HARESH SAYS: Language is the soul of the people
As published in Malay Mail today
“Wah, lu punya anak sudah manyak busat.”
Mother smiled while I wore a baffled look.
We’ve not met ‘aunty’ for ages. Easily in her late 40s, ‘aunty’ is our former neighbour who we bumped into recently while grocery shopping.
What the good ‘young’ aunty meant was I had grown. Perhaps she believed I would have remained small after all these years. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, it was just small talk, I told myself.
We left minutes later only to meet another old neighbour.
“I’m sending my son to Taiwan. No need learn Bahasa Malaysia. Got better opportunity there than here.”
Mother and I could only smile.
Judging by the value of the ringgit, it is no surprise why some opt for greener pastures elsewhere. But this is not about economics. This is about understanding and appreciating the national language.
Sadly, many disregard the importance of Bahasa Malaysia. To most, it is just another subject in school which will be quickly forgotten once they ditch their uniforms for slacks and ties.
Let’s not kid ourselves. It has been a trend for decades where students are guilty of merely memorising essays, hoping a similar topic will appear during major examinations. There is no eagerness of understanding the origins of the language or the art of using it. To some, they are mere words.
Despite 58 years of independence, many of us are easily amazed when we see a non-Malay speaking or singing in Bahasa Malaysia fluently. Instead, we should all be speaking it fairly, if not fluently. In fact, we should all be speaking and understanding other major languages — mainly Mandarin and Tamil.
Some of us are tongue-tied when asked what staples (dawai kokot) or corn flakes (empingan jagung) are in Bahasa Malaysia.
Many struggle to communicate in another language besides their mother-tongue. Such ignorance is dumbfounding.
This includes leaders who are unable to construct complete sentences in the national language without making fools of themselves. This is evident in the Dewan Rakyat or during press conferences.
A veteran politician, had during a heated parliamentary session in 2007, said: “Lu jangan ingat saya takut punya orang.” (Do not think I am easily frightened).
The sentence is scary indeed, as some leaders do not see the importance of brushing up their Bahasa Malaysia. I’m sure we have all heard many more silly statements by politicians in the national language (or in any language for that matter).
It comes as no surprise as to why politicians remain divided over calls to ensure election candidates must have a credit in the national language.
Election Commission (EC) chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof was quoted by national news agency Bernama over the weekend as saying: “Under the Federal Constitution and EC regulations, there are no requirements for elections candidates to have a credit in Bahasa Malaysia.”
It was also reported the EC is studying a proposal to introduce such a requirement.
A good leader cannot be judged simply by his ability to speak Bahasa Malaysia. Nevertheless, a leader who is able to converse fluently would definitely help highlight the importance of speaking the national language well.
It starts at both ends — the bottom and the top. We must instil in our young the importance of learning and understanding the national language. We need to adapt and learn all languages instead of just being fixated with the languages we are comfortable with.
Leaders, too, need to understand the necessity of articulating their views in the national language without sounding silly.
Through a more systematic education system, we could see more Malaysians speaking four major languages — Bahasa Malaysia, English, Mandarin and Tamil. What harm is there in mastering these languages when it could provide us a global competitive edge?
Alas, we are grounded by our close-mindedness. There are those who are afraid their young will lupa daratan (forget their roots) if they spoke a different language. Others do not see the usefulness of mastering other languages.
Let’s not take Bahasa Malaysia, or any other language, for granted. No point demanding for ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ if we are clueless as to what makes the nation.
As the popular saying goes, bahasa jiwa bangsa (language is the soul of the
HARESH is executive editor of Malay Mail. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @HareshDeol