The Star, Thursday December 1, 2011
Restoring BM’s pride
I REFER to the letter “Helping English to grow” by Dr. K.H. Sng (The Star, Nov 28). I agree with him that lexicographers of the Malay language or general scholars are not up to the mark in deriving proper words and concepts.
The Malay language has failed to take the lead in modern scientific discourse due to two main reasons: The first, the rampant misconstruction of the word Bahasa Malaysia in detriment of Bahasa Melayu, and secondly, the haphazard effort of “modernising” Bahasa Melayu by cutting off its original roots.
The first is clear because if Bahasa Malaysia is to be rendered in English, it will be called the “Malaysian language” which is a total misnomer and unfounded in the history of our people.
The right term is Bahasa Melayu which befits the English translation in the form of “Malay language”.
According to the authority on the Malay language, Tan Sri Prof Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, Bahasa Melayu is considered to be a family member of Islamic languages that consists of Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Urdu.
These languages share many crucial semantic terms that define their rich legacy in subsisting advanced discourse especially in the realm of knowledge.
This can be proven via the legacy of scientific works in those languages, notably Arabic and Persian, had upon the translation movement of European scholars that heralded the age of the Renaissance and Enlightenment in the West.
Perhaps the younger Malaysian generation has forgotten that our national language in pre-Merdeka was actually in Arabic script that we called “jawi” instead of the current romanised form.
It is known that former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew used to write in ‘jawi’ to communicate with fellow Malayans back then.
This jawi script despite having its own “sound-system” shared many important semantic terms with other Islamic languages especially Arabic. This intimate linkage holds the key for Bahasa Melayu to be progressive and scientific as the linkages that exist among its family of Islamic languages can alleviate our national language’s ability and stature in creating progressive terms, words and concepts.
Classical Malay language in the form of jawi adheres to an intricate root-system just like the Arabic language and to a certain extent Latin.
Modern Malay language, especially the romanised version, has destroyed not just the form but the spirit and depth of the Malay language.
This has left the language, as lamented by Dr Sng, in a truly deplorable state because the younger and modern Malay lexicographers, scholars, scientists and professionals who are untrained in classical Malay readings will only be able to appreciate and develop a truncated version of the modernised Malay language which more often is being developed by the mere transcribing of English words.
This not only happens to our national language but also affects adversely the national language of our neighbour, Indonesia.
I am not suggesting that the romanised national language be transformed radically into jawi script. But if we are really sincere in restoring our national language to its proper place, then the Government must acknowledge and support authoritative Malay scholars who have deep knowledge of the Bahasa Melayu of the past where its form and spirit held greater potential for the development and advancement of our national language in confronting modern-day needs and challenges, especially as a medium of not only the language of science but of national unity.
WAN AHMAD FAYHSAL WAN AHMAD KAMAL,
Assembly of Intellectual Muslims (Hakim).