web counter The Madness of MokcikNab: Pidgin Holes
The Madness of MokcikNab
Motives, movements and melodrama in the life of a thirty something mum.

Sunday, May 06, 2007
Pidgin Holes

This post started out as a comment to my father's complaint about the declining standard of English among Malaysians, but it got too long so I decided to put it on my own blog.

We were discussing the same thing this afternoon during lunch at Iza's house. Her sister in law, who lectures English to corporate clients, told us that some teachers in small towns admitted that they teach English in Bahasa Malaysia. They said they had to, or else the students will simply nganga.

Now, contrast this with my husband's experience. Saiffuddin went to Sekolah Rendah Jalan Batu, an old school smack dab in Jalan Raja Laut, in the early 70's. He tells me he was taught Bahasa Malaysia in English. "This", his teacher used to say, "is a sendikata". More often though, the teacher used to say, "You bloody fool!"

We have indeed come a long way. To call someone a bloody fool now would seem almost antiseptic.

You know what's the sad bit about the declining standard of English? That there is no corresponding rise in the standard of Bahasa Malaysia. People who are busy arguing about whether the education system should make English or Bahasa Malaysia the priority should call a truce and take one big reality check. Apart from the academia, no one cares about the argument. No one cares about language, in the first place.

Malaysians just want functional words, and aren't bothered about style and grace in speech or writing. We think a thesaurus is a type of prehistoric reptile and an idiom is a cretin who decides to keep his mouth shut in the last minute. We're happy to be languishing in our linguistic realm, with phrases like "blom", "sume", "citer", "punyer", "hepi", "amik" and even "mesia" floating about in our alphabet soup. One needs vocabulary just large enough to send text messages. If you can type "x" instead of " tidak" or "bukan" or "tidak mahu", then why shouldn't you?

Here's my theory : we're bad at languages because words are tools of expressions and Malaysians simply don't need to express themselves. We're told there's no need. Teachers tell us there's no need. Ministers tell us there's no need. The media tells us there is no need. All the thinking has been done for us and we should just be good human resources and obedient voters. That's why pidgin words will suffice. (In voting especially, an "x" is enough. Or Afundi).

Who'd have the opportunity to use a word like "mancanegara" in a text message or an email? It's shorter to type "obersea".

But let's just say Malaysians are seized by this urge to tell others what they think, and the thoughts are not just about what they did today or their favourite TV star or gossip about the neighbours. Let's just say they want to express complex thoughts about their beliefs, their hopes, their fears, their anger. One would need more words, no? One would need to find the exact phrase to put one's point across. And one would need to read in order to find material to back one's argument. Suddenly language becomes a weapon, the mightier than the sword.

It's not too late to start in that direction and getting there is simpler than we think. Easy steps, like requiring kids to show and tell. Encouraging them to ask questions, give opinions.

Or blog.


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