The Evolving Identities of the Malays as the Result of Neo-Colonisation Fouzia Hassan Abdullah & Thang Siew Ming
The Malays in Malaysia are manifesting evolutionary changes in their identities due to drastic changes in their culture and language. This study endeavours to uncover some of these changes by drawing upon examples such as the escalated adoption and borrowing of foreign languages into their language system, their lack of respect towards their leaders and their inadequate understanding of the customs and symbolisms of the Malay World. We propose that these evolutionary changes are a result of globalisation process and neo-colonisation. This new form of ‘New World Order’ which is promoted by Western countries in their efforts to make nation states in the East friendly towards them (Zeenath Kausar, 2007) has resulted in changes in the make-up of many ethnic races and nations leading to adoption of western ideologies, frameworks and trappings (Frantz Fanon, 1967, 1974). The study will support the discussion by referring to the works of selected Malaysian writers, thoughts of renowned Malaysian individuals and documented events in Malaysian mainstream media.
The world has now become borderless and is a global village that sees many revolutionary changes. The prevalent new media and latest technological advancements have great significance and impact on the lives of the earth’s inhabitants. Great distances in travel are now possible physically through advancement in logistics and aviation, and travelling via the mind is made possible through the vast world of cyber space travel. In addition to this, the proliferations of boundless information that are easily available through the new media and multi media have great impact on the lives and formation of opinions of many. With these
bombardments of sources and resources, many identities have changed and evolved through direct and indirect contact with the world citizens or cybercitizens and multitudinous communities. Malaysia is not exempted from this phenomenon. This paper discusses the evolving identities of the Malays in today’s globalised world as the result of neo-colonisation through aspects linked to language and culture. Zeenath Kausar (2007) in ‘Colonization to Globalization: ‘Might Is Right’ Continues’ calls for a stop towards the promotion of western cultural imperialism and puts forward her stance for a non-hegemonic form of globalisation. She advocates that the world should be able to collaborate to realise a non-hegemonic form of globalisation and nations of the world should be able to enjoy peace, justice, technology and prosperity via mutual cooperation without having to sacrifice cultural and religious identities. Unfortunately, this is not the case in many developing countries including Malaysia. This paper will discuss erosion in cultural makeup among the Malays in Malaysia that includes erosion in language, heritage, identity, sense of loyalty and cultural knowledge. Who are the Malays? According to the Federal Constitution of Malaysia as at 15th January 2007 (Legal Research Board. 2007: 141- 142), under article 160 of the Interpretation, ‘Malay’ means a person who professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to Malay custom and: (a) was born before Merdeka Day in the Federation or in Singapore or born of parents one of whom was born in the Federation or in Singapore, or is on that day domiciled in the Federation or in Singapore; or (b) was the issue of such a person (In this context, ‘Merdeka Day’ means the thirty first day of August, nineteen hundred and fifty- seven). We first begin by examining the present day language of the Malays known at certain times as Bahasa Melayu (B.M) and at other times as Bahasa Malaysia (the reason for this shift
back and forth will be discussed later). In view of this, we will refer to it as the Malay Language to avoid creating further confusion. The Malay language in recent times has borrowed many English words and many of these words are documented in the Malay corpus. Upon examination of the Kamus Dewan, edisi keempat (Dictionary Dewan, 4th edition) 2007, it is revealed that many of these borrowed words which were derived from the English language have Malay equivalence. We were first under the impression that that these English words were borrowed and adopted because they were more economical, sounded more sophisticated or had no existing equivalence in the Malay Language. However, on further investigation we realised that was not necessary the case. These are some examples of lexical items taken from the English Language: • Penyediaan Manuskrip (Bahasa Malaysia [BM]) on page ix. Kamus Dewan (2007), from the word ‘manuscript’. The Malay equivalent of ‘manuscript’ are ‘naskhah’ (Kamus Dewan, 2007:997), ‘naskhah lama’ (Kamus Dwibahsa Oxford Fajar, 1997:209) and ‘buku atau dokumen lama yang ditulis dengan tangan’ (FederalChambers: Advanced English Dictionary: English – Bahasa Malaysia Edition, 2001: 690). • Penelitian Pruf (B.M) from page ix. Kamus Dewas (2007) from the English word ‘proof’. The Malay equivalent is ‘bukti’ ((Kamus Dwibahsa Oxford Fajar, 1997:273). • Kanser (B.M.) on page 671 (Kamus Dewan. 2007),derived from the English word ‘cancer’, while there is a Malay equivalence ‘barah’ (Kamus Dewan: 128)
Operasi (B.M) (page 1009, Kamus Dewan. 2007) from the word ‘operation’, by just changing the spelling according to the Malay version. The Malay equivalence of
‘bedah’ has already been in existence (Kamus Dewan : 148) In another context, ‘operation’ (kegiatan, kerja, usaha) could mean ‘a highly organized activity which involves the movement or coordinated action of many people’ (Federal-Chambers: Advanced English Dictionary: English – Bahasa Malaysia Edition, 2001: 780). Thus an example ‘operasi polis’ could well have used the existing Malay words ‘kegiatan/usaha bersepadu polis’. Earlier efforts at translation involved first identifying the ‘root’ word (morpheme) of the borrowed word. This is followed by using the morphological process of the Malay Language to expand this root word (if necessary) through ‘prefixes’ known as ‘awalan’ in Malay and ‘suffixes’ known as ‘akhiran’ in Malay or ‘sisipan’ (adding words in between the root word) and ‘apitan’ (adding simultaneously a prefix and a suffix) as explained by Nik Safiah et al., in ‘Tatabahasa Dewan”(2009:45) . However, the prevalent norm is to adopt by merely changing the spelling of these words to suit the Malay spelling system without changing words or forms. In the example of operasi, one can deduce that the reason for its adoption from English is for the purpose of economy. ‘Operasi polis’, which uses only two words would have stretched to three or more words if the Malay version of ‘kegiatan/usaha bersepadu polis’ is used.
In our opinion,
purposeful borrowings are acceptable and should be appreciated as in the
case of “operasi polis. However, indiscrete borrowings, careless borrowings, or borrowings due to laziness is not acceptable as it will lead to the Malays soon becoming a race lacking in creativity in utilising the Malay morphological structure. Eventually, words that are less commonly used will not be understood by the newer generation and this will lead to their extinction together with less well-known literary works and texts of the past.
A phenomenon that is even more disturbing is the rampant borrowing of English words in popular media and magazines. These words are borrowed and adopted with very slight spelling adjustments. Sometimes they are borrowed wholesale and stringed together with Malay words in the same sentence. This appears more like code-mixing and codeswitching. In our recent survey of four Malay magazines, we discovered that there were widespread examples of such abuse. The data below are drawn from four magazines namely Nona, Al Islam, rapi and Remix (all March 2009 issues) We have divided the examples of the borrowings into two categories. (1) Borrowed words with slight spelling changes and (2) words borrowed wholesale stringed together Malay words. Borrowed words with slight spelling changes a. Nona Mac 2009 Front cover: • • • • EDISI (Edition. Eng) Realiti Impian Wanita [Realiti (B.M.) - Reality . (Eng) ] DEKO + GAYA [Deko (B.M) - Deco. (Eng)] 60 TIP BELI RUMAH + PILIH LOKASI + PINJAMAN+ GUAMAN
(could have used the B.M. word hiasan instead of DEKO) [Tip (B.M.-Tip(Eng) ] , [ Lokasi (B.M) –Location (Eng) ] (could have used the B.M. word panduan for the word ‘tip’ and the B.M. word tempat for lokasi) • 30 FESYEN KOLOBARASI GAYA @ DEKO [Kolobarasi (B.M.)Collaboration (Eng) ], [ Deko (B.M.) – Deco (Eng) ] (Could have used the word B.M. kerjasama for kolobarasi, and the B.M. word hiasan for deko) Page 50:
Relaks dari pagi (Could have used the B.M. equivalence already in existence…relaks-bersantai
(2)Words borrowed wholesale stringed together with Malay words. Examples: Nona Mac 2009: Page 51: • DRESS SINGKAT ALWAYS THE BEST DI HARI-HARI MALAS BERPADANAN ( A mixture of B.M. and English words) [ Dress (Eng) – Baju (B.M.) ], [ Always the best (Eng) ] Page 52: • BE IN STYLE DENGAN KARDIGAN BIRU GELAP….( a mixture of English and Malay words in the same sentence..) Remix Mac 2009: Front cover: • • Memey: Suami Orang Caring! (Caring could have been replaced by existing B.M. words prihatin or penyayang) Crash diet in 7 days. Diet ikut jenis darah ( A mixture of English and B.M. words) ABOUT HIM –Kenali Karakter Kekasih Anda ( A mixture of English and B.M. words…..the word karakter (character)could have been replaced by the B.M. word watak) .
. This heavy borrowing, which has led to the infusion of the Malay Language vocabulary with plethora of borrowed English words, has permeated almost all aspects of Malaysian life and many of these words have even found their way into Malay dictionaries, especially in the newer editions. The champions of Malay Language and Nationalists view this phenomenon as an indication of the tainting and brutalising of the Malay Language. They strongly feel that dictionaries, as a point of reference and as one of the main sources of language authority and use, should practise discretion in the compilation and inclusion of these borrowed words and only adopt words that are justifiable in being included in the Malay Language corpus. This issue has even been raised at parliamentary debates. For example, a Malaysian Member of Parliament, Datuk Dr. Wan Hashim Wan Teh (Barisan Nasional representative from Grik, Perak) criticised the Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka Dictionary for containing ‘rojak language’ (mixed-up language) with words such as ‘bajet’ (budget). However, certain sectors consider these borrowings acceptable in view of the fact that they have been codified and documented. Thus, the question we need to ask ourselves is whether we should hold on to a purist’s stand or accept these borrowings as a natural process of language evolution? According to Hassan Ahmad in ‘Dinamika Bangsa Melayu: Menongkah Arus Globalisasi’ edited by Mohamed Anwar Omar Din (2004:264), the Malay Language will lose its identity in the not too distant future if this trend continues. He posits that, Oleh itu, saya kira perlu sekali bangsa Melayu melepaskan dirinya daripada kemelut atau krisis pemingiran bahasa Melayu daripada kemajuan dunia hari ini. Sekiranya tidak, dalam beberapa dekad akan datang bangsa kita akan dibahasa-Inggeriskan dan seterusnya akan ‘diglobalisasikan’ sehingga keupayaannya untuk menjadi bangsa yang bertamadun sendiri, untuk mengekalkan jati dirinya, budayanya, agamanya, sistem nilainya akan menjadi lemah.
Thus, I feel that it is needful that the Malays should emancipate themselves from the problematic or the crisis of the maginalisation of Bahasa Melayu from the development of the world today. Otherwise, in a few decades to come our nation will be Anglosized and consequently will be ‘globalized’ until eventually its ability to maintain its own identity, with its own culture, and its religion, moral (evaluation) systems will be eroded and weakened. We are more inclined to support the purist’s stand in viewing such indiscriminate borrowings as a serious problem that need to be addressed and resolved to prevent the erosion of the Malay identity. Sapir–Whorf’s hypothesis proposes that individuals experience the world based on the grammatical structures that they habitually use. For example, speakers of different languages may see different numbers of bands in a rainbow. Since rainbows are actually a continuum of color, there are no empirical stripes or bands, and yet people see as many bands as their language possesses primary color words. It further propounds the notion that human thoughts are in linguistic forms and character, and are a product of socialisation and linguistic enculturalism, which will promote different Weltanschauunen (worldviews) in their speakers (Lee P 1984). Using this line of argument, it is possible to deduce that the influence of westernisation on the Malay language, especially from America and Britain (our ex-colonisers) and the worldview (Weltanschauung) effect of language on the people that practice and use are the main causes of this erosion. This lead us to argue in favour of steps to curtail these influences as stopping them completely is going against the tide of progress and development of our country. Salleh Ben Joned (1994:71) supports this stand. He said in ‘transformasi of a Language” that :
All languages borrow from others, but borrowing should be dictated by necessity, not fashion, laziness, pretentiousness, or any other self indulgent motive. Malay writers in general are prone to this habit of indiscriminate borrowing from English. This is not a recent
phenomenon; it has been with us ever since Merdeka (Independence). The ironical thing is that the worst culprits are not the English-educated whose Malay vocabulary is poor and are too lazy or too uninterested to do anything about it. No, the worst culprits are the Malayeducated, especially those who make a lot of noise about the sanctity of the National Language. These writers, especially the literary critics, borrow, in some cases kidnap, English words not because they are desperately poor in Malay vocabulary, but because they are desperately in need of ego-boosting, or something with which to dress up the poverty of their ideas.
Terence Odlin puts forth the view that such borrowings do not necessary have to be “a bad thing”. He explains that language transfer that stresses on the mostly overlooked cumulative effects of cross-linguistics similarities and differences on the acquisition process implies a more positive language acquisition of the Malays towards the English Language. This should dispel the worries of certain quarters (Malay nationalist and Malay nationalist writers) towards the inability of the Malay to cope with the change of the medium of instruction for Science and Mathematics from Malay to English Language and supports those who feel that the conversion is a good move in view of the slow translation efforts of matters and body of knowledge in the English language and other languages into the Malay Language. These two sentiments reflect the continual tug-of-war between the nationalists and the nationists. Alis Puteh (2006) draws upon Fishman’s quote (1968:43-45) to illustrate this tussle. For the nationalist, language represents the continuity of a great tradition with all of its symbolic elaborations in terms of idelogised value and goals…..Thus nationalists pursue language reinforcement and maintenance rather than selection per se. For nationists however, language choice is a matter of calculated effectiveness, of communicational case, and of operational efficiency.
This problem is exacerbated by the unchecked abuse of the Malay language which leads us to the crucial question of what the nationalists and gatekeepers of the Malay Language are doing in championing the Malay Language. Before that issue can be considered it is essential to consider the role of the Malay Language in Malaysia. Marlyna Maros (2000) states that: Proses pembentukan sebuah Negara-bangsa sering mengambil kira faktor bahasa sebagai faktor utama di dalam perpaduan masyarakat majmuk. Di Malaysia bahasa yang dipilih sebagai bahasa perpaduan adalah bahasa Melayu……pandangan umum cendiakawan khasnya berpendapat bahawa bahasa Melayu tidak digunakan secara meluas sebagaimana yang diharapkan untuk pembentukan Negara-bangsa (Ahmat Adam, 1994)….. ………ramai yang berpendapat bahawa bahasa lain lebih berkemampuan untuk memajukan bangsa, khasnya dalam bidang sains dan teknologi. The process of building a nation state usually takes into account language as an important factor in the national unity of a multicultured society. In Malaysia, the Malay language was chosen as the language of unity….the general perceptions, specifically the intellectuals are of the opinion that the Malay language is not widely used…as hoped for in the development of a nation state ((Ahmat Adam, 1994)….. ……many are of the opinion that other languages are able to advance the nation, especially in the fields of science and technology Her opinion reflects that of academics who feel that the Malay language is not being used widely enough for nation building development (Ahmat Adam, 1994), and that other languages are more capable of developing the nation, especially in the fields of science and technology.
However, the Malay Language champions have completely contrasting view to this and this has led to the protest march held in KL on the issue of the ‘Teaching of Mathematics and Sciences in English’. To pacify this group whom the government felt had contributed to their downfall in the recent election, the government has reversed the medium of instruction for teaching Mathematics and Science back to Malay on 8 July 2009. This unsettling yo-yo change in education is upsetting and will contribute towards students’ confusion and inability to grasp the relevant knowledge and skills that we are trying to impart to them. Another issue that has an underlying political motive is the question of the correct terminology to call “the Malay language”. It has also swung back and forth from Bahasa Melayu to Bahasa Malaysia which confuses even Malaysians. At some point in Malaysia’s history, the Malay language was termed as Bahasa Melayu, and at some point it was termed as Bahasa Malaysia. Now it has reverted back to Bahasa Malaysia. The ruling party and language gatekeepers feel that it is more appropriate as it (supposedly) reflects the makeup of Malaysia’s pluralistic society whereas Bahasa Melayu seems to imply the language belongs to only one ethnic group – the Malays. Salleh ben Joned had sarcastically referred to this inconsistency in his article ‘Budaya Jiwa Bangsa’ (Salleh,2003: 219). He wrote: Given the slogan Bahasa Jiwa Bangsa (Language is the Soul of the nation), awarding the Seniman Negara to someone who writes as much in English as in Bahasa Malaysia (sorry, I should have said Bahasa Melayu), certainly signifies a change. The Malay language is Bahasa Melayu (as termed in the ‘Perlembagaan Malaysia’, under article 152). In renaming it as Bahasa Malaysia, and reverting back to Bahasa Melayu and then back to Bahasa Malaysia to reconcile the collective Malaysian society as a collective whole is a strategy at unity. However, it has come across more like a gimmick to gain political mileage then a sincere collective effort in bonding people of all races.
An issue that is of graver concern is the dissolving identity of the Malays. This phenomenon seeps in when the Malays changed the orthographic representations of their language from the ‘Jawi’ system to that of modern day ‘alphabets. This has led to a large population of the Malay population losing the rich heritage of narratives of the Malay World which are available only in Jawi scripts. In addition to this, the Malay World has also seen the deterioration and the disappearance of a huge chunk of Malay vocabulary with refined nuances, previously found in pantun, bidalan and shair (types of Malay poems) and peribahasa and simpulan bahasa (types of Malay proverbs). In years that have passed and years to come, the world has witnessed and will continue to witness the evolution of a new breed of Malays that do not know their culture, heritage and identity. Shamsul (2001) points out that being Malay is not inherited wholly but is learned and constructed. The contestation of Malay identity exists as a result of historical colonial legacy. Amongst the identity markers of being a Malay is being a Muslim, that revolves around ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ (Malay Domination Concept) and ‘Jatidiri’ (being true to oneself as a Malay) and preserving the cultural context and essence of Malayness. Ghazali Shafie (2008) in his article on ‘Rumpun Melayu’ adjoins that the Malays defend justice by conference and consensus, without violence through threats and hard power. He describes the Malay society as one that has long embraced the concept of ‘Consensual Democracy’ where the individual person is attached and bonded close to his family. According to him, it is difficult for a “true Malay” to accept the Western practice of insulting their leaders especially during election time. The fact that many Malays nowadays have become insolent towards their leaders, to each other, and towards their own culture and society, clearly suggests that they no longer embrace such values. This can be seen from recent cases of ordinary people insulting their leaders and rulers via the Internet and media. Berita Harian (16 March 2009, page 7) and Star (14 March 2009, N2) featured the article of a lab helper fined for insulting the Sultan of Perak. According to the STAR newspaper, Azrin Md. Zain, 33 years old, a private school lab assistant attached to Kota Damansara School, posted offensive comments against the Sultan of Perak in an online guestbook ‘dreambook.com/duli/duli.html’ which
was linked to the Sultan’s official website on February 12, 2009 at 9.12pm. He was convicted under the Multimedia and Communications Act 1998. This happened amidst the turmoil of power struggle between UMNO and the opposition party in the state of Perak. Dissatisfaction that led to outcries in various forms spilled into the mass media and multimedia when the Sultan of Perak seemingly sided UMNO by dissolving an opposition-led State assembly. The last example we would like to share shows the loss of heritage and cultural knowledge among the Malays. In a recent development, the unsheathing of the wavy dagger (keris) followed by the kissing of it to symbolise Malay sovereignty during the UMNO assembly ceremonies were viewed with unease by some quarters as they misconstrued the keris as a symbol of hostility and combat. In reality, the symbol of keris is entrenched in the UMNO logo, thus it is befitting that the keris should emerge time and time again during UMNO ceremonies. In conclusion we would like to reiterate that the likelihood of the Malays losing their identity in parts or whole in the near future is not far-fetched and should be viewed with concern. The entrapment of western ideology, framework and trappings, was pointed out by Frantz Fanon (1967, 1974) time and again. He said (1974:38): In order to assimilate and to experience the oppressor’s culture, the native has had to leave certain of his intellectual possessions in pawn. These pledges include his adoption of the forms of thoughts of the colonialist bourgeoisie. The advancement in Information Technology and the speed of the dissemination of information has very much speeded the process of the erosion in traditional values, cultures and mindsets of the Malays and other ethnic races in Malaysia in favour of Western ideologies and ways of life. Zeenath Kausar (2007:35-39) claims that these Western efforts to promote Western ideology, worldview and values are attempts to get the underdeveloped, developing and post colonial states to embrace their modernisation process and befriend them. She further augments that ‘Homogenization’ and “Hegemonization’ effects of western power affect social, cultural, economic, political and other dimensions of life of developing and
towards Western Weltancchauung
(worldview). Thus, although these countries may claim themselves to be independent, they are in reality being colonised, and this form of colonisation is even more menacing. The Malays are no exception and unless maintenance, preservation and intervention measures are taken, the present day Malay Civilisation, Malay World and Malay identity will soon be evolved and transformed to a point of no return. References: Alis Puteh.(2006) Language & Nation Building: A Study of The Language Medium Policy in Malaysia. Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre. Fanon, F. (1974) The Wretched if the Earth. Great Britain: Penguin Books. Fanon, F. (1967) Black Skin White Masks. New York: Grove Press Inc. Federal Constitution (As at 15th January 2007). Compiled by Legal Research Board. Selangor Darul Ehsan: International Law Book Services. Federal-Chambers: Advanced English Dictionary – English – Bahasa Malaysia Edition, 2001, Third Print, Selangor : Times media Private Limited Kamus Dwibahasa: Oxford Fajar – English-Melayu, Melayu-English, 1997, Shah Alam: Penerbit Fajar Bakti Sdn. Bhd. Kamus Dewan. (2007) (Ed. Ke-4). Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahahasa dan Pustaka. Lee P 1984 The Whorf Theory Complex: A Critical Reconstruction. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company Nik Safiah Karim, Farid M. Onn, Hashim Haji Musa, Abdul Hamid Mahmood 2009 Tatabahasa Dewan Edisi Ketiga. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Marlyna Maros. 2000 Occasional Paper. No. 10. Bahasa Melayu Dalam Pembentukan Negara-Bangsa: Antara Hasrat dan Hakikat. Bangi: Fakulti Pengajian Bahasa
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