Friday, June 15, 2007

Bahasa Malaysia, not Bahasa Melayu

I'm back in Durham, North Carolina and am once again connected to the online world. Many education issues are on my mind but I'll start with this positive news - the decision by the government to use Bahasa Malaysia instead of Bahasa Melayu. The most recent announcement by the Cabinet was reported in today's Star.

Back in the day when I co-wrote a column with the NST (called 'Chisel and Stone') with my former boss, Steven Wong, now with ISIS, I wrote about the merits of calling BM Bahasa Malaysia instead of Bahasa Melayu since this would give the connotation that the language belongs to all Malaysians.

I think that one can make a rational argument that BM should still be called Bahasa Melayu. After all, it is the 'mother tongue' of most, if not all, Malays. There are few Chinese or Indian households which speak Malay exclusively although there are certainly many non-Malay Bumiputera households in Sarawak and Sabah which do speak Malay exclusively or at least substantially. It is only natural that Malays would consider BM as 'their' language given the history and use of the language.

However, I think the move by the cabinet to make this change is a progressive one for the following reasons:

1) Given that BM is our national language and that all of us, regardless of race, learns BM in school
2) That it would encourage a gradual change in mindset that BM only belongs to Malays to one that BM i.e. Bahasa Malaysia belongs to and should be spoken widely by ALL Malaysians
3) That it shows a more magnanimous spirit on the part of the government to perhaps have a more open and liberal attitude towards issues of national identity (okay, this is perhaps a more optimistic reading)

On the part of the non-Malays (myself included), we should also reciprocate by demonstrating a greater willingness to speak, embrace and use our national language.

(An aside: Wasn't it Anwar Ibrahim who changed Bahasa Malaysia to Bahasa Melayu in the early 1990s when he was the Education Minister?)


Anonymous said...

Just make up their damn minds. Flip flopping every 10~15 years is crazy

Anonymous said...

In response to Anno 6/15/2007 11:29:00 PM. The flip flopping in policy making is very common. There's no ultimate Right or Wrong in doing most things. The major concern is, at a certain point of time, what would the person "in power" think is "the best way" according to "his/her own perception". We are all different individuals. While we may agree upon a certain approach, there'll always be disagreement in some way.

Addressing the language as Bahasa Malaysia is definitely a good move. Nevertheless, I don't think it would be possible to see a day that other races claim Bahasa Malaysia as their own language. It will always be "It's a natioanl language and we're required to use it". The issue of identity and its associations to language and nationality is somewhat too complicated that even such changes will never solve. Superficially, perhaps.

Moreover, what would the impact be for Malays?

Anonymous said...

To the above Anon219, hello kawan apa kamu bilang? Imagine if the English language was called the "British" language every 10~15 years and vice versa just because there are English, Irish, Scots, Welsh using them in Britain - in the name of unity. You don't see that happening do you?

This is language you are talking about, not an educational policy that can be changed every now and then.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 6/16/2007n12:05:00 PM,

Now Tony got "betis" already, next Tony will ask for "peha" next -censored- .

Then the Bangsa Malaysia, after thatTony buy University Malaya landand and sell to Hong Kong investor...

Anonymous said...

Interesting indeed of the comment by Anon 6/16/2007 12:05:00 PM. When I was in England, I came across many English people who preferred to call themselves English and not British.

Anonymous said...

to the anon above, maybe its coz of nationalism in a local state. historically, the constituent countries of the united kingdom werent quite united in the past, and wars between them were frequent. england had particularly warred with scotland, ireland, and wales, basically all of the constituent countries. no doubt the 3 even today have animosities towards the english. scottish will still prefer to regard themselves as scottish rather than british, and its the same with the others in britain. the english too would be too proud to be referred to as british, lest they get mistaken as non-english.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I do not find this a big deal. I could vaguely recall the change when I was around Standard 4 in the class timetable. At that time, I didn't think much of it, and still don't anyway.

Most students/teachers usually just call it in its abbreviated BM. And we still learned it as usual. As for the general public, I really don't think the implications were that huge, other than the small fine print in some documents.

So really, I don't see any fuss over this matter. Especially it being made headlines and how the name change will bring about unity etc etc. Especially since it didn't cause much impact during the previous change. The only reason I could see for the change right now is political mileage.

Anonymous said...

Wats the fuss? Bahasa Malaysia or Bahasa Melayu....all use the same language, words, grammar, phonetics

The politicians are just playing you all up!!!

Anonymous said...

On a global stand, both have different impression.

If you tell a foreign friend you can speak Malay Language, they will feel rather suprise because it sounds native. They would think one may not have learned it in school.

If you tell him you can speak Malaysian Language. The language stands out even more because obviously it is a national language.

For a foreigner such as the Mat Salleh, they would think that Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Melayu are two different languages, if not it has to be of different accent.

Uthaya Sankar SB said...

Bahasa Malaysia, Bangsa Malaysia. That's my stand.

jazrul said...

And we still learned it as usual.

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fauzi said...

The language stands out even more because obviously it is a national language.

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fauzi said...


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jazrul said...

bahasa jawa malay is very hard

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awang kata said...

Bahasa Malaysia itu gelaran nama umum untuk bahasa Malaysia, bahasa Melayu itu khusus untuk bahasa Malaysia.

Misalnya seorang bapa menunjukkan anak sekuntum 'itu bunga'( kepada bunga anggerik). Anak yang pintar tentu berkata 'anggerik'.

Usah bingung lagi perkara. Kita dah merdeka lebih 50 tahun.