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ASEAN, Brunei Darussalam

Is Bahasa Melayu Really Losing its Grip in Brunei?


(Pic credit: http://brunei-linguistics.blogspot.com/2009/01/trying-to-learn-malay.html)

The alleged weakening of the Malay language is understandably something to ponder about in this ever changing world order. The language which has been used by the people of Brunei for centuries being seen “to lose its grip” does sound alarming at first, but we also have to understand too that we cannot make any effective conclusion based on a small sample study of the thousands of students chosen. Who knows, other students not included in the study may be extremely proficient in the language that it may cancel out the survey’s conclusion. Nonetheless, I applaud the Dewan Pustaka for expending resources to produce it. Here are suggestions that could be made to improve the overall proficiency of the language.

Reading books is the first step towards building one’s language proficiency. However, there is a chronic lack of reading material to effectively enable students outside the classroom or even general readers to read works so they can build their vocabulary and language skills. The major options that exist in the market are the national newspapers such as Media Permata and Pelita Brunei, romance novels, religious and mystery books, and even comics such as Dragon Ball Z, Gempak and Doraemon (though I rarely see these comics in the bookstores nowadays).

As newspaper materials, romance novels, religious and mystery books are seen as dull to young people, and that reading imagery-based works (comics) are not as effective in learning the language as opposed to reading actual books (!), we do have a problem at hand. Without better reading alternatives, youths may resort to consuming celebrity news which might be unhealthy given our neighbors’ media disposition to produce gossip.

The government can step in by supplying new books in local libraries to fix this issue. These books must be the Malay translation of popular Western books that can grip the interest of readers, especially young ones. There is no point of ordering thousands of Hikayat Hang Tuah books when no young person practically read them for pleasure, at least to the best of this writer’s knowledge. The suitable alternatives should, therefore, books that are current or classics from the Western world. Examples could be Lord of the Rings, Aragon Series, Hungry Games series, Sherlock Holmes, and much more. Stock up the library then we may just see an increase in our national reading culture – a culture which, unfortunately, we are lacking.

The next suggestion is to probably to ensure that our national education system makes it stricter for students to get credits for their O-levels, SPN, and PSR. To this writer’s understanding these exams are marked in the country, and based on my analysis of these past year papers they hardly pose the challenge needed for them to seriously master or put into much effort for this subject, and whatever does not pose a challenge will create complacency and gradually weakness among our students to do well in this language.

The impression that the study gave is to simply paintbrush our youths as speaking in the “Rojak language” whenever they add English to their Malay conversations is also extremely peeving. Here is what the Acting Deputy Director of DBP said about the Rojak language:

Which leads to another issue, which should be credited to a well-known online forum reddit, on the need to differentiate between Bahasa Ibunda and Bahasa Malay formal. If they are not the same, then we must ask ourselves: Isn’t speaking with Bahasa Ibunda also considered speaking in the “Rojak language”?

It is no surprise that a majority of our society speaks in the Rojak language. The only difference between the young ones with the adults is that while we use a mixture of English, the latter use a mix of Kedayan and Bahasa Brunei. These Kedayan words may or may not even be well credited in the formal Bahasa Malay dictionary. Examples of these words include Ambuyat, Gulayan, Karangtah, and many others. If we were to use Bahasa Formal then wouldn’t these Kedayan words by principle be “expunged” from our people’s daily conversation?

I am a Bruneian and I am happy to be labeled to speak in the Rojak language, be in with a mix of English or in Kedayan. As do the hundreds of my colleagues and the thousands of people in the country. There is no such thing as a purist Bahasa Melayu. In fact, we have our own language and we should work in creating and preserving our Bahasa Brunei language over Malaysian Malay. Let us not hamper our own identity and uniqueness by paint-brushing our society for using Rojak language. We should embrace our words, slangs, and language, but so long as the rules of the Malay language are respected and followed. Otherwise, you will have people writing like this (wtf!):

Nonetheless, we have to understand that as there are also other tribes that make up “Brunei”, and we have to ensure that their languages do get neglected. Our language heads must also take into account the dying language of the Tutong, Belait, Dusun, Murut, Kedayan, and Bisaya people. We must not ignore them as they have been an extension of Brunei’s empire for centuries, so we have to include them in the grand national effort to revive and promote their language. Which leads to another suggestion in that the other tribe language or key terms must be preserved and to a certain extent be taught in schools (however basic) as part of our educational curriculum so that they do not “go extinct”.

We cannot seriously be considered the proponent of the Malay language when if choose to turn a blind eye to the languages of our six tribes of Brunei now do we?

Overall, Bahasa Melayu is not losing its grip in our society. There have to be more studies to be made to be certain of such assertion. It is understandable too that the absence of noteworthy literature makes it supremely hard for students to improve their language skills outside the classroom. To this, the government has to step in to purchase the Malay translation of Western books to build up that interest for students to read them.

While we work at our Bahasa Formal, we must, nonetheless, ensure that Bahasa Ibunda or Bahasa Brunei will not be expunged on the basis that they do not conform to Bahasa Malay Formal. Next, the national education system should be stricter to ensure students put their effort into mastering the language. Finally, we have to appreciate other tribes’ language that makes up the Brunei ethnic group, because by the end of the day we are Bruneians, and as Bruneians we should work in creating and preserving our own unique languages so long as it does not hurt Brunei’s interest in the changing global order.

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