English vs. Bahasa Malaysia

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English vs. Bahasa Malaysia

A German friend of mine once asked me why I did not use Malay as an every day language when I am Malaysian. What piqued his curiosity was when I had a Malay friend over and both of us had a conversation in flawless English. My German friend could not help but to ask us why the national language was not used.

“In Germany, everybody speaks German!” he said.

And then it hit me, that in Thailand, locals speak Thai every day on almost every occasion. In Philippines and Indonesia, people of whichever descent speak in the national language. On the contrary, my Malay friend and I are both born in Malaysia. We are both brought up in Malaysia and went through over a decade of Malaysian education. So why were we not engaging ourselves in a Malay conversation?

On 31st August 1967, Malay became the national language of Malaysia and also the sole official language. The enforced use of Malay in government services and education system was to ensure the retention of Malay privileges and special rights. However, the Government made a decision to refer to the language as Bahasa Malaysia (Malaysian Language) instead of Bahasa Malayu (Malay Language) to be more inclusive of the other ethnic groups living in Malaysia.

I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with having Bahasa Malaysia as our default language. It is not news that the Malays are numerically superior to any of the other races in our society. But if the usage of the national language is one of the factors that define our identity as Malaysians, are we speaking in Bahasa Malaysia enough?

Perhaps for the sake of national unity, Malaysians are always bravely exploring the socio-cultural conundrums of our identity at a time where our atavistic beliefs collide with the incoming urgency of globalisation. It is reported that in 2010, over RM38mil was spent to promote understanding of the 1Malaysia concept which was aimed at strengthening unity among the races in the country....
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