Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Talk to Me

Every time there's a significant dearth in public issues to harp on, our savvy politicians tend to meander back to the heated issue of language, moaning and crying over the sad erosion of the English language in our country. Nothing like beating a long cremated horse to prove a point especially since hardly anyone would argue over the much-belaboured point that Malaysians seem to have lost their grasp on the language.

Yes. We do speak English over here although some might think otherwise ( those same folks who still think we wear grass skirts, worship stone idols and live on makeshift trees ) :)

Somehow during our first decades of independence in the desperate bid to uphold the sacred sanctity of our national language, we seem to have stubbornly turned our backs on the English language, seemingly the language of the colonialists. Obviously much to our own detriment. Not sure how we slipped from being world renowned for speaking the proper Queen's English ( surely earning the unadulterated praise of a certain Professor Higgins ) to having bumbling airline pilots who find themselves struggling to finish a prepared speech welcoming passengers aboard.

Seems like everyday that I manage to bump into an unlettered bumpkin who can hardly speak a word of English - or even Bahasa Malaysia for that matter - even after obviously suffering a decade of indifferent public schooling in both languages. Even my paltry attempts at trying to draw out something more than a monosyllabic grunt amounts to nothing.

Paul : Why are you here today? Any complaints?
Bumpkin : Uh. Ah.
Paul : Yes?
Bumpkin : Eh.
Paul : Kenapa? Encik boleh cakap dalam bahasa ke?
Bumpkin : Duh.
Paul : Ni hui buhui jiang hua yu?
Bumpkin : Uh.

At this point I'm usually found fuming with my hands bunched up to keep from committing bloody mayhem with my pointed pen. You can't believe how exasperating it is sometimes to find myself confronted with a confusing string of dialects.

Talk to me
Fortunately I didn't have this at hand...

Sad to say, most of the bumpkins above were brought up here in the city so the argument of city versus country education doesn't hold water here. For the sake of Charming Calvin who's probably raising a banner upholding Chinese education right about now, I could hope that they'd be able to carry a decent conversation in Mandarin ( and I'd be able to stumble blindly through along with them ) but it seems that majority seem to have spent their school years peddling pirated DVDs at the pasar malam - and obviously neglecting their more formal studies.

And I haven't even mentioned the so-called nationalistic homeboys who still insist on the superiority of the Malay language - and don't feel the least need to learn about anything outside their closed borders. Have they heard about that frog in a shell?

Don't get me wrong. I don't believe all of us should learn the language if we don't see a need - but after ten years of strict enforced learning in our schools, surely some of us would have picked up a smattering of pidgin English. Even if you spent the time daydreaming staring at the clouds like I did, some elementary knowledge must have at least seeped through that thick skull purely by osmosis. Hell, even my immigrant grandmother who literally stepped off a slowboat from China can understand rudimentary English.

And let's not forget the small but growing number of desperate housewives casually picking up foreign tongues on shockingly non-subtitled dramas on Astro Kirana. With the amount of serials we're bombarded with on a daily basis, don't be surprised to find our kids speaking in Vietnamese and Spanish soon.

At least that's what I thought of the average Malaysian before. Until I sifted through the entire plethora of Malaysian blogs and found that on a whole, we do still have a certain enviable international standard. A couple of blogs I've read so far ( complete with Shakespearean-like poetry! ) could give even a native speaker a run for his/her money so at least it's nice to know we don't all sound like disenfranchised illiterate baboons.

Or at least I hope I don't.

So all hope is not lost for Malaysians yet.


Anonymous said...

lalala! internet!!! :)

xavier aka the bird

Theo said...

Hi Paul,

I don't know much about yourself or your language background but your English to me just sounds incredible.
It's well above a native speaker's and I sometimes wondered how you've managed to do it so well. I am all envious, mate!

Anonymous said...

Now, now you will make our Paul blush Theo if you praise his language skills too highly. ;)

Anonymous said...

I agree with theo. It just simply amazes me the way you write. I've said it before and I'm saying it again, I fell in love with your writing the first time and it just keeps getting better with every post! At least you're the ONE hope Malaysia can count on!

Couldn't agree more with your post also. 'Bumpkin' is the average person we come across with everyday at the supermarket, coffeeshop, bookstore, eateries, etc. Really annoying when they're exchanging grunts (or even worse, replying in dialects or BM!) when asked a question or during and order.

Man, I love English and you're making me loving it even more!

JL said...

English 1/2 pail + B.Melayu 1/2 baldi
= Manglish.

boleh pakai kah? :P

alliterative.allvin said...

Theo, you haven't seen his multiple-alliterations yet!

strapping.shane said...

With everyone writing such cryptic blogs every now and then, how can we ever lose our English tongue?

Anonymous said...

ironically, i've always thought that Malaysian bloggers seem to blog better than Singaporeans. *shrug*

Anonymous said...

In my limited experience (from reading blogs, a short trip to Malaysia, and speaking to some Malaysian students here) then you have nothing to worry about - Malaysians still speak far better English than most. Not just 'correct' English but vernacular too.

But I always find it a bit shameful to hear good English almost wherever I go when I can't have any more than the simplest conversation in any other language.

Anonymous said...

paul, i couldn't have said it better myself. it is appaling really that having spent 11 years in school learning English, most students still fail to pick up even the basic of the language.

i can go on and on about this but better not, this is _your_ blog after all :D

maxius said...

What kind of stone idols? The kind with the huge phallus' ?

closetalk said...

heheh. wat kind of grass skirts? the hula kind? *beams at the thought of de cute doc dancing in one*

thankfully, pretty much most ppl understand a smattering of english here in india. urban india. urban above-a-certain-income-level india.

Anonymous said...

Heh. Did you know that Malaysia was trying to push for Bahasa Melayu to be an internationally spoken language like English is now? It was in the papers, complete with big names and ribbon cutting and all.

Anonymous said...

...and some Education Minister is more interested to have his face on the paper and yap about anything but improving Msians level of English - both written and spoken.

tsk tsk tsk...

Anonymous said...

All hope is not lost for Malaysians yet, but definitely we, in general, could do better. I, for one, acknowledged my shortcomings and continually to improve my command of English language.
I learned a lot from your blog, so thank you for blogging in proper English. :)

savante said...

Yes, xavier :)

Thanks, theo! You finally commented - and I'm already blushing, sue.

Hey, you're great too, matt.

Hardly 1/2 baldi lah, jl.

Think he's seen it all over the blog, allvin.

Cryptic? Doubt mine's the least bit cryptic, shane.

GASP. Really, goodshithappens?

Just a matter of being brought up with people of different races.. ya tend to just pick it up here and there, stephen.

Shocking, isn't it asmadi?

Only wish we had those over here, maxius!

Yes, closetalk, the hula green grass skirts :)

Silly, aren't there, bunny?

Better they research and find a way to do so rather than yap about it, ethan.

GASp, Alex. Didn't mean for this post to be a congratulatory post on my part!