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Mother tongue languages need safeguarding

Writer: Alvin Yap
Published: Fri, 24 Feb 2012

PETALING JAYA: Putrajaya is being urged to get students to master their own mother tongues in order to safeguard the country’s unique heritage.

“The government should pursue a path towards a multi-cultural and multi-linguistic society in Malaysia,” said  Dr Toh Kin Woon at a International Mother Tongue Day 2012 forum at University Malaya on Tuesday.

Toh, a former three-term Penang state assemblyperson, was among civil society leaders who adopted a resolution calling for Putrajaya to recognise and promote the multi-racial identity in the country.

Toh pointed out that there were groups who chose to ignore the cultural diversity in Malaysia which he described as an asset to nation building.

The former state executive councillor said Putrajaya has to reverse its policy of sidelining vernacular schools.

He said Chinese language independent schools continued to thrive even without government aid as parents want their children to have an education in their first language.

“I’m not chauvinistic. But many, and I included, feel that it’s the right of everyone to receive mother tongue language schooling,” he told a packed crowd.

Fellow-speaker Zaid Kamaruddin agreed with Toh, saying that the government had a huge role to play in keeping Malay dialects from the Malay archipelago alive in the face of globalisation.

The Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM) chairperson said the Mandailing dialect from east and north Sumatra could have been his first language if not for his grandmother’s death while Zaid was in his teens.

“She taught me the dialect when I was a child, but after she died, no one else spoke it fluently and I lost the language skill as I had no one to talk to,” said the Bersih 2.0 steering committee member, who is also president of Jamaah Islah Malaysia (JIM).

He said the government should ensure that there is no discrimination in the usage of mother tongue languages as they usually belong  to minority ethnic groups.

Tamil Foundation president S Pasupathy said being educated in the mother tongue does not make one less Malaysian.

“Speaking Tamil or Mandarin doesn’t lessen my loyalty and pride of being a Malaysian,” he said.

The other speakers included Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall president Tan Yew Sing and Temuan tribal leader  Soeb Miah.

They later went on stage to adopt a resolution calling for the government to give fair and equal treatment to the languages and cultures of ethnic groups.

The coalition also called for the prestigious National Laureate (Sasterawan Negara) award to include entries from minority languages as well.

They also called for federal funds to be allocated for the performing arts that showcase the language and ethnic backgrounds of minority groups.

International Mother Tongue Day is promoted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

Unesco also holds the event  to remember University of Dhaka students who were killed in 1952 when protesting against the imposition of Urdu as the sole national language policy in Bangladesh.

 

Source : Selangor Times