Ethnologue (Gordon 2005) estimates that there are about 6,900 languages spoken around the worldtoday. It is also estimated that only 4% of the globe’s 6 billion people speak 96% of the world’slanguages (Crystal 2000).
Nettle and Romaine (2000) estimate that about half the known languages in the world have disappeared over thepast 500 years and Crystal (2000) suggests that an average of one language may vanish every two weeksover the next 100 years. This would lead to around half of the languages currently spoken around theworld to disappear by the turn of the next century.
In the East Malaysian state of Sarawak, other languages are also taught. The Iban language catering to the largest group in Sarawak is also a POL in both primary and secondary schools.
However, the reality is rather different as there is a lack of trained teachers. Consequently, few if any secondaryschools offer Iban as a subject (Sercombe, personal communication). In the state of Sabah, also in East Malaysia, Kadazandusun has been taught as a POL in government schools since 1997 (Smith 2003), and the use of Murut has just started according to Kimmo Kosonen (2005).
In West Malaysia an Orang Asli (the indigenous people of West Malaysia) language called Semai, is being used as a POL at lower primary school level in some schools where the community dominates. The use of these minority languages does not mean that minority languages are alive and many languages survive only if they are maintained in the home domain.
Unfortunately, the emphasis on Malay, the National language, and also English, the most widespread international language, are seen as more important than time spent on learning the mother tongue and a number of speech communities who do not see any economic value in their respective heritage languages are shifting away from the habitua luse of their ethnic languages.
In Sarawak, in order to be identified as Malays, the Orang Miriek who also are Muslims have shifted to Bahasa Melayu Sarawak. The issue of being teased by members of the dominant group and the backwardness associated with the minority group not only makes the younger generation of Orang Miriek take on a Malay identity but this is also the case with other ethnic groups who have converted to Islam
As the constitutional definition of a Malay is one who practices the Islamic religion, has a Malay way of life and uses the Malay language, non- Malay Bumiputeras who are Muslims often adopt Malay culture and identity. When this happens, their children will shift language use to Malay because they have taken Malay names and joined Islamic activities where their peers are mostly Malay.
The Bidayuh for instance, who are generally described as “a Christian race” (Minos 2000), have a number who have converted to Islam or “masuk Melayu” (become Malay). According to Chang (2002) there are about 300 families out of 10,750 Bidayuh families in the Kuching Division who have converted to Islam and hence this figure shows that about 3% of the Bidayuh population has embraced the Islamic faith in the Kuching Divison already. Therefore, Bidayuhs who have converted to Islam, mostly through intermarriage with Muslims, adopt Malay culture and identity markers such as wearing ‘baju kurung’, speaking Malay and eating Malay food (see David andDealwis 2008).
Sourced from The Linguistics Journal- September 2009
What have we become? Bowing to the majority because we are embarassed? Let us all think for a moment of the future of our culture, and be proud of our heritage.