Up­hold­ing na­tional iden­tity

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP -

THE me­dia cov­er­age the last fort­night has been heavy on the is­sue of lan­guage cul­mi­nat­ing in Sul­tan of Perak, Sul­tan Nazrin Shah, ex­press­ing con­cern over the Malay lan­guage when de­liv­er­ing the Royal Ad­dress or­gan­ised by Dewan Ba­hasa dan Pus­taka (DBP) last week.

He re­minded the au­di­ence that we “must not dis­miss the Unesco find­ing that mother tongue is the key to ef­fec­tive learn­ing”. This res­onated with a re­port that the United Chi­nese School Com­mit­tees As­so­ci­a­tion and sev­eral other groups are “protest­ing” against the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Dual Lan­guage Pro­gramme (DLP) for­mu­lated by Pe­mandu.

They reck­oned the pro­gramme is “too dif­fi­cult for stu­dents to cope with­out af­fect­ing their mother tongue”. Not sur­pris­ingly, a group of prom­i­nent Malay aca­demics has been ar­gu­ing along the same lines but they were swiftly la­belled as Malay ul­tra-na­tion­al­ists and then marginalised. Their Chi­nese coun­ter­parts were spared de­spite be­ing cat­e­gor­i­cal that their ac­tion was “to safe­guard the char­ac­ter­is­tics” of the Chi­nese schools.

On hind­sight one can­not help but as­so­ci­ate all these to the speech by the deputy prime min­is­ter at the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly. In his re­sponse to crit­i­cism he re­torted that it was more shame­ful for Malaysians not to mas­ter Ba­hasa Ke­bangsaan. He said: “It would be more em­bar­rass­ing if some­one was born and raised in Malaysia but un­able to speak the na­tional lan­guage even af­ter 25 years al­though some for­eign­ers who came to work here can pick up the lan­guage within one or two months.”

How­ever, he did not elab­o­rate what ought to be done about cit­i­zens who are not pro­fi­cient in the na­tional lan­guage. There was no sug­ges­tion on how to rec­tify this long-stand­ing is­sue that needs some very high-level in­struc­tions to crack this in­tractable “prob­lem”. So far there has been only talk, no ac­tion. Maybe it is be­cause the ma­jor­ity of those lack­ing in pro­fi­ciency are not school­child­ren or young­sters. Sur­pris­ingly, they are among the many suc­cess­ful baby boomers or even the gen­er­a­tions be­fore them. Some are hold­ing high po­si­tions with wide­spread in­flu­ence within the gov­ern­ment cir­cles.

If it is true that “some for­eign­ers who came to work here can pick up the lan­guage within one or two months”, then it must be a mat­ter of neg­a­tive at­ti­tude or a de­lib­er­ate choice of not want­ing to learn the lan­guage. It is not a wild guess to point out that the ex­cuses are of­ten self­ish ones – viz, it does not serve their self-in­ter­est what­so­ever. At this junc­ture, it is ap­pro­pri­ate to quote Sul­tan Nazrin when he noted, “al­though the na­tional lan­guage is as­sumed to have no in­ter­na­tional value, it is a lan­guage that not only safe­guarded his­tor­i­cal links but also up­held the na­tional iden­tity.”

By bring­ing up the is­sue of “na­tional iden­tity” I se­ri­ously think that this is where the crux of the prob­lem lies. This is plain to see when “na­tional iden­tity” is one of the six stu­dent as­pi­ra­tions framed in both of the Malaysian Ed­u­ca­tion Blue­prints af­ter al­most six decades of Merdeka. Read­ing this along­side what the sul­tan re­port­edly ob­served, namely “more and more hous­ing es­tates, parks, com­mer­cial build­ings and tourist at­trac­tions ap­proved by the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties carry English names”, the is­sue of mis­placed iden­tity can­not be dis­missed.

Per­haps Pe­mandu can pick it up to pro­vide some ur­gent so­lu­tions like what they did with the DLP. It would be a lot sim­pler as there is no need for a sur­vey or video in­ter­views. Ev­ery Malaysian must agree with the deputy prime min­is­ter’s view­points and go one step fur­ther to close the gaps for which Pe­mandu is known to be very good at. The time to act is now and the op­por­tu­nity must not be missed again. The DBP must en­sure that this is the case so that the royal ad­dress is not taken in vain. Let it be re­solved once and for all.

Af­ter all in vir­tu­ally all sovereign coun­tries their cit­i­zens – in­clud­ing the rich and fa­mous – are con­ver­sant with their na­tional lan­guages. Among Asean mem­ber coun­tries only Malaysia seems to be shame­fully at odds in this long-stand­ing is­sue, and nowhere re­solv­ing it. This is be­cause we have been too soft and com­pro­mis­ing when it comes to our na­tional iden­tity es­pe­cially con­cern­ing the na­tional lan­guage. Sul­tan Nazrin even made spe­cial men­tion of “huge gov­ern­ment-linked com­pa­nies, for show­ing dis­re­spect to the na­tional lan­guage and not pro­vid­ing gen­uine sup­port to en­ti­ties strug­gling to up­hold the na­tional lan­guage”. This ba­si­cally sums up how dire the sit­u­a­tion has be­come. This col­umn has been cat­e­gor­i­cal when it ar­gued that “our first lan­guage must come first (My View, Feb 24), and so is our na­tional iden­tity.

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