Monday 13 August 2012

Bahasa Malaysia under siege?

The English language, some local writers say, is not a threat to Bahasa Malaysia, but the lazy borrowing of words to replace others certainly is.

PETALING JAYA: Sukses, transformasi, ekspektasi, uniti, efisyen, efektif, frustasi, rasis, kualiti, francais, respon.

Borrowed from the English language, some of these words have been absorbed into the Malay lexicon. Others have been merely embraced as street slang.

Their rapid usage in recent times, however, has left some local writers shaking their heads at what appears to be an easy way out in adding to the Malay vocabulary.

“Most of the words are already there in Bahasa [Malaysia]… it’s already there,” said Uthaya Sankar SB, who penned Sasterawan Pulau Cinta in 2001.

“For perpaduan (unity) [to which people now use] uniti, it sounds quite stupid when you already have it in Bahasa, but you’re now borrowing from English. It sounds very odd.”

He said that it was all right to add words such as “komputer” into the Malay language as there wasn’t a word for it there.

However, Uthaya cringed at a lot of new Malay words in use today, which, according to him, were made popular by politicians.

“These people, and especially the politicians, they are not thinking in Bahasa [Malaysia]. Perhaps they are thinking in their broken English, since they can’t think in Malay,” he said.

He feared that if this trend was allowed to continue, it would result in people forgetting that there ever was an original Malay word for something, which in turn would make people forget their own history.

Literary masters

The writer attacked the Malay language’s administrators, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, for not criticising politicians and their use of the language.

According to Uthaya, the adoption of words into Malay – a tongue that has in the past borrowed from Sanskrit, Arabic and Tamil – should be about enriching the language, and not replacing the words already there.

Sharing Uthaya’s sentiments, national laureate A Samad Said (popularly known as Pak Samad) said that a lot of these “borrowed” words did not come from the language’s literary masters.

“The man in the street, I think they’ve got it mixed… Most of the language, they’ve read from comic books and… [what they] get from TV and all that. It’s not from books written by those who have mastered the language,” he said.

Like Uthaya, he added that he had no problems with new words that couldn’t be found in Malay vocabulary, pointing to highly technical fields such as astronomy and economy.

Conceding that English was fast becoming the language of instruction of the day, Samad said that there was little time given to normalise it with Malay.

He noted that a number of his friends were using English in favour of Malay, and that their usage of the latter “was awful”.

Some, he added, were even starting to construct Malay sentences in English.

A strange language

“The Malay language is growing, but it’s becoming a strange language. The only person who cares for this language are the writers, and they believe that if you write in Malay, it should be in Malay.

“Unless they cannot get the right word, then they cross the line [and borrow it from English],” he said.
However, Samad lamented that Malay writers “who wrote with beautiful language” were slowly fading away.

Local writer Amir Muhammad, however, felt that all languages were subject to change.

“All languages evolve. Just as I reject fascism in politics and the caste system in society, so too do I reject these things in language use,” he said.

(Amir is also known for setting up the Buku Fixi publishing company, a company known for coming up with local “urban pulp fiction”.)

Like his literary comrades, he was also bewildered by borrowed English words, especially those that proved to be lazy adoptions.

“What amuses me is that some of the very people who use lazily English-stolen words, such as ‘kaver’ instead of ‘kulit buku’, or ‘mentrain’ instead of ‘melatih’, are the ones who appoint themselves as gate-keepers of the Malay language!

“With guardians such as these, the language is truly ‘difornikasi’!” he said.

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