Monday, March 09, 2009

The politics of language

As we all probably know, the problem of language has flared up again and the police have had to restrain protesters campaigning for a repeal of the English policy in our school system. While I, and I think Kian Ming and Tony as well are sympathetic to the use of English in our school system, the case for teaching in pupils' mother tongues is a strong one. I have argued for a more balanced compromise in the past. But today I would like to draw our readers' attention to this fantastic piece by Jeremy Mahadevan about the national language.

The most salient point I think he makes is that Malay is really in a state of limbo right now. The government tells us we must use Malay, but it prevents the non-Malays from ever truly feeling like the language is our own. Our own cultural and historical revisionism even makes us forget the roots of our own language, and how it reflects the very plural nature of our country. Even more so than English, Malay borrows words and ideas from all sorts of languages. There is no reason that all of us should not be adopting Malay as our own language, except for the government's own intolerant policy of using it to force Malay culture upon non-Malays.

Speaking for myself, I really do feel like Malay is a language that is inexorably bound up with my own identity. This has especially come through to me abroad — when with other Malaysians, nothing truly makes us feel as satisfied and happy as speaking in Bahasa Malaysia and bahasa rojak with one another. Just as Malaysia is our country, Bahasa Malaysia is our language, and no government can take that away from us. What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Put it this way...those who want to study in Malay please register at Malay schools. Those who want to study in English be free to register in English medium schools. Habis cerita!

Later dont complain why foreign students dont come to our universities or why you cant get jobs....

Anonymous said...

This subject has been debated some 35 years ago when I was in school and still hasn't been sorted out. In the mean time the economy is bleeding, millions are out of a job and hungry and all these people can talk about is language. What a joke and puts the country back 30 years.

Anonymous said...

This issue of resurrection of BM into teaching is brought about by those who cannot teach in English.
Its not the case of the students unable to learn English but more the case of the teachers failing to relearn English
The only solution have a national referendum like general election and settle this once and for all. I am getting sick of these whiners...Its the politicians that messed these things up in the beginning. I think Dr M was instrumental in the implementing of both policies

Shawn Tan said...

Well, I can identify with your feelings towards BM. While I was abroad, I totally regretted not bringing along my collection of Malay MP3s. There was a insatiable hunger for the Malay language. Good thing was that one of my blog readers read my blog and bought my some CDs and mailed them to me. That totally made my day.

However, the issue with PPSMI has become a 'religious' issue with logic and rationality being thrown out the window. Both the Malay and Chinese traditionalists feel that this is an assault on their 'mother tongue'. Since their mothers are involved, it invariably degenerates into an emotional issue.

If everyone just sits down and come to a workable compromise, we can all move on with life. Let's just hope that whomever takes over as the Education Minister next month has the balls to actually sit everyone down and address all the issues. Implementation problems can be fixed as long as everyone is agreed on the principles of the matter.

PS: The term 'mother tongue' is terribly misleading. How many Malaysians actually have Malay or Mandarin as their 'mother tongue'? Not very many.