English as language of mediation

  • Education
  • Sunday, 20 Sep 2020

Literature lecture: Prof Kamila (centre) posing for a photo with Prof Wong and Prof Gabriel after the inaugural lecture.

THE Faculty of Arts and Social Science, Universiti Malaya (UM), recently held an inaugural lecture by Prof Dr Sharmani Patricia Gabriel of the Department of English.

In his introductory remarks, the Faculty’s dean Prof Datuk Dr Danny Wong Tze Ken said the event was significant as it was only the third such lecture at the faculty over the past decade.

“The last was held in 2016, which was mine. This is also the fourth in the long history of the English Department. So, today’s inaugural lecture is indeed a very rare, if not exclusive, occasion, ” he said.

Also present was UM’s deputy vice-chancellor (Academic and International) Prof Dr Kamila Ghazali and other senior academics.

The long tradition of an inaugural lecture is meant for professors to lead the effort in promoting ideas put forward by the lecture.

Prof Gabriel, in her lecture titled “The Radical Potential of Literature: Malaysia as Narration”, said Malaysian literature in English had its roots in the very history of the country and was involved in the cultural processes of nation making.

“What Shakespeare did for English literature he did for the English people, what Malaysian literature in English does is for the Malaysian nation. UM has played an important role in this localising trajectory, ” she added.

She said bilingual, at least, and multilingual, at best, a Malaysian is someone who was trained to live between languages.

“Our ‘translated’ cultural consciousness as Malaysians who speak in English or Malay or Tamil or Mandarin, or any of the other Malaysian languages, is what will inform our cultural identity and languaging practice, ” added the English Professor who has seven edited books, 39 journal articles and 14 chapters in books to her name.

She said in contemporary Malaysia, English serves as a language of mediation between the various ethnic communities.

“Furthermore, the expansion of an educated workforce proficient in English, and the cultural politics of language, particularly for the urban, younger generation and the upper and middle classes, has evolved away from perspectives that view English as a legacy of colonialism to seeing it as an assimilated and familiar tongue, as a language based on grounded experiences, intimacies and local vantage points, ” she added.

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