind to finish reading a (boring) letter”! Alice notes that teachers instruct their pupils to end the letter with a “thank you”.
Thus, to many people, the letter does not appear complete without these two words.
There are two observations: There is nothing tangible for which thanks is to be given; this feature is found mainly, if not exclusively, in Malaysia.
Notwithstanding the first observation, the desire to be courteous is evident. However, we need to know the difference between obsequiousness (or, as Alvin puts it, kow-towing) and courtesy.
With regards to the second observation, letters or e-mails with a “thank you” ending sent abroad from Malaysia may be seen as something of an oddity by the non-Malaysian recipient!
Perhaps all this has its roots in the Malay, Sekian, terima kasih (That’s all, thank you).
I have often wondered why the reader must be told that the letter is at an end, when he/she can clearly see this.
However, in Malay, it is so deeply entrenched that to omit it would be to break convention.
In English correspondence, there are also deeply entrenched features. The most obvious one is the use of Dear ... in the salutation. Is that person really dear to you?
Often, people begin the e-mail with Hi ...! or with just the name. Somehow, there is a desire to dispense with the word Dear unless it is a hard-copy letter.
I must say, I feel somewhat slighted when I receive an e-mail that begins Alistair, without Dear. That is in a written form, of course. If everybody were to start calling me Dear in speech, that would be a little worrying!
To end with “Yours sincerely” (if you have mentioned the recipient’s name in the salutation) or “Yours faithfully” (if you have begun Dear Sir or Dear Madam) are such entrenched conventions that there would be little value in changing them.
However, there is a trend away from addressing the reader as Sir or Madam.
I would recommend that the name and title of the recipient be included, so that he/she will see his/her name immediately and have a connection with the contents of the document.
So, there are conventions which are universally agreed on and should be retained. Thank you at the end of the letter is not such a convention. Be aware that correspondence in American English has its own conventions.
So, please do continue addressing me as Dear Alistair, but don’t place Thank you at the end and please, never address me as Dear Valued Customer!
Sekian, terima kasih (!)
Dr Alistair King is an Applied Linguist and Corporate Training Consultant with clients throughout the region, the Middle East and Southern Africa. He looks forward to receiving feedback to: email@example.com or www.aksb.com.my