Cabinet should suspend its decision last week to abolish  the use of the baku pronunciation of the Malay language and set up an all-party committee to conduct public hearings and  make recommendations on the issue 

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Tuesday): Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah  Ahmad Badawi said yesterday that the government was gathering feedback on the  move to do away with the bahasa baku pronunciation of the Malay language and that any statement to be made would be issued after the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

He said: "Only after Wednesday can we talk about it... I'm following developments and  views given by all parties over the matter".

I am astounded by Abdullah’s statement as he had compounded the most unprofessional manner in which the Cabinet had acted on this issue.

It was most unprofessional for the Cabinet last week to make an important policy decision to abolish  the use of the baku pronunciation of the Malay language without a full and proper consultation - to the extent that the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka which had been given statutory responsibility  to develop the national language was  kept completely in the dark!

Now, the Cabinet is embarked on another most  unprofessional collection of feedback from the public on its decision last week. When Abdullah said that "all feedback obtained from the public" would be discussed at the Cabinet meeting tomorrow, how could he be satisfied that such public feedback as appeared in the mass media in the past few days were representative, comprehensive and authoritative enough?

The doubly unprofessional manner in which the Cabinet had gone about its decision to abolish the use of the baku pronunciation of the Malay language  can only be justified on the ground that it was purely a political decision, the primary objective being to erase all influences of former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim - for then the question of the merit or otherwise of Bahasa Baku is completely irrelevant.

This will be another form of creeping Stalinism into Malaysian body politics on entering the new millennium, where all traces of those who had fallen out of favour must be eradicated to the extent of becoming a non-person!

The biggest casualty of the whole Bahasa Baku imbroglio arising from the Cabinet decision on January 19, 2000 is the first non-politician Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad who has shown a month after his appointment as  a Cabinet Minister on December 14, 1999 that he had to leave all professionalism outside the door of the Cabinet and succumb to political dictates in matters when politics should not intrude at all!

The biggest winner of the whole Bahasa Baku snafu is the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim, whose attacks on Bahasa Baku distinguished his leadership of Semangat 46 after he had announced that he had "burnt his bridges" - causing many in UMNO to wonder whether this constitutes "The Return of Semangat 46" in UMNO.

Be that as it may, even if Rais wants  vindicate his attacks on  Bahasa Baku in his Semangat 46 days, he must respect the democratic spirit and ensure that any Cabinet decision to abolish the use of the baku pronunciation should not be made in stealth but be made in a professional manner involving the fullest consultation with all sectors of society, particularly the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, school teachers, university lecturers, linguists,  parents, NGOs and all political parties - especially as Bahasa Baku had been promoted in our education system for 12 years involving one whole generation of our youngsters!

The Cabinet at its meeting tomorrow  should suspend its decision last week to abolish  the use of the baku pronunciation of the Malay language and set up an all-party committee to conduct public hearings and  make recommendations on the issue.

I am proposing an all-party committee because the issue will finally be decided by the political leadership - and it is only right that the leadership of all political parties should be involved in the decision-making process, not only Barisan Nasional but also Barisan Alternative.

The DAP is prepared to fully co-operate with such an all-party committee to study as to whether Bahasa Baku should continue to be promoted or be abolished through extensive consultations, including public hearings throughout the country, and we are prepared to nominate our representative to serve on such a committee.

The all-party committee on Bahasa Baku should be given six months to complete public consultations and submit its recommendations to Parliament and Cabinet.

It is also most improper for the Cabinet to pre-empt a decision on this issue without first allowing the new Parliament an opportunity to have a full debate on it - especially as Dewan Rakyat is going to start its meeting in a fortnight on Feb. 14, 2000.

The Cabinet tomorrow can still undo the harm it had done last Wednesday in so unprofessionally deciding on the abolition of the use of the baku pronunciation of the Malay language.  Nobody expects to see any statesman in the present Cabinet but let not the Cabinet Ministers show that they are all so  petty-minded politicians who want to play politics even with language, education and nation-building.

The Cabinet and Parliament should give serious attention to the Internet reactions on this issue, and I think the following postings are most pertinent, deserving the attention of all Malaysians:

(1) "I started school when there was the e tanda (the letter e with a mark on top for certain pronunciations). Then they discarded this spelling and replace sh with sy but Shah Alam remains the same old spelling. They replace ayer with air and there are many hilarious moments when we thought we were drinking air and not water.

"This playing around with the public's future is not new. During the height of the Bahasa Kebangsaan craze a whole generation of Malays did not know how to speak English and they are now working in government and companies but losing out because of this shortcoming. Then another generation of Malays did not know how to write read or spell in jawi. Now there is a whole generation brought up on Bahasa Baku, who may continue to speak bahasa baku and will eventually sound weird to those non-baku's.

"I hope there is a real rhyme and reason for all these and not just .. well , you know.. !"

(2) "Perhaps, the cabinet could have considered another alternative to erase any trace of Anwar in Malaysian history.

"Change the spelling to suit the non-baku pronunciation.

"That way, we can still state that the Malay language is mnemonic while we reprint all the school textbooks with the correct spelling for non-baku pronunciation.

"Words like ‘saya’ will now be correctly spelt as ‘saye’, while ‘dia’ is
replaced with ‘dear’, ‘mana’ with ‘mane’ and ‘kota’ will now be spelt

"However, I hope they will permit the current spelling for ‘Lapangan Terbang Antarabangsa Kuala Lumpur’ to remain as ‘KLIA’.

"Heck, we might as well go back to the spelling of the colonial days when ‘cat cap gajah’ was spelt ‘chat chap gajah’, and the game of ‘skuash’ wouldn't have been written now as ‘skuasy’."

However, Musa Mohamad  should give very serious thought to the following posting expressing the disappointment of many Malaysians that his priorities about education are all wrong and mixed-up:

"As a parent I am concerned about so many problems in our schools: poor teacher morale presumably caused by pathetic pay scales, decrepit equipment, large class sizes, a curriculum that seems to stress on conformity and rote learning rather than encouraging a curious questioning attitude, etc. etc.  It is therefore rather sad that the first major policy initiative of our new ‘professional’ Education Minister does nothing to address all these issues, but rather deals with elocution, which is surely a side issue.   English schools for decades taught the ‘proper’ way to pronounce English, but this did not cause local accents to disappear in England.

"Surely what the Minister should be focusing on are the real issues in school education: what job skills will be needed in the next stage of the country's development, and how can he ensure that schools are training children to have those skills.  Although I am not an educationist, I would venture to suggest that employers are not terribly bothered whether employees speak Bahasa with a baku pronunciation or with a Johor-Riau pronunciation.  What an employer would be concerned about is whether a job applicant is capable of adding value to his organisation in an information
age.  What a shame that the Minister has wasted so much political capital and goodwill on what is in the final analysis irrelevant to the purpose of schools: equiping children to be useful and productive members of society."


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman