Malay is still the National Language of Singapore

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The national language of Singapore is Malay for historical reasons but the official languages are English, Chinese (Mandarin), Malay and Tamil. Each carries equal weight under our constitution. English is widely used as the lingua franca amongst the different communities. It is also the language of administration.

Even though the four official languages are given equal weight, one of them is accorded the “national language” status. The Malay language is the national language whereas English is the main working language.

To illustrate the official language status. If someone goes to a government agency and insists on speaking in Tamil, he has to be entertained. The staff will have to oblige him by looking for a Tamil speaking colleague to serve him. Same with the other official languages. But if it’s not one of our four languages, the staff need not entertain him.

I’ve just received an official correspondence from the Ministry of Finance dated 2/7/12 on ‘GST Voucher’ $110 U-Save written in English on front page and a short summary in three other official languages on the back page.

Every Singaporean is brought up speaking at least two languages – English and one of the four official languages. It’s part of our decades old bilingual policy. For that, I’m grateful to this government for promoting such a policy. I can read and understand some Chinese (Mandarin) which has enriched my life. I am able to see the world through two windows instead of one even though my Chinese is at second language proficiency. Not many could do that. In many countries esp the Americans and British, they do not speak a second language.

Language is a sensitive issue. It’s also part of a community and a person’s heritage. To understand and penetrate deep into a community, one must be able to speak and understand the language of the community. The fluency of the language will surely enable the person to fully understand that community’s particular nuances and cultural aspects.

There are idioms, proverbs or tales of that particular community which can’t be totally translated! For example “kurang ajar” in Malay loses it’s significance when translated to English as “little or deficient teaching.” But if use it on a Malay, the impact is clear. It’s the same with other languages.

I feel that if Malay is accorded with National language status, then it should be treated as such. Not only our National Anthem is sung in Malay on National Day or on other official occasions, it is also the language of command in the armed forces. It should be much more than that.

I remember when I was in primary school, I had to attend one weekly lesson of non-examination national language (Malay) appreciation class. As a child, I lived next to the Malay kampung at Kaki Bukit. When my ‘cikgu’, a soft spoken, pious and mild mannered Malay teacher with a thin mustache conducted simple conversational Malay lessons, I was impressed with the more refined form of Bahasa Malay.

It’s quite different from the spoken Malay I heard from my neighbors. The ‘saya’ and ‘awak’ rarely heard or spoken by my neighbors. The first few lessons were simple vocabulary of identifying common items such as table, chair, school, house, to walk, run, sit, sleep etc.

All the sudden when I reached primary four, no more Malay class. I still do not know the reason. Throughout my life till now, I just pick up conversational Malay along the way especially at my work place.

When I joined SPF, I had to really learn all the Malay commands in order to march well. We may lose out to our counterparts in terms of combat fitness, but we always pride ourselves having a tradition of excellence on drills and marching on the parade square. When we as a platoon or squad bang/stamp our right foot simultaneously at the end of a command, it’s one clear ‘click’ sound from the ‘horse shoes’ underneath our boots. Yes, our drill boots came with metal ‘horse shoes’ underneath for that precise marching on the parade square. Those boys in green wouldn’t give you the ‘one click sound’ but full of cracking shit sound as if you are having a diarrhea in the ‘jamban’. That’s what we meant by discipline to the perfection on the Padang which reflects our highest ethical conduct and incorruptibility when discharging our duties after the six month training.

‘Bergerak bergerak ber tiga tiga dari kiri cepat jalan!’ is a typical Malay command instructing the squad to move fast or quick march in threes and to take dressing on the left. We are trained only to respond to the former. No one in the armed forces will react to the latter (English).

Our motto is ‘Setia Dan Bakti.’ Our counterpart’s motto is ‘Yang Pertama Dan Utama’. Loyalty and Commitment vs First and Foremost. Those Malay slogans encapsulate the essence of our national identity of the highest ideals. There must be a reason why they were not written in English or any other official languages. Our state medals and awards such as ‘Pingat Bakti Masyarakat’ or ‘Public Service Medal’ carries the title of PBM are in Malay.

You will notice that our PMs all speak Malay. Our future PM is also very fluent in Bahasa Indonesian. During the Tsunami disaster where he co-ordinated the massive aid and assistance rendered to Acheh, he communicated direct to his counterparts in their own native language without the need for interpreter. Now that’s impressive. Remember after that episode highlighted in the press (about Chan’s fluent Malay), there were calls for the learning of Malay as a third language for our more talented students. We have forgotten that once upon a time, all civil servants must pass basic standard Malay for upgrading / promotion consideration.

Unfortunately, it quickly died off. It’s heard no more. I feel that it’s important to re-introduce basic Malay as a third language or a non-examination subject in our schools. Due to our unique geographical position, we should have a basic grasp of the Malay language. It’s the 4th widely spoken language with about 300 million speakers in the world esp in SEA.

Whenever I order my favourite nasi padang or mee soto in Malay, the makcik is so pleased. Obviously I’m different from those PRCs. It conveys a sense of social acceptance and identity. That’s what we mean by social assimilation and integration. It costs nothing.

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If we ‘die die’ or ‘mati mati’ must accept 25,000 immigrants a year as new citizens to boost up our economy and GDP, the very least they should do is to be able to sing our National Anthem and acquire some basic Malay knowledge. It’s really a disgrace or embarrassment to our country if citizens can’t even sing our own National Anthem. As Singaporeans, we are taught in school at a young age the meaning of our national flag symbols, national pledge and anthem. It’s part of our national identity and shared consciousness.

Shouldn’t all new citizens comply with this basic pre-requisite? Isn’t it pure logic and common sense? Need we argue on it’s merits or compromise on it?

In their over enthusiasm to induct more immigrants, those policy makers do not seem to take this vital intangible attribute of nation building into account. I will bet to my last dollar that most of the new citizens esp those PRCs do not have any inkling of our national anthem and language. After they have become part of us, then only the government started to pump in taxpayers’ millions for community programmes to foster their greater ‘integration!’ Alamak!

Is it not putting the horse before the cart?

What a ludicrous langgar policy?

No other country except uniquely Singapore where a new citizen need not pass the basic national language fluency test? Is it not eroding our national identity and heritage? Where is the first commitment from them? Do we have to wait for their next generation or third generation to assimilate whilst we pump in even more taxpayers’ millions to artificially and hopefully integrate them? Is it so simple? Can money buy such intangible values? This world would be much simpler if money can solve all our social problems.

It is not only getting tiresome but also pathetic to keep harping to those in charge of our nation’s destiny about the hard truths and the grime reality that the true blue Singaporeans truly feel about. They only know how to ‘tolak’ and blame it on our ‘rising xenophobia!’ Is that so? Like I say, the Malay saying, ‘Tepuk dada, tanya selera!’ will lose it’s uniqueness once it’s translated to English.

Is Malay still the National Language of Singapore? Or has it’s status quo been gradually dissipated? I’m quite confused actually.

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I'm a Chinese Singaporean living in the Eastern part of SG. I tweet on current affairs & inspirational quotes. I blog on issues or events if they interest me. I also share some of the interesting jokes, stories or anecdotes from my friends or observations on my blog. Thanks for visiting my blog.
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63 Responses to Malay is still the National Language of Singapore

  1. patriot says:

    ‘gua yang tou, mai kou rou'(Pinyin), literally meaning lamb head
    is hang just above dog meat at the butcher’s stall.

    What are the meaning and purpose for such an arrangement?

    patriot

    • Are you referring to this “挂羊头,卖狗肉?” The implications are far reaching. Let’s hear what others say?

    • patriot says:

      You are right Sir.

      Me am curious about the purpose, though it was COMPULSORY Subject during my student days. To date, me does not see any wisdom nor practicality of it.

      patriot

      • My dear fren,
        The “wisdom nor practicality” of it is due to our unique geography. It’s a matter of our long term survival. It’s a necessary basic skill of communication and understanding since we live in this part of the world. Try to look beyond our shores and you will understand the “wisdom nor practicality.” Our founding fathers were wise enough to sense it but we have lost that uncanny ability to look beyond. Is 300 million a small figure? Langgar!

      • kuaychap_kia says:

        Patriot, you do not see the wisdom or practicality of it but when you finally see it, too late already. Itu sudah habis lah.

        We are surrounded by Malay/Indonesia speaking countries and both Malaysia and Indonesia have great economic potential such as land and natural resources. What do we have in Singapore? How to survive in the long term? Do you know that Singapore is one of the biggest investor in Indonesia?

        We bully Indonesian maids. One day, Singaporean educated get send to Indonesia to work as foreign talent. Then we kena bully teruk-teruk. Siapa makan cili dia tau pedas lah, Langgar tiang, langgar pohon, langgar pokok.

    • fish 'n' chips says:

      @patriot
      guà yáng tóu mài gǒu ròu

  2. dotseng says:

    If one does not know how to speak Malay, it will be very difficult to connect with the natives in the countryside in Malaysia and Indonesia. If one is not able to make deep connections, then it is very hard to harness local knowledge, intelligence and know how to work with the native population. Without deep knowledge of Bahasa Adat (countryside Bahasa) it will not be possible to win over the hearts and minds of the native population and misunderstandings are likely to occur. This must be approached with the same care and attention as the enterprise of war. It should never be taken lightly. As it is strategic. Without a solid foundation of trust, the natives will see us as occupiers or land grabbers, then they will get angry and overrun our plantations. But if one knows how to speak their language, know their culture from the inside out and keep a note book to jot things about their ways. Then it is only a matter of time before, the elders of these natives, will say, “he is after all like a brother to us. We should treat him in the spirit of brotherhood.” Since this man has bothered with the ways of the natives, he can always be counted to behave, speak and conduct himself that can only bring favor to his countrymen. The natives will say, “he is a Singaporean. They are very stern and no nonsense people. Not like the others. But they are fair and never disturb the women folk or cause trouble.” When a man’s private and public life is in synch with the local ways – it is only a matter of time before the elders of the village will invite the serious man to join them for their kenduri and ceramah, they will nominate him as a advisor to their headman and with time the natives can only grow to love, rely on his wisdom and respect such a man. And when there is more opportunity to acquire more land, the natives will say, “we should give it to that Singaporean. He is not like the others, who come and just take. He knows our ways. We can grow with him.”

    In this simple way the wise man is able to use language as a skeleton key to open the many doors in life. Yes, this is a meaningful post Gintai.

    Darkness 2012

    • Hi Darkness2012,
      We do share the same perception with regards to learning Malay in whatever levels of competency. However, you are able to successfully put that message across in real life situations with graphic details. Maybe it’s due to your life experiences where you seek your fortune beyond our tiny enclave.
      Many are quite satisfied in this comfort zone and its status quo. But we know where we are located. If we were in the middle of Africa, then I say we must learn ‘Zulu’ instead. Mastery of Malay in the African heartlands serves no purpose.
      It is with this mind that I strongly feel that a basic understanding of Malay is of strategic importance to us. Do we have a choice? Can we just ignore it and sweep it aside saying the reasons do not hold water any more? It’s a foolish thing to do if we just brush it away. We are losing so much.
      As it is, if you notice carefully a whole new generation of young Singaporeans do not really care or understand this important jigsaw bit in the greater scheme of things. They mix amongst themselves without bothering to go beyond their own languages.
      My generation and earlier esp those much older ones understand some broken Malay or Pasar Malayu. They had no choice but to learn this to communicate with the Indians and Malays cuz they were not educated in English. Thus, Malay used to the ‘lingua franca’ of the locals.
      Yes, times have changed. We are modern in the Internet age with a strong SAF. But has our geography changed a bit? Has it shifted to the middle of Africa? Let’s not fool ourselves lah.
      We either face it or bugger up. It is as simple as that. One day, we may have to pay dearly for this gross negligence. History will tell. Hopefully, it won’t be within my lifetime.

  3. Pingback: Daily SG: 3 July 2012 | The Singapore Daily

  4. Thanks for reminding about our heritage. Hormat.

  5. kuaychap_kia says:

    Gintai,

    Don’t take pot shots like dat lah. You said you can speak Malay unlike those PRCs. In all honesty Gintai, how many born bred Singaporean chinese can speak Malay, what more to say PRC? I believe those non Malay Singaporeans who can speak Malay, speaks Chinlay (Cina Malay) like how we speaking Singlish (Singaporean English) – therefore in this instance, inaccurate Malay; the intonation, pronounication, etc.

    Malay and Indonesian languages are actually quite difficult to master but easy to blabber. Finally, PM Lee can speak Malay relatively well but it’s not very good. Then again what to do, he need to speak English, Mandarin and Malay during NDP Rally, not an easy feat.

    • tarik nafas ... says:

      We can learn. Proficiency is one thing. But of having the spirit of desiring to live peacefully in nanyang with the Malays and Indonesians is the utmost important.

      • Well said my fren. No need to pass exam for Malay. Just a little understanding goes a long way. That’s enug for a start. Thks.

    • Jane says:

      @kuaychap_kia,
      And your point is? Isn’t that’s what Gintai was writing about- the many S’porean Chinese can’t speak Malay. And very soon, there’ll also be no more of them speaking dialect, their own heritage too.

  6. patriot says:

    Speaking about practicality, I mean how wide or extensively it is used. I am one who respects nature as much as I can the peculiar way that I interpret nature. Just to cite an example; me born a Chinese of Hokkien Dialect, so in my own understanding, I must first and foremost be able to communicate in Hokkien with fellow species. I WILL CONSIDER MYSELF INFIDEL TO NATURE IF I CANNOT COMMUNICATE WITH MY FELLOW HOKKIEN COMMUNITY.

    Then if I am exposed to others using other languages and sounds, I would want to learn as much about them as I can.

    • kuaychap_kia says:

      Patriot, I will be on the look-out for job advertisements which say “Command of Hokkien language a requirement”. By the way, bahasa Melayu or Indonesia are mainstream languages, not dialect.

  7. There are political reasons why Malay was granted a ‘national language’ status in Singapore despite the Chinese being the overwhelming majority of the population. While I can understand their political rationale at the time, to me it is really something that should not be glorified.

    Honestly, having drill commands in Malay is silly.

    The PM speaks Malay because he wants to follow in the tradition of his father, to reach out to the Malays. Asyou know, LKY also brushed up in his Hokkien to reach out to the Chinese-educated voters. Apparently LKY even tried to learn Tamil, but he failed to master it.

    Speaking Malay and Hokkien/Chinese was useful at a time when the majority of the population was not fluent in English. In today’s world, it is not necessary. Of course, it is nice to do, and it becomes a competitive advantage for someone running for the PM-ship. But it is strictly speaking no longer necessary.

    But as far as Malay is concerned, it is just another language and I see no reason now why it should still be accorded ‘national language’ status. Unfortunately, this is one of those political pandora’s boxes which every knows about but no one dares to open, because of the fear of an emotional political backlash.

    • “Unfortunately, this is one of those political pandora’s boxes which every one knows about but no one dares to open, because of the fear of an emotional political backlash”
      I hope I have not done that! I’m just stating my views. No ulterior motive at all.

    • Hitoribocchi says:

      If that’s the case, I demand that Al-Quran’s liturgical language be in English, the Chinese PRCs must speak English as a vernacular language & the Germans conduct businesses in English.

      Dude, if you think that’s an impracticality, you’ve clearly forgotten the “culture” & essence of Singapore. Malay is there as a language of identity, of bringing down to Earth the Singaporeans and where they come from, to make us humble as “rakyat tanah air kita,” & as a people who understand each other despite being at odds with each other’s peculiarities (mee pok man vs roti jala vs Indian “virundhu sappadu”).

      It can also be a language of understanding even among the Chinese across the Nusantara (where there is a common language – that is, Malay – they understand discreetly some nuances that can only be found in that).

      Has Malay as a national language affected Singapore’s business policies in international sphere? Has the Chinese suffered any other racism as exemplified by Singapore’s neighbours? Has the Malays equally suffered like the minorities in other countries?

      You are free to speak in your own language, but remember the reason Malay is a national language is how Singapore was brought up. Buat berbaik berpada-pada, buat jahat jangan sekali. (Make peace sparingly, do not do evil.)

  8. patriot says:

    Mr Kuay Chap Kia;

    Thank You much for this very interesting interaction. Your Cyber Nick does provide me some comfort for I am certain it is of Hokkien Origin. And me being a Hokkien meself knows what’s Kuay Chap, how it is prepared, ingredients used and how it tastes.

    It Never cross my mind the business and or money interest for I am of the view that if I am born in the middle of Congo(Africa) a Chinese, mati mati saya pun naik belajar Bahasa Diri. For me to interact here, it means me has learnt an alien language to communicate with a fellow countryman, lolx!

    Btw, I had been frequently mistaken for being a PRC and my children get similar impressions. Many had also asked me if I am Malaysian, Australian or Canadian after they spoke with me.

    patriot

  9. patriot says:

    Btw, me does not find Malay as our National Language Weird. It is the lack of it’s usages that I find inconsistent.
    Hard to understand the link between the Language and it’s status.

    patriot

  10. The says:

    I think it boils down to economics and benefits. Learning and mastering two languages if not easy and not everyone can do it proficiently. Some can’t even manage one language and one dialect.

    So, given the constraint, what would you prefer?
    a) Master English and Mandarin
    b) Master English and Malay

    Which option will give one a competitive advantage?

    Do not be myopic and look just at the immediate neighbourhood. How many people in the world speak the various languages? Which countries are on the ascendant?

    I think the answer is clear.

    • I think you got it wrong. If your comments are based on my article, I distinctly said that “Malay as a non- exam”. If you are specially talented and linguistically inclined, by all means learn as many languages as possible. But here I am merely saying “basic” understanding of the language. We have to be clear of what we are debating on. To learn basic Malay is definitely easier than learning Sanskrit, Pali, Arabic or Urdu languages. Trust me. I know what I’m talking about. Thks for your comment.

  11. redbean says:

    Sinkies and Malayans started with equal footings in the 50s and 60s. Both were British subjects. We could have developed in the same way and bahasa could have played a vital role in our lives. But events of the days forced Sinkieland to take a great leap out of the little pond in order to survive. Those older generations would remember the hostilities shown by both Malaysia and Indonesia towards us and even deliberately refused to trade with us just to screw us up economically. Remember how they refused to sell water to us and rather let water flow into the river/sea. The same goes to sand.

    When we started as a new nation, we still harboured the special relationship with Malaya as our hinterland and Indonesia the bigger hinterland. But it was not to be. There was a strategic change to plug ourselves into the world as our hinterland. That shift also in a big way took the steam and relevance out of bahasa as an important language of commerce and communication between us and our neighbours. It was the world that we looked to for our survival and bahasa was not material anymore when the neighbours were not too friendly. It was just like silly Sinkies who insisted on foreigners to speak in English to them even though they could speak and understand Mandarin. They just refused to communicate with the other party.

    That was a bit of history on the development of bahasa and its diminishing role in our way of life. Things have changed a bit today with both neighbours in better terms with us. The usefulness of bahasa is becoming more obvious. Unfortunately learning a language is not an overnight thing. We can’t turn a few generations into bahasa speaking over night just like the Malaysians are unable to revert to the English Language at a level they were used to.

    The usefulness of any language is dependent on its utility value though emotional and historical reasons would also affect it in some ways. Today many Europeans and Americans are learning Mandarin because they feel that it will be a useful communication tool. To correct Gintai, the Americans and Europeans are very progressive and most of them are conversant with at least another language other than English, ie German, French, Spanish, Latin etc. Bahasa will gain more interest and popularity when Malaysia and Indonesia rise as economic powers in their own rights. Then you will also see Europeans coming here to learn the language on their own.

    • RB,
      Thks for a brief sketch of our stormy relations with our neighbors. There is no denying the importance of English. It’s an international language. With mighty China, Mandarin has become a necessity. What I’m saying is basic Malay understanding. Whether they are kind to us or otherwise still doesn’t change the fact that we live amongst them. Don’t you think it’s a good asset to know a little Malay given the geopolitical landscape? It does us more good than harm to learn a little of their language in order to understand them deeper and better for good neighborliness.
      There are many foreigners in my Fellowship. They told me that – unlike Singaporeans where we speak a min of 2 languages – most of them don’t unless they are Europeans then they got to learn English cuz its the international language. If its on the contrary, it’s rather the exception than the norm. This is my understanding when I made that stmt in the article. Thks for your comments.

  12. tarik nafas ... says:

    There is beauty in the culture and art of the Malays and Indonesians. Just think of Liu Kang’s Nanyang style of Balinese paintings and Kuo Pao Kun’s study of the Malay langauge and incorporating them into his art form. And many other artist.

  13. patriot says:

    Malay Language is the National Language is a misnomer or I would rather call it a bull shit. The Caption of the Article has nothing to do with speaking the Malay/,Indonesian Languages and theit many Dialects.

    The question is; is the Malay Language the National Language in practice?

    patriot

    • It’s officially recognized as the national language. If it is not why then our national anthem is sung in Malay? Why then our state medals are known in Malay? All shld be in English since its a neutral language and the language of admin? Our command in the armed forces shld also be in English since we were British subjects before?
      Yes, I’m as confused as you. What actually is role of our national language? New citizens need not know how to sing our national anthem. When we got the silver medal for table tennis in the Oylmpics, did they sing our national anthem? Look at other countries’ champions, they happily and proudly sang their national anthem without any inhibitions. Did you notice that anomaly?

  14. singaporean says:

    Chan Chun Sing is future PM?

    • patriot says:

      Quite a possibility unless PAP loses it’s two third majority.
      Chan gets a lot of limelight.
      Maybe Gintai has insider informaction.

      patriot

      • Patriot,
        The whole world maybe except you, are not aware that our fren Chan is either the PM or DPM in waiting coming from the 4th generation of leaders. Yes unless it’s out of the game and unless he falls along the way, the path is set for him in the name of smooth transition and successful leadership self-renewel. It’s no secret lah. No need insider info. Let’s hope that we are in good hands.

        • patriot says:

          Gintai;

          cant bet with You for i do observe that Chan is getting much limelight
          than i think he deserves.
          And to be frank, it does not make any diff to me as to who becomes
          PM or DPM. Just wish that the Next One will be competent, efficient
          and will not make much empty promises to Sinkies liked those before
          him or her.

          Anyway, read in some comments that he was a very likeable person
          in the army and very humble all along since he was a student. My
          personal observation does not leave me that impression. And I am never
          in favour of having military man to head any country.

          patriot

          • Patriot,
            Do you have anybody in mind? We would like to hear a name from you? We are curious to know cuz it concerns our future prosperity and well being.

    • Singaporean,
      You wanna bet? 5 odds against 1 in your favor!

      • patriot says:

        Low Thia Khiang is my top choice.
        As the longest Alternative Party Parliamentarian,
        he has long exposure to the Parliamentary Process. And to be elected time and again and at different constituency showed that he has proven himself. Now that he has some similar calibres like Chen Show Mao, Sylvia Lim, Pritam Singh ans Png Eng Huat etc, it is indeed time for Singaporeans to have a change in our political landscape.

        Gintai;

        do You agree?

        • Alamak! Too early to decide lah. Got to wait and see before I can decide. Need to observe and assess further before I can commit. Langgar.

  15. dotseng says:

    What are you trying so hard to say Gintai? Why don’t you be more specific? Would you like me to help you Gintai. Let me see how should we begin. Why not just ask, what is the use of having an official language when most people cannot even speak or understand it? The vast majority of Singaporeans don’t even identify themselves with Bahasa Melayu. For most of the younger generation they know nothing about it and less about 200 million people who speak this language. To them, Majulah Singapore might as well be yabadabadu. So why even have it around these days? Why not just use English – that way at least, we can all make a meaningful connection.

    Is this what you are trying so hard to spit out Gintai?

    Darkness 2012

    • Hi Darkness 2012,
      Based on this source, Malay is spoken by almost 300 million.

      http://www.ugmc.bizland.com/bmelayu.html

      You seem to even apply Kendo tactics here as you speak. Your cut and thrust Kendo style could be brutally true. You are quite correct to pinpoint the gist of my opinion – that the young treat MS as “yabadabadu!” OMG!
      But I didn’t have the audacity or courage to even remotely suggest that English replacing it to ‘make a meaningful connection!’ I was merely asking questions or thinking aloud if you are referring to my reply to patriot. It’s like committing Harakiri or Seppuku lah! Sigh!

  16. agongkia says:

    I feel that there are reason that we should keep Malay as the National language .

    However,what is more important to me is that we should encourage the speaking of Malay besides mother tongue and English.
    With my little knowledge of this wonderful language,I am able to interact with the street vendors , bechak riders,charming nyonyas,pramugari etc.in our neighbouring cities whenever I am with them..
    I feel their warmth and love when speaking to them in this language and one can only feel the difference when one can speak this wonderful language with them.
    Feel the difference,time to learn and speak more Bahasa.
    Bahasa,saya cinta kamu.

  17. ape@kinjioleaf says:

    Hard truth… ‘Talk to me when you can sing Majulah Singapura!’ said homegrown grassroots leader to new citizen grassroots leader.

  18. Wow. This post is really overwhelming.
    Anyway, I would like to thank Gintai for bringing up this subject irregardless of what reasons.
    I am a malay, as how it was mentioned in Singapore. But needless to say, I am not exactly malay. The only major representation is – I am a Muslim, irregardless of my races or backgrounds.
    My heritage, doesn’t sounds really malay. Great-great grams was a chinese + sikhs + indonesian. So, how do I addressed myself? Many years ago, its the ‘malay’ language that has been the medium language everywhere. Even if you are a chinese or an indian.

    My family, most of us, studied chinese as a second language. And now, my children took chinese & malay as 2nd language respectively (they picked up other language too). Why? We just do not know, it might be the genetic issues in our family.
    My husband looks malay, but he is in fact a baba peranakan descendent + indonesian. Both his parents speak malay despite the backgrounds of chinese + java.

    Well, no doubt malay is still the national language despite coming from different backgrounds. Mandarin is also a highly seek or a compulsory language to survive locally. My concerned is and have always been thankful is for the country to create a harmonious surrounding and a safe living capacity even in the midst of economic turmoils.
    Its just not about knowing to speak chinese or whether malay is or still the national language, I strongly agrees, being bilingual helps you to survive outside your comfort zone : )

    We should be living in harmony, to be a better person, with much integrity in our life. Why spark racial discrimination?

    • Hi Marlini,
      Thank you for your participation. I can sense that you speak from your heart. You are indeed a living example multi ethnic integration.
      If a Chinese come out openly to defend Malay as a national language as stated in our constitution and govt policy (I did not declare Malay as a national language), how is it that it could “spark racial discrimination?” I’m offering my own personal opinion along orthodox line of acceptance. I did not go against the declared policy of our nation. What I say here is proven with facts and examples.
      In a nutshell, I’m saying that we shld learn basic Malay esp new citizens.
      If I have the time, I may blog about my own personal learning experience in learning other languages and cultures.
      Since you are part Sikh, I would like to tell you that I know a smattering of Punjabi and even Tamil. My smattering knowledge sometimes left strangers or newly acquainted frens with awe. One of my Sikh frens even remarked that I’m the only ‘chinaman’ he ever came across with so much Punjabi vocabulary. Oh yes, I just learnt from a medical doctor from India who is stationed here that ‘not all Punjabis are Sikhs but all Sikhs are Punjabis!’ Interesting right? Will talk about him other time.
      Trust me if I tell you that a smattering of Punjabi or Tamil could do wonders and even magic when interacting with those native speakers. They are always impressed and willing to open out easily as a fully ripen durian and offer favors or the like once you display a basic understanding of their mother tongue. It’s is as true as the midday sun.
      Yes this post is overwhelming indeed.

  19. ape@kinjioleaf says:

    IMHO, Malayu in Singapore goes beyond economic and pragmatic reasons. It’s a form of bonding with our own citizens and neighbouring states.
    I may be emotional and nostalgic but I always feel comfortably warm when I see older Chinese speak Malayu to their Malay and Indian peers. It was their common spoken language. It felt even better when the conversation include words from the different languages, that is, spoken in Singlish for us to identify ourselves and our unique history.

  20. redbean says:

    gintai, you missed my point totally. What I was saying is simply that the political and economic conditions then forced the country to take a different direction. And the usage of Bahasa was thus neglected. It could have been different if relations with our immediate neighbours were conducive for trade and economic development. The direction taken continued till today and everything has changed.

    English will continue to be dominant in the island for obvious reasons. Switching back to Bahasa, to where we started in the 60s is not going to happen. But more people will be using Bahasa when they have more contacts with Malaysians and Indonesians. It will be a natural development on utilitarian considerations.

    By now the policy of English and mother tongue has already taken root and the advantageous of this combination will only confirm and reinforce the usage of English rather than Bahasa.

    • Of course. I agree with you perfectly. English and 2nd lang bilingual policy is here to stay. I never advocate abandoning this policy to let Bahasa Malaysia or Indonesia take over as the dominant language. I’m merely advocating a ‘basic’ understanding of the language maybe as a third non-exam subject which I stated very clearly in my post. I just wish to see a slight improvement over its total neglect and oblivion. It’s better this way. It will give us a better understanding of the huge Malay community just outside our doorsteps. No harm promoting it along this line since its also our declared national language. Hope it clears up the misconception.

  21. dotseng says:

    I think this discussion is starting to get more focussed. Perhaps we should begin this discussion all over again and ask ourselves what is the goal of learning another language, not necessarily Malay – could even be Russian. The way I see it, language is a skeleton key that allows one to open doors and peek into the darkened interior of their hopes and aspirations. It stands to reason as when you can converse with another person in their own tongue, then their guard will go down and they are usually more at ease.

    However I want to be crystal clear, in some cases gaining a deeper understanding into a language is strategic. Now if you look at the US and how theup got themselves stuck in the mud in Afghanistan and Iraq, it had nothing to do with their lack to prosecute a war but everything to do with their inability to understand the local language, especially Sunni and Shia nuances along with their parlance. Their intelligence services were woefully short of Arabic translators, so they really missed so many opportunities and made very serious mistakes that still haunt them today.
    This is a good illustration of how a failure to deploy language can really undo the efforts of a superpower.

    It is the same with business. I cannot go to China, Alaska or Canada to grow palm oil. Palm oil doesn’t grow in temperate climate. Palm oil only grows across a narrow longtidutal band – nearest to Singapore it is Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philiphines (Mindanao) – these are all Malay speaking archipelagos – so it makes perfect sense for me to master this language. If I am not even proficient in Malay, it will be uphill to get buy in, manage conflict and impossible to manage myself and others effectively. But please remember Gintai, the objective of mastering a language is to position oneself so that it is possible to make meaningful connections with people – as language makes possible the idea of understanding a thing from the “inside out.” So when a businessman understands the historical and nuances of a Malays speaking community, it is very easy to do build long term relationships.

    However, in Singapore I do not see that it is necessary to learn to speak Malay proper – but for young people who may feel that they want to seek their fortune in neighboring countries as a businessman. Then my advice is please learn Malay and if possible even study the history, culture and religion of that country NOW, keep a note book and jot down the important points you come across in your daily interaction with our Malay colleagues in Singapore – the best is eat and play with them, get to know their family and understand what makes them tick. You will discover the more you know about the Malay culture, the more you will begin to question your own values and only through this way can you gain a new appreciation and respect for their way of life – otherwise, you will end up behaving like those useless Americans that one regularly sees in the American club – they are here but not here – they see, but they cannot understand (do you all notice they never understand, wonder no more why Iraq is now in danger of turning into another Iran) – wherever they go, they cause resentment and bring shame to their country making it hard if not impossible for their countryman to turn the wheel of life abroad. Start young. Don’t wait for the govt – they are always very slow to pick up on opportunities – by the time they get their act together, the oppurtunity is gone.

    Darkness 2012

    P.S: one of our senior bloggers, Red Bean has come with an excellent chronological account of why, where and how the Malay language features in Singapore, those who are serious about understanding the relative importance of the Malay tongue should read his exhaustive write up.

  22. B B Chen says:

    Does anyone know our government’s so-called “official” politically-correct reason why Malay is our National Language?

  23. visitor says:

    The reality is, Malaysian Chinese can speak FOUR languages fluently – English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese and Dialect. Just ask any Malaysian Chinese students working and studying in Singapore what its like to learn 4 languages growing up. Something that even Singaporean bilingual policy had failed.

  24. redbean says:

    Hi Darkness.

    Thanks for the compliment. Singapore is an anomaly in many ways. We are mainly a migrant country with very shallow history. The racial mix of our country is a colonial heritage that we cannot denied. In a way like India, we need a common and useful language to talk to each other and to the world. We also do not want to put anyone in an advantage or disadvantage. If history did not force us into this present state, Bahasa would have played a bigger role in our life. We could still be in Malaysia.

    We are what we are today as a victim of circumstances. Our policies are determined by utilitarian values, the need to survive, to be relevant to the world. Our historical, racial and emotional makeups and hangovers are best to be left on the backburner. Those who value whatever they find attractive to them should be free to do so. Malaysia is starting to struggle to cope with English as they engage more with the world in commerce and diplomacy. The older generations are bilingual proficient. Their younger generations are mostly monolingual. Good or bad, they have made their choice.

    I travelled to Malaysia frequently for recreation. For that, I tried to brush up on my pasar Bahasa as much as possible to make communications with the Malaysians easier. There is a need to know the language. Your advice to those who travel frequently to both countries is valid. The language is a useful tool to engage others, to understand others and for others to understand us. We don’t have the privilege to be racially and culturally arrogant. We need others more than they need us. If the geopolitics of the region is such that Bahasa becomes a dominant lingua franca, you bet the Sinkies will take extra effort to be proficient in it. It takes effort to learn another language.

    Like it or not, we have to go with the flow of things.

  25. When I was in primary school in the 1970s, we had a National Language class. It was non-examinable and I forgot almost everything after I went to secondary school. It was not until I started my adventure travels in Malaysia and Indonesia that I picked up the language again. As one interacts with the locals, the language comes naturally.

    Sadly, the majority of Singaporeans prefer to travel in style and go for places like Europe, Australia and the US. They have missed out on a lot of opportunities to travel low budget, high value. It’s such an irony that there are more European than Singaporean tourists in some of the more off the beaten track places in Indonesia and Malaysia. As a member of ASEAN, we should not be so out of place.

  26. patriot says:

    Sinkies truly Damn weird. They want immigrants to speak English when they settled in Sin.
    And they want Sinkies to speak a local language that’s not used officially nor that of the majority Race.

    FUNNY!!

    patriot

  27. patriot says:

    In Sin, English is the Languaige for commerce(money) and administration. Now Sinkies are asking Sinkies to speak Bahasa for bizness(money) and diplomacy.

    Do Sinkies have languages for ethnic identity, culture and living???

    patriot

  28. Helena says:

    Language proficiency is strategic. I never saw it that way before. I never ever heard anyone say that either. First time I came across this idea that language is a skeleton key to open doors. I never thought of it that way. Now I suddenly see Malay in a completely different light. And with the knowledge there are 300 million malay speaking neighbors, it is suddenly very different like a whole new world has opened up.

  29. Le bling says:

    I agree that with the modernization of times, people adapt. Back then, Malay was the common language. I’m of the younger generation, 23 this year. If I walk up to any of our elders, it’s more likely that I will have a better, smoother conversation with them in Malay than in English. But today, our main language is English. Not much of the malay language is spoken by the non-malays. We only converse in either our mother tongues, Singlish, or proper English. The common language today is English.

    The national language was in Malay because it was commonly understood. Quite recently, the topic arose on whether the national anthem should be changed to English instead because it is more commonly understood.

    Now, in one way to look at it, it would be alright. Why not? This way, everybody would understand and appreciate the national anthem and be proud of the country.

    But look at it another way, if we were to consider the grounds of the common language, assume we decide to use a translated or new anthem version in English because the country mostly converses in English. 50 years late, with China’s global expansion and high economic influence, mandarin begins to overtake the english language on the streets in a global scale.

    Would it be alright for us to change our national anthems into a mandarin translation? And 50 years down the road, the French language becomes dominant. Would we change our national anthem again? Would the Germans be willing to change their national anthem to English, Mandarin or French just because their population is mostly conversing in such-and-such language?

    Or would they keep to the language of their forefathers?

    Or in the special case of our dear Singapore, should we change the anthem to one with a multi-verse of languages in the one song?

    And going back to the definition placed at the beginning of this blog, what should the “national tie” in our national anthem of Singapore be?

  30. patriot says:

    To integrate into Sin, immigrants are told to use the English Language.
    For Sinkies to integrate into the Region, they are exhort to use Bahasa.

    Do Sinkies have to change their custom, culture, dietary habit, religion
    and their natural racial identity(characteristics) to blend with the
    neighbours as well?

    What nonsense is this all about integration?
    True, when one settles into a foreign land where one is
    the oni or one in ten thousand, it is oni right to use the
    language of the locals for communication with them.
    One does not need to change ones’ own skin colour,
    culture, religion and dietary habits.

    How does any country becomes multi-racial, multi
    cultural and MULTI-RELIGIOUS if everyone integrate into one?

    patriot

  31. patriot says:

    Integration; tell it to the British who had made the World speaks in English, wears suit and tie, pant and boots and had their colonial buildings solidly standing in their colonies today.

    Did the British masters used anything culturally local in the conquered territories? Did they use loin cloths in India and sarong in South East Asia? Did the British embrace Hinduism in India?
    Till today, the angmos are still having great influence and getting converts to their culture and religious belief, especially so in Sin. How about Mcdonald for breakfast? Oh, that American! Yes, it is; the White Americans are descendants of the British.

    patriot

  32. just a singaporean from perth says:

    If one knows not a single language, how does he convey thoughts? Language is an empowering tool. It binds like religion. It controls masses. That answers plenty of questions regard our pseudo national language.

  33. ape@kinjioleaf says:

    Coincidence? Just received at letter from my child’s school seeking parental approval for taking up conversational ‘3rd’ language once a week after school. Go ahead! I told my child. Learn and teach me! :D

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