Use Bahasa Melayu at all official functions

Although Bahasa Melayu is the national language of Malaysia and the main medium of communication, not enough effort is being made to uphold the purity of the language at official functions.

Datuk Abang Sallehuddin Abang Shokeran

According to Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) director-general Datuk Abang Sallehuddin Abang Shokeran, the use of Bahasa Melayu is still not being prioritised at official functions and programmes.

“This is regrettable and should not be the case. Sometimes, even the name given to a function or programme is in a foreign language or in bahasa rojak (a mixture of Bahasa Melayu and other languages),” he told Bernama in an interview here recently.

He stressed that Bahasa Melayu, being the national language, should be used for all official purposes by both the federal and state governments and other public authorities.

“This is clearly provided for under the provisions of the (Federal) Constitution and National Language Act (19673/67), as well circulars issued by the government,” he said.

He added that as the implementing agencies for government policies, every ministry and agency should set a good example to the people by ensuring the use of the national language in the public sector in both written and oral communication.  

Hamper development of language

Abang Sallehuddin, however, acknowledged that in general, based on DBP’s monitoring from time to time, the names given to official programmes implemented by the government are in the national language, pointing to its COVID-19 pandemic aid packages Permai, Penjana, Prihatin, Pemerkasa and Pemulih as examples.  

He said DBP has also come up with the Bahasa Melayu equivalents of terms commonly used during the pandemic, such as pelitup muka (face mask), sekatan pergerakan (movement control), kawalan kendiri (self-control) and lesu upaya (burnout).

According to Abang Sallehuddin, the uses of Bahasa Melayu laced with terms from other languages certainly do not reflect the identity of the Malaysian nation.

“The national language is the symbol that represents the country, similar to other symbols such as the flag, song and flower.

“The government will also be seen as not being serious in its efforts to uphold the national language, which will certainly hamper the development of the language in other sectors, particularly in the private sector and non-governmental organisations and civil society,” he said.

This would also weaken the people’s love for the national language, he said, adding that Bahasa Melayu may even be seen as not being fit to be the national language for seemingly not having the appropriate vocabulary to suit the current situation.    

“If left unchecked, our national language’s role as a modern language of communication will increasingly diminish,” he added.  

Dbp Act to be amended

Abang Sallehuddin said although there have been proposals to amend the National Language Act 1963/67 for DBP to be vested with power in relation to the use of Bahasa Melayu, the government has no plans as yet to amend the Act.   

However, he added, DBP is proposing to amend the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Act 1959 to provide the agency with more power to encourage the correct and wider use of the national language.

He said DBP and its panel of lawyers are currently drafting the proposed amendments which, in particular, relate to the by-laws governing enforcement of the national language’s usage. The Act was last amended in 1995.

“Currently, DBP has no language enforcement powers. If the proposed amendments are passed, DBP will be equipped with the enforcement power to take (appropriate) action in relation to the use of bahasa bercampur (Bahasa Melayu mixed with other languages) at official functions and programmes,” he said.

The amendments will also provide DBP with the power to grant certification for Bahasa Melayu based on a standard framework. This role of the DBP would be similar to that of the Council of Europe which oversees the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), an international standard for describing language ability. CEFR describes language ability on a six-point scale, from A1 for beginners up to C2 for those who have mastered a language. 

Language of knowledge

Abang Sallehuddin, meanwhile, dismissed assumptions that the use of the national language in local educational institutions would yield individuals who are not educated enough or lack skills.    

“Our long-running national language-based education system has produced thousands of scholars, technocrats and national leaders,” he pointed out.  

He also said that efforts to uphold Bahasa Melayu as a language of knowledge must continue as the national language has the capacity to meet the needs of the nation, particularly in terms of producing knowledgeable and skilled human capital that can compete at the international level.  

“This is not just the responsibility of the government or DBP but all parties involved in the education sector. Our country must progress in its own mould. Other languages cannot form the civilisation of a nation except its own national language. Believe me, we will definitely be proud to stand on the international stage by upholding our own language and culture,” he added.

Abang Sallehuddin said while proficiency in other languages was an added advantage worth pursuing, however, marginalising the national language is akin to taking a step backwards which can lead to negative implications in future.   

Speak BM every day

Prof Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi

Meanwhile, lecturer Associate Prof Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi, who is from the Academy of Malay Studies at Universiti Malaya, said efforts to master the use of Bahasa Melayu must not wait until the national language month comes along, instead, it should be done continuously.

“By right, every day should be national language day because we have to communicate every day,” he said.

On the use of bahasa rojak at official functions and programmes, Awang Azman said such situations arise due to the lack of a creative and innovative attitude among those involved in enriching and empowering the language.

“We cannot say that the DBP Act must be amended to empower and uphold the use of the national language at official functions and so on. Even if we were to amend a thousand laws, it will not be effective in the absence of awareness, realisation or spirit to appreciate the national language.

“Bahasa Melayu is, in fact, a dynamic language where usage of terms is concerned. Without us realising it, the language as it exists today has been influenced by other languages such as Sanskrit, Tamil and Dutch. Take, for instance, the word merdeka which in Sanskrit means wealth and greatness,” he said.  

He said a well-developed language is one that can take advantage of the current situation and, at the same time, retain its authority.

Elaborating on the effects of the use of Bahasa Melayu laced with terms from other languages, Awang Azman said it would set a bad example to society, including primary and secondary school students and university students.

“If such language is used at official functions, it will have a negative influence on young people. That’s why their language is all mixed up when they post on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp… they think it is right because the government does the same thing,” he added. – Bernama