Siew-Yue Killingley –


A Malaysian Chinese Poet, Dramatist & Linguist

   (December 17, 1940 – June 8, 2004)

[For those who may be interested in reading more of Siew-Yue’s oeuvre, please visit the Victoria Institution website at the following URL:

and click on the ‘literary archives” page. ]

( Professor Dermot Killingley, Siew-Yue’s bereaved husband, gives an account of her flair for languages, together with her poems composed prior to her passing,  and has – at my request – included a detailed CV. Editor]



A tribute


Professor Dermot H. Killingley in a very moving recall of his dearly-departed poet and linguist wife, exactly two months ago, has very carefully put together the “last (unpublished) poems” by Siew-Yue. I can do no better than to give here again her poem: “Ash Wednesday Revisited”, composed last Easter Eve, and let readers savour the moment. The poem also introduces the reader to the kind of religious concerns she was involved in, besides providing a convenient reference to her own generally-constant poetic voice, while pointing to the forms, style, and sentiments which went into fashioning her art; one might recognise, despite her Malaysian upbringing, the influences she was subject to: they were largely Western.



Ash Wednesday Revisited

Easter Eve, 10th April 2004


So words move, as music moves

In unexpected rhythms of rainbow sound

While blinding the heart to all murmurs

Of faithlessness as well as love,

And as the cold pulse of my calling

Confines my soul to strict regulation,

It has freed my hopeless heart

From knocking on the door of death

Of love to catch a glance of kingfisher's wings.

So out of this ever-darkening moment

When my soul is diminished with Christ

Entombed, let Noah's rainbow arise and sing,

Illuminating 0 death, where is thy sting?

And fall on Grave, where is thy victory?


A distinguished linguist from Kuala Lumpur, Siew-Yue grew up in a family nurtured in the Chinese classics. She began writing short stories in English while still at school, according to her husband. “Everythings’s Arranged” and “A Question of Dowry”, published in Twenty-Two Malaysian Stories in 1968, brought her immediate recognition and probably goaded her on to cultivate a literary career alongside her professional teaching and research duties and commitments. Her later writing leans heavily, and nostalgically, in the direction of her fervent spiritual existence: she was baptised at 20.


She met and married Killingley as a student at the University of Malaya where the latter taught Sanskrit at the Indian Studies Department, then headed by the Rev. Thaninayagam from Jaffna, Sri Lanka. Killingley first went to Malaya in 1954 as a national serviceman during the Emergency Period (1948 – 60). He studied Sanskrit at Oxford. Siew-Yue obtained her Ph.D. from the prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies at London University. After six and half years in Kuala Lumpur, Killingley, and Siew-Yue, moved to Newcastle where they have been teaching ever since. (Extracted from the "Introduction" to "The Asianists' Asia, Vol. III", Paris, August 2004, Edited by T.Wignesan; LINK:

Introduction to "Asianists' Asia", Vol. III


"Siew-Yue's languages"


                                   Dr. Dermot Killingley,

                                                            Formerly Reader in Hindu Studies,

                                                          University of Newcastle upon Tyne



Hearing Siew-Yue's voice, you might not think she spoke any language but English. But she came from Malaya, now West Malaysia, where it is unusual to speak only one language. She came of a Cantonese-speaking family in Kuala Lumpur. Her parents spoke little English, but were well educated in Chinese, having studied at the University of Shanghai. Besides speaking Cantonese, the three children were taught Mandarin, the official language of China, by their father and their aunt, the first of many teachers whom Siew-Yue loved and respected. Learning Mandarin involved reciting the Confucian classics and writing elegant characters with a brush: all very demanding for a child of five.

Like most Malaysians, Siew-Yue grew up with some knowledge of Malay, the majority language of the country. You needed some Malay, to deal with anyone who did not speak your own language, even if you spoke it badly. Siew-Yue never learnt much Malay, but unlike many people who used it as a second language, she pronounced it well and she was polite in it, and these were always her first priorities when she learnt a language.

She did not speak English till she went to school at the age of six. St. Mary's School, Kuala Lumpur introduced her not only to English but to Christianity, though she was not baptised until she was twenty-one. At school it was forbidden to use any language but English; but this did not stop her from picking up phrases and becoming familiar with the sounds of Hokkien, Hakka or some other Chinese dialect, or Tamil, Hindi or Malay, from girls who were speakers of these languages. She also studied French, and found time also

      to  learn ballet. St. Mary's had no sixth form, so she completed her schooling at a boys', school   

    which had a mixed sixth form. Some people there called her 'the good English

girl'. Of course she wasn't English, though l've no doubt she was good; but that's not what they meant. They meant the girl who spoke good English.

Siew-Yue went on to study English at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur: not just contemporary English, but the history of the language and its literature. She then did postgraduate research on the dialect of English spoken in Malaya. She had already used this dialect in some short stories she had written at school, and in a play she wrote at university. Here is a short extract from the play; you will hear two lovers quarrelling.

As part of her postgraduate studies in Kuala Lumpur, she studied Mandarin further. In 1968, she began to work on the grammar of Cantonese for a PhD in linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, where she worked with people who studied different Asian and African languages.

Because Siew-Yue learnt her English from old books as well as living people, it sometimes seemed bookish and old-fashioned. When there was controversy in the United States over bussing as a device for desegregating schools, she was confused because she knew the word 'bussing' from the 17th century, when it meant kissing. When someone mentioned a man who liked a bit of crumpet, she said 'surely you mean strumpet'. When she moved to Newcastle by train in 1970, and watched the landmarks approaching, she said 'There's the parabolic bridge', and was told 'Ee, no, pet, that's the Tyne Bridge.' But with her acute ear for language she soon learnt to use Geordie in her writing, as naturally as she had used Malayan English.


Siew-Yue saw no point in travelling to a country without knowing something of the language. On holidays in France she spoke French constantly, and whenever she met French people in this country she spoke French to them. Before going to Germany for a holiday she learnt some German, and before going to India she learnt enough Hindi to talk to Delhi taxi drivers, politely. She also read some Latin, and had some knowledge of Sanskrit. She used her knowledge of Chinese, both Cantonese and Mandarin, to help Chinese people in hospital or in legal trouble, and she taught Mandarin up to her death.










Siew-Yue Killingley



[Siew-Yue wrote Words and Music in memory of her flute teacher soon after his death, and sent it to some of her friends. The other poems were found in draft form at her bedside after her death on 8th June 2004.]




Words and Music: ln memory of Martin Shillito

(Ash Wednesday, 25th February 2004)


Yes, words move, as music moves,

In the rhythm of the speech chain

While binding the heart to murmurs

Of faithlessness as well as love.

And as the pulse of music confines

Our listening souls within strict bars,

It also frees the pulsing heart

To soaring heights of kingfisher's wings.

So, out of this cold and grey moment

On Ash Wednesday, when lost loves

Weigh down my diminished soul,

The risen Word moves me still

To listen again for my cold calling.




Light and Shade

Palm Sunday, 4th April 2004

A single cold star brightens up the purple dawn;

A fallen camellia glows on my yellowing lawn.

A lone wild voice calls out from the wilderness

To pull the wild world back from our will's excess.

Christ's lonely entry beckons my soul from afar,

Lightening its drab interior like a falling star.


III. A Moon's View of History

Monday in Holy Week, 5th April 2004

The lonely cold moon glows in the clear night sky

And lights up a peace where people still die

In post-war places evocative of poetry--­

Basra and Baghdad-now part of our history.

From the ancient wilderness a child's treble voice

Pleads with his sad father not to rejoice

At the cool slaughter of his one dear son.

The cold moon listens, a pearl of great price,

Then hides its face at the grim sacrifice.

--    -            --­


IV. Aspects of Barabbas

Tuesday in Holy Week, 6th April 2004

With singleness of purpose and blindness of sight,

They seek some goal or cool fixation

To make their mark on world or tabloid history

More infamously than the name of Barabbas.

Before the act or its discovery, these minor actors

In Christ's passion play of suffering and death

Were unseen black holes in space and time.

Yet afterwards, framed in sundry courtroom poses,

Their fathomless gaze burns bright holes

In hearts and brains as we helplessly join

In that lone cry from the tormenting cross,

'My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?'


V. Time's Lullaby in Spring

Wednesday in Holy Week, 7th April 2004

Sleep while that single star shines cold

And lonely on your infant brow.

Good Friday is still far ahead, not now,

When love is lost and friendship sold.

A mother longs to wrap her child

Against the sleeping fears of his life.

But your rock will break your heart so mild,

And calm Gethsemane be your scene of strife.

So now let my voice breathe the well-known song

Of mothers who peer in the mist and long

To behold and be held by old vanished joys

That time has tarnished and time destroys.


VI. Ubi Caritas

     Maundy Thursday, 8th April 2004

Yet time has not tarnished that final act

Of pure humility as Christ himself knelt at our feet,

A master become willing slave to the cruel fact

Of love to make his giving of himself complete.

For where love is, there God is present,

A type of the weeping Magdalen washing our feet.

So let there be love, and let God be present

To augment our weak love to make himself complete.



VII. Veneration of the Cross: Calvary's Compass

       Good Friday, 9th April 2004

Now time has fixed her lonely gaze

By the cruel fact of love to a new compass,

Still the centre of her cold universe,

Though mocking the end of all motherhood.

My son, my son, why hast thou forsaken me?


No guiding star shines on the north of his head;

No extravagant love warms the south of his feet;

The rigid east and west of his hands are fixed

As day and night become one in her sight.

My son, my son, why hast thou forsaken me?

Then from his centre the cold rainbow words of hope

Arching the lost horizon of her motherhood

As he turned her gaze away from himself

To behold a new son with arms to hold.

My son, my son, thou hast not forsaken me.


VIII. Ash Wednesday Revisited

       Easter Eve, 10th April 2004


So words move, as music moves

In unexpected rhythms of rainbow sound

While blinding the heart to all murmurs

Of faithlessness as well as love,

And as the cold pulse of my calling

Confines my soul to strict regulation,

It has freed my hopeless heart

From knocking on the door of death

Of love to catch a glance of kingfisher's wings.

So out of this ever-darkening moment

When my soul is diminished with Christ

Entombed, let Noah's rainbow arise and sing,

Illuminating 0 death, where is thy sting?

And fall on Grave, where is thy victory?



IX. Change of Direction

Easter Sunday, 11th April 2004

The evening star has become the morning star

Pointing lonely rays to the break of day

To a bleak dawn where men still mar

The aftermath of war and death holds sway.

Tell me, Mary Magdalen,

What did you see along the way?

'1 saw the tomb of the living Christ

Opened for him to die yet again.

Who can shout alleluia

ln the wake of Falluja? '


The eastering sun lights up the sombre west

With lonely shafts of reflected light,

Waking our world from its troubled rest

To cower in the dawn of terror's might.

Tell me, Mary Magdalen,

What did you see along the way?

'1 saw the risen rainbow Christ

But your shroud of war wrapped him up again

To drag him in Falluja

Where none shouts alleluia.'


X. L'Envoy: Lark's Wings

    Monday in Easter Week, 12th April 2004

Yet let a pure golden note of praise

Rise from my heart without delays

To sing out boldly: The Lord is risen.

So set him free, do not imprison

And stifle his song in death's shrouded wings;

Let it soar, as the lark-tuned lute sings.














Curriculum Vitae

(extracts, revised by Dermot H. Killingley 5.8.2004]


Name: Siew-Yue Killingley

Address (Dermot Killingley): 9 Rectory Drive, Newcastle upon Tyne NE3 lXT;

     tel. 0191 2858053.


Personal details: Born 17th December 1940, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Chinese origin; British nationality since 1963; first visited Britain and the Republic of Ireland for six months in 1965; lived in Britain since 1968 (first London, then Newcastle since 1970). Died 8th June 2004, in Newcastle.


Education: In infancy in Mandarin at home; since the age of six in English at school and thereafter completely in English;

     University of Malaya (1960-6) and University of London (1968-70).


Languages: Bi-lingual in English (more efficient language) and Cantonese;

fluent French and Mandarin (spoken and written); both were begun in childhood and studied as qualifying languages (passed with distinction) for my MA course;

able to read Old English, Middle English (part of first degree course), and Latin;

some German, Sanskrit and Hindi.


Awards and Prizes: Federal Teaching Scholarship (open competition awarded by the Malayan Government): 1961-3. Departmental Book Prize, University of Malaya: 1963;

Forlong Scholarship, School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London: 1968-70;

Second Prize, Durham Cathedral 9th Centenary Poetry Competition awarded by the Dean and Chapter and adjudicated by the English Department, Durham University, and Northern Arts: 1982.


Degrees: BA(Hons) in English (Upper Second), University of Malaya: 1963;

MA (Linguistics) (by thesis and examination), University of Malaya: 1966;

PhD (Linguistics), University of London: 1972.


Professional Membership (by election): Linguistics Association of Great Britain (1971); Philological Society (1973);      Northern Sinfonia 'Society Ltd. (1996).


Listings (by invitation): Directory of Northern Writers (1987-); Contemporary Women Poets (1996); International Who's Who in Poetry and Poets' Encyclopaedia (1999-)


Professional Experience:


1961-7: Taught-English language, literature. phonetics...and linguistics at various schools in Malaya and at the University of Malaya.


1970-2: Tutorial Assistant in Linguistics and Phonetics, School of English, University of Newcastle.


1972-80: Lecturer in English (Senior lecturer 1979), St Mary's College of Education, Newcastle; made redundant September 1980.


1981: Founded Grevatt & Grevatt. This is a non-commercial publishing and bookselling firm which 1 founded after having been made redundant from my post as Senior Lecturer in English. It specializes in books which would not be commercially viable, and small print-runs are the norm.


1988-: Tutor in courses on linguistics, language, and the community in the Centre for Continuing Education (now Lifelong Learning), University of Newcastle.

Courses designed and taught inc1ude:

Language, Communities and Cultures: Thinking and Speaking as Human Beings (taught at different levels); Explorations in Grammar; Explorations in Grammar and Meaning; Grammar for Teachers and Parents; Language Systems; The Language of Everyday Life: Making It Work for Us; Language and Speech in the Management of Stress, Grief, and Bereavement; Chinese Language and Culture (from 1994); Language as Patterns of Sound and Grammar (1996-9)


Publications (academic)  Books


Internal Structure of the Cantonese Word and General Problems of Word Analysis in Chinese. University of Malaya Press, Kuala Lumpur. 1979. (Extended version of paper in York Papers in Linguistics 7 listed below under Articles.)


The Grammatical Hierarchy of Malayan Cantonese. Newcastle upon Tyne: S. Y. Killingley. 1982.


A Short Glossary of Cantonese Classifiers. Newcastle upon Tyne: Grevatt & Grevatt. 1982.


Cantonese Classifiers: Syntax and Semantics. Grevatt & Grevatt: Newcastle upon Tyne. 1983.


A New Look at Cantonese Tones: Five or Six? Newcastle upon Tyne: Grevatt & Grevatt. 1985.


English in Education: How the Linguist Can Help. Committee for Linguistics in Education Working Papers, No. 14, 1992. Cantonese. Languages of the World/Materials 06. LinCom Europa, München. 1993.


Sanskrit. Languages of the World/Materials 18. LinCom Europa, München. 1995 (with Dermot Killingley).





Learning to Read Pinyin Romanization and lts Equivalent in Wade-Giles: A Practical Course for Students of Chinese. LinCom Europa, München, 1998.




'The phonology of Malayan English'. Orbis XVII, 1(1968), pp. 57-87.

'Clause and sentence types in Malayan English'. Orbis XXI, 2 (1972), pp. 537-48.

'Lexical, semantic and grammatical patterning in Dylan Thomas (Collected Poems 1934-1952), Orbis XXIII, 2 (1974), pp. 285-99.

'Internal structure of the Cantonese word and general problems of word analysis in Chinese'. York Papers in Linguistics 7     (March 1977), pp. 77-105.

'Syntactic and semantic considerations in the Cantonese classifier.' Nottingham Linguistic Circular 9,2 (December 1980), pp. 118-42.

'The semantic grouping of mensural classifiers in Cantonese'. Anthropological Linguistics 23, 9 (December 1981), pp. 383­-435. .

'Classifier, noun and verb in the expression of spatiotemporal relationships in Cantonese' . Nottingham Linguistic Circular, II, 1 (June 1982), pp. 24-43.

'A note on certain difficulties in using GALD [=Grammatical Analysis of Linguistic Disability]'. Nottingham Linguistic Circular 10, 2 (December 1981), pp. 193-7.

'Semantic opposition and equivalence in "The Wreck of the Deutschland'''. Orbis XXX, 1-2 (1981) [1983], pp. 178-96. 'Normal and deviant classifier usage in Cantonese'. Anthropological Linguistics 28, 3 (FalI1986), pp. 321-36. 'A non-instrumental experiment on Cantonese phonological tone: five or six?' Cahiers de Linguistique Asie-Orientale XVII, 1 (Juin 1988), pp. 117-28.

'Time, action, incarnation: Shades of the Bhagavad-Gita in the poetry ofT. S. Eliot'. Journal of Literature and Theology, Vol. 4, No. 1, March 1990, pp. 50-71.

'Peter Brook's film The Mahabharata: Hybrid language, race and culture in narrative discourse'. Language Forum, Vol. 1, no. 1 (July 1993), pp. 18-57.


Publications (literary/educationa1): Books


The Pottery Ring: A Fairy Talefor the Young and Old. Newcastle upon Tyne Community Relations Council, 1981. Where No Poppies Blow: Poems ofWar and Conj1ict. Grevatt & Grevatt, 1983.


Hinduism lconography Pack. Grevatt & Grevatt, 1984 (with Dermot Killingley).


ln Sundry Places: Views of Durham Cathedral. Grevatt & Grevatt, 1987.


Farewell the Plumed Troop: A Memoir of the lndian Cavalry 1919-1945 by D. M. Killingley (co-edited with Dermot Killingley). Grevatt & Grevatt, 1990.


Sound, Speech, and Silence: Selected Poems. Grevatt & Grevatt, 1995.


Lent and Easter Cycle: Poemsfor meditation. Grevatt & Grevatt, 1998.


Northumbrian Passion Play. Grevatt & Grevatt, 1999.


Other Edens:Poems of Love and Conflict. Grevatt & Grevatt, 2000


Pilgrim's Progress: Adapted as a Play, with Embellishments. 2002


A Once-Green Vine: Poems of Joy and Despair. Grevatt & Grevatt, 2003.


Contributions in the following books:


Twenty-two Malaysian Short Stories. Ed. by L. Fernando. Heinemann Educational Books,

      1968. (Reprinted 1987, 1989, 1992,1993, 1994.)


Pepper and lncense: Poems from Northumbria. Ed. by K. Storey. A. D. Duncan (Parvis Books    

      Warkworth), 1982.


A Handbook of Hinduism for Teachers (with Dermot Killingley, Vivien Nowicki, Hari Shukla,     

    David Simmonds). 1984.

Second edn. Newcastle upon Tyne: Grevatt & Grevatt, 1983. (first edn. pub. by Newcastle upon Tyne Education Committee in 1980)


The Lower School Assembly Book. Ed. by D. Self, Hutchinson Education, 1987.


What Big Eyes You've Got: Women Write about Grandmothers. Ed. by Kitty Fizgerald and Jan   

       Maloney. Overdue Books, 1988.


Poetry Marathon '93 Charity Anthology. Bryan John Allen, 1993.


Skoob Pacifica Anthology No. 1: S. E. Asia Writes Back! Skoob Books Publishing, 1993.


The Spirit of the Cathedral. The Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral, 1983.


New Christian Poetry. Ed. by Alwyn Marriage. Collins, 1990.


(ln addition, stories and poems in various literary journals and arts magazines in the UK and abroad.)


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