My native tongue, Bahasa Melayu (some argue to use bahasa kebangsaan or bahasa Malaysia) is a language I am proud of. I was born and raised among those who speak Bahasa. And yet, here I am writing in English so herein lies the quandary – if I use English, do I degrade or forsake Bahasa?
If you ask me, I would have to say no. It is just another language, a mean of communication. It’s more cultural than it is a religion. When I speak Bahasa to those with Terengganu roots, I try to pop in the dialect that I know a little. Similarly when I speak English with the Chinese, Malay, or American, the degree of accent would vary accordingly. Another way of putting it in perspective is, even if you are proud of Ringgit, when you do business with the Japanese, there should come a need to transfer some of those values to Yen or vice versa. Those who come to Malaysia with Dollars would have to convert some of the currency to local Ringgit eventually.
But what we’re doing now it’s nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction. Perhaps we discovered that our command of English was really poor at the higher level, we scratched our head and decided to use English as a medium in say, Math and Science, in order to strengthen our command of English. It’s like teaching our kids to convert Ringgit to Rubble, Rubble to Yen, Yen to Yuan, right away while they’re struggling to add and subtract all at the same time. By right, we should allow them master the basic add/subtract/multiply/divide first, then the translation to a foreign number. But what we’re doing now, is to have little kids to count in Dollars when the prices of the goods here are in Ringgit (language is actually a little more complicated than that, but for argument’s sake, it’s being toned down for comparison purposes). I didn’t have to learn the basics in English. And I don’t think I screw up so bad as a result.
Then, why are we claiming that Bahasa is not good enough? That many of the words are not originally Bahasa? Tell me a language that has its own authentic origin. Even the Bushman would have derived its language from animals or nature. True, Bahasa did not primarily originate on its own and it was derived from Portuguese (i.e. armário, banco, bandeira, manteiga, carreta), Persian (gandm, khurma, angur, bandr), Arabic (syukr, dunya, jawāb), Hokkien, Sanskrit, Tamil, and so on. So what? Many of English terms were derived from old French or Latin of some sort. Japanese and Russians still made technological breakthrough without using English.
Although I am all for using English as freely as you can and Bahasa whenever applicable, I personally believe that some of the basics especially in the primary education, has to be covered in the native tongue. How did we recently celebrate 50th Merdeka/Independence when we have sold our language out, starting with our little kids education? What did our conscience tell us?
I once saw a news reader’s comment entitled: “Basic education in mother tongue is priceless.”
Maybe he/she is right.