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The language police are going to kill the use of Malay

 | November 21, 2017

Do we really need the language police to make us refuse to speak Malay because we do not want to incur fines for incorrect usage?


dewan-bahasa-dan-pustaka-1Sometime ago, I saw a short clip on social media about the differences between an Asian mother and a European mother.

An eight-year-old wanted to please his mother on her birthday and attempted to surprise her. Two hours after he got up, the family kitchen looked as though it had been hit by a tornado. Every kitchen surface, including the floor, was littered with breadcrumbs, butter, jam and eggs. The end result was leathery scrambled eggs and burnt toast with jam.

The child, on seeing his mother enter the kitchen, said, “Happy Birthday. I wanted to surprise you by cooking your favourite scrambled eggs and toast.”

The reaction of the Asian mother was to scowl, tell her son off, then send him to his room because he had left her kitchen in a mess. She told him that his cooking was unpalatable, then chucked the food in the bin.

On the other hand, the initial reaction of the European mother was shock, before she broke out into a smile and hugged her son. She praised him for his cooking skills, tasted each portion of food and said it was good, but that it could be better.

She showed him how to make light toast. She said that reducing the cooking time for the eggs would make them creamy.

The boy, who was beaming from ear to ear, went in search of his father so that he could boast about his prowess as a successful cook because “mummy said so”. He was so pleased he promised to help his mom in the kitchen, to improve his cooking skills, cook like mom and learn more tips.

On November 14, Abdul Adzis Abas, the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaska (DBP) director-general, confirmed that the government had empowered the DBP to act against the improper use of Malay.

Abdul Adzis claimed that anyone who used Malay incorrectly, including online advertisers, would be fined up to RM1,000, after the amendments to the National Language Act 1963 and Education Act 1996, have been passed in Parliament.

He said the objective of the enforcement was to educate the public in the correct usage of Malay, and discourage the usage of “broken” Malay in print and on the Internet so as to prevent the language from becoming “contaminated”.

If there is one way that is guaranteed to dampen one’s enthusiasm for learning a language, it must be the fining of the speakers, or writer, for the incorrect use of it.

What about local dialects? What happens to new learners of the language? What about the bastardisation of Malay, with the glib use of English to compose new words in Malay, like interaksi, komunikasi, bisnes, pakir and kendil for interaction, communication, business, parking, and candle?

Who will enforce the fines for the improper use of Malay? If language enforcement were to take place, anyone with status or the right “kabel” will escape a fine.

Perhaps, our teachers could be better at making the language more fun to learn with games and interactive play.

We have had the moral police, the seditious police and the social media police terrorising our lives. Do we need the language police to make us refuse to speak the language because we do not want to incur fines for incorrect usage?

If Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, wants Malaysians to speak proper Malay, he could start with Umno because Umno is the English acronym for United Malays National Organisation. Why not use the Malay acronym for Umno instead?

By the way, if English is the universal language of business and communication, and if the DBP or the home minister starts to impose fines on the incorrect usage of English, a lot of our politicians will incur massive fines because they mangle the language every time they attempt to speak it.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

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


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