Keeping Bahasa pure

The move to amend the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Act 1955 should help to check the erosion in the purity of the national language, writes HARIATI AZIZAN.  

UNIVERSITI, profesor, komputer, teknologi, apresiasi, definisi, koreksi.... The students must be very confused about what is wrong and what is correct when using the national language. 

In the academic realm, so many English words have been adapted and absorbed into the Malay language (BM) that most students will accept any Anglo words given the suffix “si” as correct. 

First-year biotechnology student from Universiti Putra Malaysia, Danica Wee, 19, agrees. 

Billboards have to comply with the requirement that Malay words should be more prominently displayedthan words in other languages.

“It is worse in science as we are still using both BM and English so sometimes you are not sure if there are BM equivalents of the scientific terms.  

“Most of the time, my friends and I just hentam (guess) and end up inventing new BM terms,” she says.  

Hence, when the Education Ministry and Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry announced that the two ministries have agreed to present a Cabinet paper to amend the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Act of 1955 to give Dewan Bahasa Pustaka (DBP) enforcement power to standardise the official use of BM, the move was lauded.  

It was felt that this will allow the national language agency to monitor the assimilation of new words more effectively.  

At the very least, it will reduce some of the confusion on the proper use of the language. 

Says DBP director-general Datuk Dr Firdaus Abdullah, “We recognise that the Malay language is a living language, and as such, will borrow new words, and absorb and adapt them.  

DR FIRDAUS: We want to see asociety that is genuinely bilingualor multilingual, not speak pidginBM.

“This is inevitable in the development of a language.  

“But DBP is also responsible for providing guidance and ensuring that the language ‘grows’ in a way that is appropriate in our culture.” 

Denying claims that the statutory body is trying to dictate the development of the language, Dr Firdaus stresses that DBP encourages people to learn other languages but at the same time, wants them to respect BM as the national language. 

“Which means using it correctly and not abusing it,” says Dr Firdaus. 

“People cannot simply borrow and absorb words into the language as they like. 

“We want to see a society that is genuinely bilingual or multilingual, not speaking in bahasa rojak or pidgin BM,” he adds. 

Dr Firdaus admits that the global embrace of the English language as the language of knowledge, technology and commerce has affected the growth of BM.  

In ICT, for example, he adds, we borrow a lot from English terminology because we are not producing the technology but are only its end-users. 

“Our aim is to revitalise the national language and at the same time, help modernise it.  

“We should always try to find and use old BM words where possible. Only when such words are totally non-existent do we try to adapt foreign words.” 

DBP also hopes to make embarrassing language bloopers a thing of the past once it gets the power to enforce the correct use of the national language in everything – from signboards, books and publications to announcements, even on flights. 

More importantly, it will give the agency implementation and enforcement powers to take action against any quarters that contaminate the use of the Malay language. 

“Before, we only had advisory powers. With the amendment, we will get a general power of enforcement to ensure that the national language is properly used in all sectors. We won't have signs like kopi kedai (direct translation of ‘coffee shop’) or murah jual (‘cheap sale’) anymore.”  

At the moment, some people are unaware that although signboards can be in a “foreign” language, the size of the characters needs to be small while the BM words must be more prominently displayed.  

“All notices or signboards in public places need to use BM as the main language.  

“It’s about respecting and not downplaying the Malay language.  

“Unfortunately, the rules are there but they are not always followed and DPB has not been able to reinforce them,” he notes. 

Although the two ministries are still studying the forms of punishment to be imposed for the offences, the amendments would allow the agency to haul up bodies that use the language incorrectly in terms of grammar and sentence structure. 

Scheduled for tabling in Parliament in December, the Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri Rais Yatim said the Government would no longer tolerate people who trivialise Article 152 of the Federal Constitution, which made it clear that the Malay language was the country's national language. 

“People now are not showing respect or using the national language correctly, so there is no meaning to it. 

It’s making a mockery of the Constitution and we want to get rid of this mockery,” says Dr Firdaus.  

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