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Bahasa Malaysia vs English again!

Since when did Malaysia become so narrow-minded, so insular and so inward thinking?

People are struggling to put nutritious food on the table - SILVIARITA/PIXABAY

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by jem

Recently, the prime minister announced that the use of bahasa Malaysia, the national language, would be mandatory in all government and quasi-government departments, as well as in private international schools.

He also requested that the Public Services Department communicate this directive. There was even a suggestion for punitive measures to be taken if this was not adhered to.

So to strengthen the Malay language and to ensure that these instructions are obeyed, a proposal to amend the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Act 1959 was mooted with a fine of up to RM50,000 or a prison term for those who disrespect the national language! 

Would this ‘punishment’ help or hurt the government?

Ismail Sabri Yaakob does not only want to ensure that the national language is spoken locally but also wants to make Malay or bahasa Melayu the second language in Asean.

This is not a new idea. Najib Razak, the former prime minister, tried to do it in 2017, but it fell on deaf ears then.

Will Ismail Sabri succeed where Najib failed? What will the other Asean leaders think of this idea?

It might be a futile endeavour. The PM is trying to bolster his image and score points in Malaysia, with a general election looming. Surely, Asean has more important matters to discuss rather than something as inconsequential as the use of Malay as the regional grouping’s second language. So, mungkin tidaklah (perhaps not)!

When Ismail Sabri made this announcement, naturally many people reacted and then for a while everything seemed to have settled down.

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But then the issue resurfaced when Pas president Hadi Awang said that those who encourage the use of the English language are “trapped in the colonial mindset”, “behaving like slaves to their former colonial masters”. He said those who use English officially “seem to be embarrassed to use their national language and placed greater importance on English”.

Are those who use English really embarrassed to use the national language? Really? Has Hadi been around to various organisations to verify that they were embarrassed to use the national language?

Why has the use of the national language versus the English language become a bone of contention again?

Yes, Malay is the official language, but is it wrong to learn English or any other language? Are those of us who speak English seen as ‘traitors’?

It has been six decades since independence, and the national language is Malay. So we are all a bit keliru (puzzled) over why this is coming around again. Talking points in the run-up to the general election, probably!

Maybe there are some ministers who are unable to converse in English and have made blunders? According to media reports, letters sent to foreign embassies, for example, would be in Malay, with an English translation.

If an English translation is to be provided, then why not just do it in English? It is common sense. For those who cannot speak the language, have translators sitting behind them at meetings or use modern gadgets that can translate in real time.

So the big question is, since when did Malaysia become so narrow-minded, so insular and so inward thinking?

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The governments of past years have sadly not done anything to restore people’s faith in them. Corruption has been rife for umpteen years and yet, nothing has been done to wipe out this scourge.

Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perception Index has ranked Malaysia 62nd out of 180 countries. That is nothing to be proud of.

Trust, honesty and integrity are a few of the keywords this government should uphold. But we have long been bereft of these values. And then we wonder why it is so hard to get people to invest in Malaysia.

There are more important things than language to worry about. Inflation. Rising food prices. Chicken prices (oh my goodness!) have risen. Singaporeans have to do without their chicken rice. Salaries remain stagnant, but food prices have soared.

Oh yes, I almost forgot about the special taskforce for a “jihad against inflation”, which the prime minister has just created. Is this for real?

Thus, to speak or not to speak the national language should be the least of these leaders’ worries.

jem, an Aliran reader, still cares deeply about Sabah, despite having lived in the peninsula for some time

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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concerned citizen
concerned citizen
18 Jul 2022 6.37pm

Prof Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi warned recently that this BM push is a kind of “vote bait” by the ruling party, and speaking ill of it or BM in any way is a TRAP that will play into BN’s hands in the next GE! The BN/PN govt is likely leveraging civil society’s apparent preference for using English to champion their cause to turn the Malay heartland against them (civil society) as we speak.

Read: https://www.sinchew.com.my/20220606/criticizing-bm-initiative-further-divides-the-nation/ and https://sinchew.com.my/20211026/5-lessons-for-civil-society/

Paul Lim
Paul Lim
17 Jul 2022 9.03pm

If Malay or Bahasa Malaysia is going to be the Language, Malaysia will definitely fall back among ASEAN countries not to talk of the Global South economically. Even in continental Europe with their tongues they cannot ignore English as a llingua Franca among themselves and internationally. All students leaving school would have been exposed to at least 2 languages or 3 and English is increasing becoming the 2nd aside from their mother tongue. Malaysia has to be pragmatic and stop beating the nationalistic drum. It is already far behind Singapore which it expelled.

17 Jul 2022 1.56pm

Sigh… same thing going round and round. Why are our ministers sending their kids overseas to study. Is the studies all in Bahasa? If it is so important, get them to bring all the children back to study locally … all in Bahasa. Basically, I think they want us all to speak in Bahasa because they cannot understand English. Period.

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