Monday, March 09, 2009

Language Controversy

(Source: Malaysiakini)

My late father Haji Ahmad Abdul Jalal was a nationalist. A school teacher who was active in the national Malay Teachers Union*, he had fought hard together with his contemporaries for the establishment of a Chair for Malay Studies at the University of Malaya many years ago. He had shed tears when he was invited to Pantai Valley to witness the launching ceremony and would have cried in anguish if he was still alive today to see his fellow teachers being bombarded with water cannons and teargassed by the police at Saturday's protest march (photo), for fighting for what he and his peers had fought valiantly for, half a century ago. (Read the Malaysiakini report, here)

But my father was also a pragmatist. My siblings and I grew up learning English by reading the Straits Times and the occasional copies of Readers Digest and the Dandy and Beano comics which he could barely afford with his meager salary. We didnt do too badly, I think. How many Malay parents would do the same today, I wonder.

Some years ago, I believe I did my bit for the national language when I served on a Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka committee to translate English nautical and shipping terms into bahasa. It was indeed a learning and eye-opening experience for me when I discovered that it was almost next to impossible to deal with many of the English words and terms without simply bastardising the same. Perhaps for this reason only that the courses at the Akademi Laut Malaysia (ALAM) in Melaka, for example, are still being taught exclusively in English.

What I am really against is the 'flip-flopping' on the issue of the language to be used in the teaching of science and mathematics in schools, despite denials from the prime minister. This will be very hard on our children. (Read my earlier posting: "Don't belok-belok", here). On the other hand, high handed government action on peaceful dissent on the matter are not going to make things any better, either.

Perhaps Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah or Ku Li is the only UMNO leader worth listening to nowadays, but sadly nobody in the party appears to be listening to him. I agree with Ku Li when he says, here, that "UMNO is utterly alienated from its meaning, purpose and spirit. No longer the party of the Malay schoolteacher but of the power that directs water cannons and teargas at them. No longer the grassroots party of the Malays, but of opportunists who hide behind the Rulers while they fan hatred between the people."

* Persatuan Kesatuan Guru-Guru Melayu Semenanjung.


  1. "How many Malay parents would do the same today, I wonder."

    How true.

    Many would prefer to see their children doing somersaults, and twist and weave their way to excellence on their kapcais on our roads as they give the finger to others and the authorities.

    Many would prefer to see their children exhibiting their particular brand of hang jebatism on the highways and byways intimidating other road users as though that makes them really, really clever.

    Many would prefer their children to spend long afternoons whiling away their hours at the malls equating that with being savvy and knowledgeable about modern lifestyles.

    Ask them to read a book in English, and their eyes would glaze over wondering what insanity drives people to want to even look at such foreign words.

    But you can't blame it all on the parents. Read our newspapers and see the tripe that makes the headlines. Watch our local TV dramas and see which part of the mind it titillates most. Name one good world class drama produced by our local Spielbergs that has anything worth remembering beyond the simpering females and inane dialog.

    Pride in your language is one thing. Respect for the knowledge and wisdom inherent in the written languages of the world is another. Remember, the words "bodoh sombong" is very, very Malay, and the Hadith that says "seek knowledge even if you have to go to China" is very Islamic.

  2. "No longer the grassroots party of the Malays, but of opportunists who hide behind the Rulers while they fan hatred between the people."

    Why only attack UMNO? What about PAS fanning hatred against the government for not turning the country into an ISlamic Republic sort off? There's so much more anger and hatred amongst the PAS base. They walked with "bahang kemarahan dan kebencian" all over...

    Why politicize the issue now? Why pushing it in the fore when we are facing many more problems that have been over politicize.

    The march and demonstration on a Friday and the exploitation of the mosque gathering will bring our nation further downwards.

    Oh! It is done with Pakatan's provoke and promote anger and hatred against BN it is ok?

  3. Spot on capt sedih betul tengok melayu sekarang terkonkong di buatnya olih u must not oppose.

  4. I must admit I grew up very much of an anglophile, having been taught by the most dedicated English teachers (Eurasians, Indians and Chinese) at the Seremban Convent. English Literature was my favourite subject and I went on to study it at university. I taught English, English Literature and Linguistics for 32 years at Secondary School and University levels.

    However, when I had to teach BA and MA level Linguistics in Malay I made a concerted effort to improve my Malay - which I did by reading the Malay papers, academic journals and magazines every single day. Now I can (not so humbly) admit that my Malay is rather good - though still not as idiomatic as my English.

    Yes - there is the real fear that Malay is still the second choice especially among the urban population and, what is more demeaning, it faces the threat of being displaced by a foreign language.Its growth in maths, science and technology will be stunted if the schools and institutions of learning use English to teach these subjects. Terminology and specialised expressions will not develop in Malay.

    I can see the validity of these arguments.

    The Malays speak the colloquial variety or dialect as their mother tongue but how many of us will admit that our language proficiency at the higher, more formal or academic level is adequate?

    The issues here are not as simple as they are made out to be and Dato' Dr Hassan Ahmad and his barisan have a point.

    But as cikgus, intellectuals and academics should they not be speaking out eloquently and articulately instead of taking to the streets and using the same stance as some of our politicians?

    And Dato' Dr Hassan Ahmad spoke so badly in Malay!
    It's one thing to uphold the Constitutional provisions for Malay as the National Language! But can we Malays honestly say we uphold it as a practice in our daily lives?

  5. Capt, sir!
    My daughter has 2 classmates who are Malays, and when they found out that she spoke mainly English , quickly developed a bond and founded their 'English' club real quick. They are good muslims, and practised their faith. However, I sense that patriotism to the language is akin to alienating oneself from the English language, which seems to be my perception.

    It is not right for the police to fire tear gas against a group who merely wants to voice their opinion. But I wonder, why take to the streets? Shouldn't they submit their memorandum to the Education ministry instead? And calling a press conference? It seems every, Ali, Raju and Ah Chong who has something to pick with the government is marching to the palace en masse.

    I am happy with the PPSMI policy, and if the govt makes an about turn, I will homeschool my kiddos!


  6. Ancient Mariner
    I cannot agree more with you. It is all "water,water,everywhere but not a drop to drink!"Everyone is complaining of the darkness but but none is lighting any candles. Being an English language Teacher for three and a half decades, it hurts me to see that we have not resolved our language issue while opportunists are exploiting and taking advantage of the whole issue.
    Long John Silver

  7. Ancient mariner, another 2 sen for you. At the later part of my service as a Pegawai Pelajaran as observed that the whole PPSMI issue rests on bad and hasty implementation. While nothing much can rectify the implementation stage and the first batch of students or rather "guinea pigs" have passed out of school, concerted efforts in the nature of "turun padang" by those sitting in the cosy air-conditioned and carpeted office is the crying need. Don't go by statistics and "borang pemantauan." Brop by the rural school, quiz the "pengetuas" and see hoe they implement PPSMI.The findings could be shocking. Where have all the PPSMI equipment provided, the lap-tops, LCD projectors, soft wares gone??? Have they been usefully utilized for the pupils?
    Long John Silver
    Long John Silver


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