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Don’t be in a hurry to impose fines for incorrect use of BM

November 15, 2017

Mistakes happen in all languages, not just in the usage of Bahasa Malaysia, but the most important aspect to consider is whether or not the mistakes are wilfully made out of disrespect.


DBP-finesBy T K Chua

I refer to the news article “Adakah DBP akan mendenda kerajaan persekutuan?” written by Zairil Khir Johari, the MP for Bukit Bendera. I concur with Zairil that the government must take into account many other factors before amending the National Language Act 1963 and Education Act 1996 to impose fines on the wrong usage of Bahasa Malaysia in public notices and advertisements, including those posted online.

Seriously, why are we so “trigger happy” that we want to impose a fine? Have we thought through all the consequences of introducing such a measure?

There will be mistakes made when we use any language. It is not unique to Bahasa Malaysia. If we think there are horrendous advertisements and notices written in Bahasa Malaysia, surely we have also read the ridiculous brochures and notices written in English.

The most important aspect to consider is whether or not the mistakes are wilfully made out of disrespect. I don’t think we should impose a fine on mistakes made out of ignorance or carelessness.

Besides, how do the enforcing authorities define “mistakes”? I am sure there are subjectivities involved. I remember a long time ago, an advertising slogan in English said, “Anchor is the beer”. In Bahasa Malaysia, it was translated as, “Anchor ialah beer”. But my rudimentary BM told me that it should be “Anchor itulah beer” if we had truly understood what the slogan in English was trying to convey.

Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka may be the experts in Bahasa Malaysia. But are they the experts in Chinese and English? If they are not, how would they know translations from other languages into BM are correctly done?

I am for the proper use of all languages on our signboards, public notices and advertisements. I think we should all take the trouble to point out the mistakes made by advertisers or business owners. Enforcing agencies should at least give them the opportunity to rectify the mistakes before imposing a fine on them.

Imposing fine without notice would increase the cost of doing business. Many will be hesitant to put up notices and advertisements if the threats of fines are constantly hanging over their heads. Also, if what constitutes a “mistake” is not properly defined, some in the enforcing authorities could capitalise on the situation to solicit bribes from the business owners and advertisers.

Just walk along any row of shop lots, look at the signboards on display, and then go tell the authorities the number of mistakes you have spotted.

Something to think about.

TK Chua is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.


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