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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

October 8, 2006

Written by C.N.

Malaysia to Punish Malay-English Language

I have previously written several posts that describe how American culture has been and continues to penetrate traditional Asian cultures and societies, whether that relates to body image, fast food and health, corporate capitalism, or social relations. However, as the Associated Press/Salon reports, Malaysia is trying to buck that trend by punishing those who use a slang language that combines English with the traditional Malay language:

Malaysia will levy fines on those incorrectly using the national language, and will set up a specialized division to weed out offenders who mix Malay with English, news reports said Thursday. Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Rais Yatim said fines of up to 1,000 ringgit ($271) can be imposed on displays with any wrong or mutated form of Malay, the Star newspaper reported. The move was to ensure “the national language was not sidelined in any way,” Rais said, according to The Star. . . .

Most Malaysians speak Malay, also known as Bahasa Malaysia, while English is widely spoken but a mutated form, known as “Manglish” — a mishmash of English, Malay and other local dialects is commonly used in the Southeast Asian nation. The government will attempt to swap commonly used English language words with Malay substitutes, The Star said. “It has to be admitted that a mixture of Bahasa Malaysia and English sometimes cannot be helped, but we hope these measures can arrest the decline,” Rais said, according to The Star.

Malaysia is certainly going against the grain in this instance. Whereas other countries are increasingly embracing American culture and the English language, Malaysia apparently wants its citizens to return to a more pure Malay language usage. On the one hand, I might applaud this trend as a way to preserve valuable traditional Malay culture from the “onslaught” of American and other foreign influences.

On the other hand, I can’t help but to question whether this development will put Malaysia and its citizens at a competitive disadvantage. In other words, whether people like it or not, the practical reality is that English has become the de facto standard international language and that as each country becomes increasingly globalized, transnational, and globally interdependent, English fluency is likely to become even more important and useful.

Perhaps Malaysia is only trying to reduce the use of the “Manglish,” the bastardized Malay-English combination, rather than reduce English per se. Whatever the case, Malaysia should be wary of the consequences in the near and long term future.


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Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Malaysia to Punish Malay-English Language" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2006/10/malaysia-to-punish-malay-english-language/> ().

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