Migration killed tribal languages


SIBU: Formal education, migration to urban areas and inter-marriages are among reasons tribal languages are going extinct, says an anthropology expert.

Unimas (University Malaysia Sarawak) anthropology professor Dr Poline Bala (pic) said this was further compounded by the fact that school-going children had to learn the national language or “global languages” in order to gain knowledge.

“At a very young age, most are required to learn non-mother-tongue languages – at times two languages at the same time (for instance Bahasa Malaysia and English),” she said when contacted yesterday.

Sarawak Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) director Abang Haliman Abang Julai said four tribal languages spoken by Sarawak ethnic groups had gone extinct.

According to researchers, the tribal languages that are now extinct are Seru, Pegu, Bliun and Lelak.

He said this after the 2023 Sarawak Tribal Language General Database Workshop on Sunday.

Abang Haliman also said Sarawak DBP would be working with ethnic and race associations in Sarawak to record and document tribal languages that were almost extinct now.

He believed that among the tribal languages that were vanishing included those from the Kejaman and Lakiput tribes.

Prof Poline said a rapid and high level of rural-urban migration had led to members of ethnic groups or communities settling in urban areas.

“During this process of adaptation and adoption, it requires many to learn new languages – dominant languages – to survive,” she said.

People mixing with other ethnic communities often lead to inter-ethnic marriages, thereby causing their own language to disappear.

“In the past, headhunting activities have caused some small groups to ‘become’ other groups for security reasons. They speak other languages to hide their identities,” she added.

She did not have the actual number of tribal languages that were now almost extinct in Sarawak, but said there were many small groups that included Lahanan, Bhuket, Punan and Kelabit.

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