By Yuktes Vijay
This is the last part of the story of Bahasa Melayu, our national language. In essence, the previous two articles (here and here) told the story of how Bahasa Melayu survived colonialism and the battle it faced to be uplifted as our national language today.
Above all, the articles also introduced to us the vision of our founding fathers who wanted our national identity to be built upon a mutual language, which was Bahasa Melayu, of course.
Nightmares And Horrors
In any case, thanks to the relentless efforts of Lee Kuan Yew and Lim Kit Siang, the very word Melayu today invokes nightmares and horrors among many. In fact, it would not be over the top to state that the word Melayu itself has become a ‘taboo word’ in our Malaysian society today.
Naturally, since our national language is called Bahasa Melayu, the very stigma and taboo haunting the Malays found its way to Bahasa Melayu itself. Malaysians today see Bahasa Melayu as a threat to their ethnic identities and mother tongue, which inevitably leads to fear and hatred towards the language itself.
This has led to calls for Bahasa Melayu to be made Bahasa Malaysia in the spirit of nationalism (or because they don’t want to be or sound a Malay. No class, right, if you speak Bahasa Melayu in BSC, right??)
However, since it matters to some people if its Melayu or Malaysia, let’s tell them why it is not fair to do so.
Although the Malay language is part of the Austronesian language family, it has different names according to the region. In Brunei and Singapore, it is called Bahasa Melayu or the Malay language, while in Malaysia, it is termed as Bahasa Malaysia. Indonesians call their language Bahasa Indonesia.
In 1957, our constitution installed and called our national language Bahasa Melayu (not Bahasa Malaya!). You see, it was not the Malays who conjured up our constitution with a magic wand, because Queen Elizabeth II gave Malaya independence.
Our constitution is a result of discussions among all community leaders including the British, which was later documented as the Reids Commission Report (which implies all communities back in Malaya then had agreed to the name Bahasa Melayu).
At no juncture in between 1957 and this very day, were amendments tabled to change the name Bahasa Melayu to Bahasa Malaysia in our Parliament.
According to former Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin, Bahasa Melayu replaced the traditional term to impart a sense of belonging among all races in Malaysia and implementation of such terminology was encouraged by Tunku as it fostered unity. The terminology was never an issue till Anwar Ibrahim became Education Minister.
It was the jailed former deputy Prime Minister who, in 1988 as education minister, decided that Bahasa Malaysia must be referred to as Bahasa Melayu. This was when question marks of how national is the national language rose for the first time.
Because of Anwar, the non Malays started feeling using Bahasa Melayu would make them Melayu. Because the man who introduced the change was a famed hard-core Islamist at that time.
As far as I am concerned, it is after all, the “national” language! Does it matter by what name this language goes by?
Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) chairman, Prof Dr Md Salleh Yaapar in a KiniTV video uploaded on June 25, Salleh said: “…among the new challenges faced is the name of our language which, for the last two decades has been confusedly known as Bahasa Malaysia.
“Until now, our children are asking if this language is Bahasa Malaysia or Bahasa Melayu. We have finally managed to convince the ministry that the name of the language is Bahasa Melayu.”
This has summarised the issue perfectly. Malaysians, especially the non Malays were more bothered about what the national language is called rather than making efforts to master the language.
Malays here used to write using a form of Arabic alphabet –Jawi, that was locally modified. It was after the implementation of the Education Act that it was decided we, the non-Malays will learn BM in Roman letters. These letters were called Rumi. (see how ridiculous then, hysteria about the jawi issue was the last time??!!)
Even after such modifications, skepticism of the national language is a ‘Melayunisation’ process or otherwise remains. This is why, despite it being 63 years since Malaysia attained independence, our national language is yet to attain recognition and become the lingua franca that unites us all.
Article 152 (1) of the Federal Constitution states that Bahasa Melayu is the national language and official language of the Government. The Education Act 1961 and Education Act 1996 reaffirms the fact by asserting that Bahasa Melayu is the medium of instruction in education.
Nowhere the term Bahasa Malaysia is found.
Therefore, our national language IS Bahasa Melayu. Today. Tomorrow. Always MALAYSIAN! – New Malaysia Herald