Friday, April 18, 2008

Terrorised Language

While you are reading this, there are languages that are being buried

Why did I start blogging in the first place? It all started as a means for me to express my thoughts and to discuss and review things that going on in this life. When I first started, I never knew the force that backs blogging activities. Was I ignorant or was it coincident that during that time blogging was not as popular and widespread as today? I don’t have any idea.

A lot of things change after we left high school and I am not exempted from it. For instance, it has been two years since I last wrote in Malay, owh, save only when I sat for CTU 551 (Tamadun Islam dan Tamadun Asia) and did my assignment for CTU 553. Lately, thoughts have come across my mind and much of the discussions that took place in a number of forums seemingly confirm my concerns. My concerns primarily are, and I believe these are also the same tune of concern sang by those who care for this matter, pertaining to the development of Malay language, its future as well as its fate.

To begin with, in Malaysia, the Malay language is accorded with protection under the shelter of the glorious Federal Constitution. Art 152(1) designates the Malay language as the national language of this land. Not only that the Federal Constitution vigorously offers protection to this language, the Constitution also recognises and gives prevalence to this language over English if the Malay version and the English version of the Federal Constitution have any discrepancy. If such conflict arises, the Malay version is to be regarded as the authoritative text. This magnificent declaration can be found in Art 160B. These two Articles exude the intention of the architects of our Constitution to exalt the position of Malay language in its own land; after all Malaysia used to be known as Tanah Melayu, although socio-politically speaking I am not comfortable with the term. Of course, historically speaking, I might prefer to employ that term; nevertheless, this is a different issue altogether and I shall not indulge in it. Perhaps if there were a need to address this issue, I would write something on it. Having regard to the traditional name of the place in which the language is spoken, it is somewhat justifiable that this language should be fortified.

Now, there is a furore in the air about the current position of the Malay language. The language is no longer the medium of teaching in the public universities, save only to some religious studies and studies on sociology and anthropology courses. It is still the official language in our primary and secondary school system. The lingua franca in these two institutions was English but the Jawatankuasa Kabinet 1974 revised the position and as a result, Malay language was designated as the medium of teaching. I wouldn’t comment anything on this because I am somewhat divided over this issue. There are pros and cons with regard to this policy but I guess it is best left hanging until I could find and figure out constructive contentions.

Back to the furore, there are grievances in the air over the fate and future of this language. Will it last? That is the million-dollar question that is dominating the atmosphere. In the wake of perceived ‘threat’ to the Malays, a forum was held and it was reported in the News. One of the overriding issues was the survival of Malay language in today’s challenging world. One of the panellists lamented about the treatment given to this language; he accused the language is discriminated, forgotten and not given due care.

Nevertheless, my critical evaluation over the issue stimulates me to go beyond the lament over the position of the language. Why is that the prominence of the language has deteriorated? I believe this has something to do with the way we treat the language.

I realise that most of us don’t really care about the existence of this language. We take for granted the existence of this language that we fail to appreciate the value that is attached to it. We adore too much of foreign language, especially English (which is what exactly I am doing now; this writing itself is self-explanatory of my language preference. Shame on me). Contrary to some countries like Japan, France, South Korea and China, just to name a few, we Malaysians refuse to go in depth to learn our very own national language. Because of that, we take for granted this language and consequently nobody appreciate it. We tend to forget that during the period of Malacca Sultanate, Malay language was the widespread lingua franca in South East Asia, at least.

A European historian even concluded that the Malay language was as widespread as the Latin language in Europe; that period was the glorious days of both languages. Nevertheless, as the usage of Latin is dwindling, the same epidemics also contracted by the Malay language. It is somewhat lucky because unlike Latin, Malay language can still find its place in today’s world. Surely we don’t want the language to suffer the same fate suffered by the Latin language; it is now only used in Churches and for religious purposes only.

Lets ponder for a second, why was DBP established in the first place? I reckon we don’t have the exact answer but reasonably presuming, one of its tasks would be to enrich the Malay language, to preserve and to ensure its survival. But what has become of that institution now? Have they carried out their duties? I’m not sure but looking at the state of the Malay language, I guess it is reasonable to assume that they have failed to discharge their duties accordingly. The Malay language is not substantially enriched over the decade. In fact, the Malay language is very poor in its fund of vocabulary. As a result of that, sometimes we cannot find the correct word in order to project the suitable expression. We cannot satisfactorily express what is inside our mind.

Most of today’s contemporary words that can be found in the Kamus Bahasa have its origin in English.

Yes, it is inevitable for us to borrow and take words from other languages but what distresses me the most is the fact that DBP only imitates the words, upload them into the Kamus nakedly without conducting any research as to the viability of the imported words. The lack of research has rendered it impossible for the imported words to expand and create more derivatives. Saharil Hasrin has suggested that to strengthen the Malay language, it should be acceptable to just copy other terms and words from other languages to the Malay language; he in fact is countenancing the notion of ‘be open to language evolution’. With respect, I am unable to agree with him, at least wholly, on this notion. We have to be cautious in copying other languages. The most important thing is we have to consider the viability of the words in the Malay language. We want the words to expand the language and to enrich the vocabulary, not to become liabilities and rubbish to the language. The imported words should be able to offer us more sensible local words in order to best represent our expression.

Our forefathers in the past undeniably copied scores of terms and words from other languages but they did that cautiously. They didn’t just nakedly and blindly extort the words and commit them into the Malay language, they improvised the words. As such, those words survive until now and not only have they survived alone, together they also breed and give birth to more words, derived from their own. They exist not merely to enrich our vocabulary but they also act as spirits to the language.

I have conceived this all this while; can any statutory body be sued if it fails to carry out its statutory duty? Is there any law that allows legal action to be taken against the belligerent statutory body? The answers to that would have to be in negative. In relation to DBP, the courts cannot entertain any legal action against them as no law permits them to do so. Besides that, the nature of its functions and the success or failure of its carrying out its duty cannot be legally measured; it can only be politically, socially and philosophically adjudged but cannot be mathematically decided as fail or pass. There goes the chance to hold them accountable for their failure to enrich and strengthen the position of Malay language.

Before wharfing the journey of this writing, I guess it would be a little appropriate to put forward a couple of suggestions. Instead of copying more words from the West, why don’t we consider borrowing words from our neighbouring countries like Indonesia, Japan, and India? This could be applied to lexicon that concerns with science social usages. Of course, for technology convenience purposes, it is advisable to borrow technological terms from the countries that are technologically developed

Secondly, we could be more open to new words or street words. But of course research as to the viability of the words should be conducted. Ultimately, I hope DBP can perform its statutory duty by proliferating language study.

For more insight on the state of Malay language, refer to essay entitled ‘teroris bahasa’ by Saharil Hasrin Sanin, compiled in New Malaysian Essays. Available in your nearest bookstores

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Oh my little experience

15 April 2008, I woke up at 8.53 and gazed into the morning sun. What a wonderful day, I thought. I was still overwhelmed by the compliment given by a friend of mine over my ability to write. Well, I guess I have all the reasons to be happy on that. It is a sad fact that in 1 year, a normal Malaysian in pro rata reads only one page. It’s very rare for us to see a typical Malaysian finishing a book every month. For example, last week a reading of The Sun revealed to me that our own National Laureate, A. Samad Said has produced more than 60 books but only less than 5 are known by the public. Shame on me too for not knowing his works, but that’s not the point here. The fact that only a nominal number of literature-conscious people know about his works as compared to the more than two-thirds majority of the people in Malaysia points out to only one thing, which is lacks of reading. Consequently, it results in the lack of literature product produced by the Malaysian people. Hence I guess we have to brush up our interest over reading material. As a Jewish proverb goes, ‘embrace knowledge and she will exalt you’. It literally means seek knowledge and it will help you. How to seek for knowledge? The answer is simple, start reading.

I remember I bought 2 newspapers on 18 March 2008, that's about a month ago. They were The Sun as well as The Star. The Sun has always been my favourite because judging from its content; it is more neutral in its reports compared to the other mainstream newspapers. I recalled back things that I read in both newspapers.Essentially, both newspapers had the same content. The Café Latte section in The Star with Penang Chief Minister is still fresh in my memory. News and stories relating to Lim Guan Eng, for the past few months have been dominating the newspapers. Stories ranging from his stance over the NEP to his opinion about the street demonstration staged by UMNO Penang have helped the newspapers to be sold like hot cakes.

One of the questions posed towards him asked how he expects to run the state, in light of his post as the Penang new Chief Minister, as he does not have any experience in government before. The response given, to me was thus far the wittiest response I’ve ever encountered from a politician. If I may quote, ‘when we talk about experience, I always say that I don’t have experience in corruption and misappropriation of funds.’

In this world of competitiveness, employers always look for experienced workers or persons. While it is entirely up to the discretion of the employer to employ such experienced people, this act nevertheless has driven the whole concept of experience to deviation.

Does experience have any merits? Of course yes. Through experience, we could get things done smoothly. But the requirement for an experience on the part of the employees has nevertheless discriminated the fresh graduates or those who seek to build or start their career afresh. The question posed against Guan Eng is an evasive question. It’s not that they really want to know what his expectation is but instead they are testing him, whether he could perform to the expectation of the people of Penang or not.

In most of job vacancies advertisements that I often come across with, the requirement of not less than 2 years of working experience is always replicated in most of the offers. No wonder Malaysia’s employment rate is very high. Every year, the countries’ higher learning institutions produce about 40 000 fresh universities graduates. These graduates come out from the universities without any experience; for how can they gain the required 2 years of working experience when prior to their graduation, they spent 3 to 4 years sitting in classrooms learning all the necessary craps relating to their prospective job field. It is sad that most of the graduates fail to secure jobs because of the absent of working experience. The money and time that they have invested for 5 years suddenly become futile because they cannot reap any benefit from the investment.

The private sector, primarily the employers have to be considerate to these fresh graduates as well as to those who wish to start afresh in their career. Experience should not be the ultimate determining factor of finding potential employees. Look beyond the experience, like go into the abilities, capabilities and potentials of the candidates. Most importantly, employers should be able to dive into the personalities of the prospective employees. Honesty, sincerity, sense of integrity as well as the determination to excel oneself should be the yardstick of what make a good worker. Working experience is a learning curve and nobody would be able to collect it if no chance is given.

The Mythology of apology

Eric Clapton sung in his famous song, ‘sorry seems to be the hardest word’; perhaps it is true. The recently appointed minister in the Prime Minister Department, Dato’ Zaid Ibrahim proposed that the government offer an apology to those who were victimised in the 1988 assault on judiciary. Noble the notion is but it was quickly shot down by most members of the Cabinet. The reason being there is nothing to be sorry for as the dark episode was not due to the fault of the government. A prominent Oppositionist has called for Tun Dr Mahathir to personally apologise to the judges because it was during his premiership that the whole mischief took place. He refused nevertheless and further said if anybody were to say sorry, it should come from the Tribunals members. I guess this response by the beloved former premier deserve a standing ovation for its spontaneous and commending pleasantry; clap. As Dr Azmi of UM puts it, it is akin to a scenario where the gun that killed President Lincoln were to be blamed instead of Wilkinson Booth.

The whole drama staged above revolves over one simple thing, apology. What is an apology? Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary 7th edition defines it as ‘a word or statement saying sorry for something that has been done wrong or that causes a problem’; in simple layman understanding, apology means to say sorry, to concede one’s wrong with a view to amend it and put things back to order. One tedious principle in the Jewish culture requires anyone to forgive his debtor seventy seven times seven a day. That is somewhat hyperbolic to do but the essential idea behind it is to constantly forgive your offenders. Numerous medical researches, which owing to some limitations I can’t actually provide the sources, have confirmed that forgiveness is instrumental in preserving one’s health. Those who hold grudge inside are likely to suffer serious diseases than those who don’t have any.

Taking my lesson from this, I have constantly reminded myself to never fail to apologise if I have done wrong. I must admit that it not a simple and easy process but it is certainly a learning curve for me. There is nothing to be lost when one apologies. It is embarrassing but nevertheless necessary in order for us to harmonise the relationship with others and move on from past mistakes.

If Eric Clapton found it difficult to utter that 5-letters word, I find it very easy to regurgitate it each and every time I realise that I have committed a mistake. I guess it is just my nature. Naturally, when an apology is offered, it would resolve the issue, but to my shock, that is not always the case. We are too suspicious of each other that sometimes we just can’t accept a simple and lay apology. We demand more than just mere expression of that word; we impose more requirements, we require the proposer to offer something else in complimentary of the apology before we can finally accept the apology, that also upon some conditions. What about an apology that is not accepted? Or even if accepted, seems has no bearing to the relationship of the parties.

If that happens, it seems that an apology is not the saver of the day. Apology does not solve problem and it does not reconcile damage done. But instead of blaming the ineffectiveness of apology, perhaps other matters need to be deliberated. Why apology fails to reconcile parties? Why it fails to get things back in order again and allow the parties to move on? As interesting this questions could be, I finally found some answers to the defects of apology. Every so often, people just don’t want to accept apology. It is mysterious but that’s a cruel fact. I experienced this before. I made a mistake that hurts a person. I quickly realised it and promptly offer my apology. But to my surprise, it was ignored; at least that’s how I see it. I was stunned and very disappointed.

Apology is a mysterious fixation. It represents a sound solution to problems but theory has proven itself in countless time that it can never harmoniously walk hand in hand with the reality. What we perceive is not always what it practically is. Is the idea behind apology a reality or only a myth? Let experience answers that