KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 11 : From the pre-independence era till to date, Bahasa Melayu has been the lingua franca that united Malaysia’s multiracial communities.
Hence, being the national language, it is only fitting that Bahasa Melayu be acknowledged as the “language of unity”, said National Laureate Datuk Dr Zurinah Hassan.
She, however, felt that there was a need to change the public perception that Bahasa Melayu only belonged to the Malays.
“At present, there’s a need to change the people’s perception of Bahasa Melayu and this is something the government should take into consideration.
“It should not be regarded as a language that belongs to the Malays alone as it has value in various fields of knowledge,” stressed Zurinah, a writer and poet who was conferred the National Literary Award in 2015. She was the first woman in the country to receive the honour.
She said from the pre-Merdeka era till today, Malay is the only language that has crossed the boundaries of knowledge, culture and other ethnic languages spoken in this country.
“Even during the golden age of Malay civilisation in Melaka, Malay was used in trade, education, law and administration.
“For the traders who came from other parts of the world to the Malay peninsula, Malay was the lingua franca in their trading activities,” she told Bernama in an interview.
LANGUAGE FOR ALL
Zurinah also urged the nation’s leaders to set a good example to the people by using the national language when delivering speeches or discourses and during interviews.
“They must promote the use of Bahasa Melayu and should not have the attitude of giving priority to English.
“It will also be nice if they can ‘beautify’ their speeches with some verses of poetry,” she said.
Poet and accredited translator Dr Raja Rajeswari Seetha Rama, meanwhile, sees a need to enhance the use of the national language among the people.
“Malaysia has been independent for so many years but there are still people out there who don’t speak Malay.
“It is the responsibility of every citizen born in this country to help to strengthen the position of the national language,” she said.
Bahasa Melayu, she stressed, was not just a language but the emblem of the identity of the people of Malaysia.
“Wherever we go, we take our national identity with us. In fact, we get more respect and honour on the international stage when we, as citizens of Malaysia, use our national language,” added Raja Rajeswari, who has a doctorate in Malay Literature.
She also said that she receives many requests from people in countries such as Spain, India and Brazil to learn Bahasa Melayu, which proved that even foreigners appreciated the Malay language.
“At times it surprises me that while our national language is highly regarded by other countries, our own attitude towards it is somewhat different,” she said.
Raja Rajeswari, who has written many poems in Malay, said her love for the national language blossomed during her childhood as she was encouraged by her parents, who were both teachers, to read books and other publications written in Bahasa Melayu.
“My father was also a poet but he wrote mostly in Tamil. Perhaps, I was influenced by him to write poetry but since I was more comfortable with Bahasa Melayu, I wrote my poems in that language,” said Raja Rajeswari, who has produced an anthology of her poems. Her works have also been published in 80 other anthologies together with that of other poets.
USING LANGUAGE TO ERASE SUSPICIONS
Poet and Universiti Putra Malaysia lecturer Lim Swee Tin opined that misunderstandings would not arise among Malaysians if everybody was proficient in Bahasa Melayu and used it in every aspect of their lives.
“It’s easy for us to make it (Bahasa Melayu) our language of communication. We can unite our hearts and feelings through Bahasa Melayu as it will help to erase suspicions and doubts, as well as bridge the gap between the various races.
“Misunderstandings are still happening now. It doesn’t make sense that even after 62 years of independence, we still have to use the services of translators to understand conversations, opinions and speeches,” he said.
On the controversy over the introduction of the Jawi script or khat in Chinese and Tamil schools, Lim said the matter was blown out of proportion by certain quarters who did not have a clear understanding of the position of Bahasa Melayu.
“Malaysia (in general) has no problems. The problem lies with a few politicians who don’t know what they are talking about. Jawi is (a source of) knowledge,” he said, adding that he himself was introduced to Jawi way back in 1959 when he was in primary school.
“I’m sad, very sad. I find it sad that the teaching of khat is regarded as Islamisation,” he said.
Lim, a former teacher, also felt that there was a need to review the way Bahasa Melayu is taught at schools because currently, many students do well in BM in examinations but fail to use it in their daily lives.
“In the early stage of schooling, the focus must be on communications, without that much emphasis on grammar.
“Priority should be given to how our children can be made to communicate effectively in Bahasa Melayu and how to enable them to express their views and opinions properly, and talk about issues related to nationhood, life, career and the community,” he said, adding that aspects such as grammar and semantics can be emphasised at a higher level of education.