Malaysia should officially recognize and celebrate International Mother Language Day to take full advantage of Malaysia’s cultural diversity
- on the Royal Address
by Lim Kit Siang
(Dewan Rakyat, Wednesday): Although cultural diversity is one of our national assets, this has not been fully taken advantage of, as compared to other countries. The United Kingdom government, for instance, has multi-lingual websites, including the Chinese language, of government publications, such as executive summaries or overviews of White Papers.
This is a
practice Malaysia should emulate in the borderless world of ICT, and in this
regard, it is regrettable that although Malaysia was one of the 28 countries
which seconded the proposal which was adopted by the UNESCO in 1999 leading
to the proclamation of February 21 as the International Mother Language Day,
Malaysia has still to officially recognize and celebrate the International
Mother Language Day six years after its promulgation.
February 21 this year again saw the sixth International Mother Language Day (IMLD) celebration - a day dedicated to celebrate cultural and linguistic diversity and to promote understanding, tolerance and dialogue between different cultures, nations and civilizations – again conspicuously ignored by the government in the past six years.
This call must now be heard and taken up in Parliament by MPs transcending party affiliation. Ministers, whether from MCA, Gerakan, MIC, SUPP and even UMNO, should explain their reluctance or hesitation in raising in Cabinet in the past six years the issue of the government officially recognizing and observing the annual International Mother Language Day, when as the home to diverse mother-tongues, Malaysia is the most ideal country to lead the world in celebrating the IMLD with verve, vigour and imagination.
Until recently in Malaysia, when we talk about protecting "mother-tongues", it invariably refers to Chinese, Tamil, Iban, Kadazan, Bidayuh, Orang Asli but excludes Malay as it is the official language of the country.
But Malay is also a mother-tongue that requires respect and protection especially with the globalization of communication and the tendency to use a single language – the English language - at the risk of marginalizing the other major languages of the world and even causing the lesser-used languages, including regional languages, to disappear.
In fact, there is the view that a language that is not on the Internet is a language that "no longer exists" in the modern world, which is why there is a global movement to protect mother tongues on the Internet through the promotion and use of multilingualism and universal access to cyberspace.
A study of
the universal statistics on the use of different languages on the Internet
will show that even the Malay language will have to safeguard its position
from the threat of seeping global monolingualism - highlighting the
importance of the IMLD even to the Malay language in the global context.
* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman