Opinion

Time we stopped rejecting Bahasa Malaysia

Erna Mahyuni

Native Sabahan Erna is (not) Malay but loves Malay literature. Her hobbies: cats/gaming/blogging at ernamerin.com/Tweeting at @ernamh.

FEB 13 ― It strikes me as ridiculous that more than 50 years on, Malaysians still can’t come to terms with our supposed “national language.”

There seems to be no middle ground when it comes to Bahasa Malaysia.

On one side, we have the loudly-shouting camp constantly calling for us to “memartabatkan” Bahasa Malaysia. Then on the other side, we have the people calling Bahasa Malaysia “useless.”

Both sides need a time out and, at the same time, a really firm scolding.

Bahasa Malaysia is, like it or not, our national language. It should be part of our identity, the one language that we use to communicate with each other, regardless of racial background.

Instead, we have to live with the knowledge that there are plenty of citizens born and raised in this country who cannot speak our national language. And that is unacceptable. If you are Malaysian, you should be able to speak Bahasa Malaysia.

At the same time, forcing it down our throats is not helpful. Let us be realistic: Linguistic ability is something that varies from person to person. If my fellow citizen speaks pidgin Malay, so be it. We are all most fluent with the language we speak at home and with our diverse makeup; it makes sense that some will speak Bahasa Malaysia better than others.

The status quo cannot stand. The national language champions must ease their rhetoric and the Bahasa Malaysia detractors must accept that, constitutionally, Bahasa Malaysia is our national language and learn to live with it.

There are people who actually refuse to speak Bahasa Malaysia, calling it the “colonist’s language.”

My answer to that: What is wrong with you?

This is Malaysia’s biggest problem — that we are unable to divorce the issue of race from anything we do. Take, for instance, the rejection of Bahasa Malaysia by some people because it is seen not as the national language but as the “language of the Malays.”

How are we ever going to move forward as a country if all we do is obsess over the most ridiculous things while using the most infantile reasoning?

You want to be called Malaysian? Then learn to speak Bahasa Malaysia. Let us forget that short period of history when some ninny tried to make us call it Bahasa Melayu instead of Bahasa Malaysia.

All we seem to be doing these days is moving back, regressing into the same old racial or religious rhetoric. The British are gone! There is no more need for divide and conquer!

Malays, get over your inferiority complex. I am looking at you, Perkasa. (Also, when are we going to start ignoring Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad? Someone start a Facebook cause for it, stat.)

Everyone else, learn when to fight and when to compromise.

And I wish everyone would just get on board with this one statement: Becoming skilled at another language or speaking another language better than Bahasa Malaysia does not make you less Malaysian.

Let the Chinese have their Chinese schools. Let the Indians have their Tamil schools. Let the Malays learn and use English without being made fun of or treated as race traitors for learning “Bahasa penjajah.” The colonists are gone, replaced by the far more useful tourists.

Instead of this constant fighting and nitpicking, can we not establish a new identity? Malaysia, land of the multilinguists, where everyone can speak at least two languages.

We must learn to find strength and merit in our unique diversity and stop letting the politicians use it to control us. Let us move forward, embrace the national language as well as all the other languages spoken in this funny little country of ours.

And ban that ridiculous “Bahasa Malaysia Jiwa Bangsa” song.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer

Comments