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Taking Bahasa Melayu To The World Stage Responsibility Of All Malaysians

16/09/2022 11:33 AM

By Soon Li Wei

By Soon Li Wei

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) – Malaysian-born Australian Member of Parliament Sam Lim stole the spotlight recently when he delivered his inaugural speech in three languages, including Bahasa Melayu, in Australia’s House of Representatives on Sept 7.

Although he has been residing in Australia for 20 years, the former policeman proved that he is still fluent in the national language of his motherland.   

Even Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob was impressed and posted the following message on his Twitter account: “Bahasa Melayu resonated in Australia. I am proud to see Bahasa Melayu being elevated on the world stage by Sam Lim when delivering his inaugural speech in the Australian Parliament.”

The prime minister has every reason to feel proud because he endeavoured to raise the status of Bahasa Melayu, particularly on the global stage, in February this year when he announced the use of the national language at all official functions abroad including at international meetings.



Malay language experts, meanwhile, view efforts to internationalise Bahasa Melayu as “something that is not impossible”.

As they rightly point out, the initiative itself demands Malaysians to possess a strong sense of self-identity.

Their views are well-founded because even though the status of Bahasa Melayu as the national language is enshrined under Article 152 of the Federal Constitution, polemics have often erupted on the extent of its use among the various races that make up the Malaysian Family. In fact, there are some quarters that think that Bahasa Melayu is only suitable for use at the national level.

A language psychology expert at Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia Associate Prof Dr Jessica Ong said the responsibility of upholding the status of Bahasa Melayu does not only rest on the shoulders of Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP), universities or language experts but must also be borne by all members of ‘Keluarga Malaysia’ (Malaysian Family).

“The task of enhancing the image of the national language locally and internationally requires the will and determination of all citizens.

“The time has come now for administrators, literarians and professionals who steer our nation to glory in various sectors and fields to play a major role in uplifting the image of Bahasa Melayu,” she told Bernama.  

She said people who choose to speak in Bahasa Melayu at international conferences or while on official duty abroad should not worry about being derided for their apparent lack of fluency in English or not seeming educated enough.

In fact, she added, one should feel proud to have the courage and confidence to speak their national language in the international arena, thus following in the footsteps of the people of advanced nations such as Japan, China and Germany who are not in the least embarrassed to speak in their own mother tongue.   

“As Keluarga Malaysia, we must respect the Rukun Negara and the use of the national language should not only be limited to the public sector but also extended to the private sector and government-linked companies,” she added.



Noting that the value of a language is closely linked to a nation’s progress and economic success, Ong said any country experiencing rapid economic growth will also see its language developing in tandem.   

“Our country provides economic opportunities to investors but in order to attract them to our shores, the nation has to implement its economic development in a sustainable and inclusive manner. (Having more foreign investors in Malaysia) will also indirectly spur the use of Bahasa Melayu as a business language,” she added.  

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia-Graduate School of Business (UKM-GSB) Dean, Prof Dr Zafir Khan Mohamed Makhbul warned that Bahasa Melayu will continue to be marginalised if no serious efforts are taken to strengthen its use as the official language in economic and business matters.  

“The challenges of globalisation have left a deep impact on the use of Bahasa Melayu, with things getting worse after foreigners started dominating our nation’s economic sector.

“Following changes in the economic and business landscapes in Malaysia due to globalisation, English became more prominent, which somewhat affected the status of the Malay language,” said  Zafir Khan, who is the recipient of the Tokoh Akademik Bahasa Melayu (Eminent Bahasa Melayu Academic) 2021 award.

In fact, he added, the Malay language had attained a high level of perfection in the olden days and was used in various domains including community, administration, and economy and business.

Malay was proven to have been the lingua franca of the Malay Archipelago since the seventh century when it was under the control of the Srivijaya empire.

“During the Malay Sultanate in (what is now) Melaka between the 13th and 19th centuries, the Malay language reached the pinnacle of glory as the language of the new Malay civilisation… it became the language of administration, language of diplomacy, language of the law, language of science and philosophy, language of commerce, language of politics and language of fine literature.

“If people were to take heed of this truth with an open mind, then it will not be impossible for Bahasa Melayu to revert to the esteemed status it once enjoyed,” he said.




According to Zafir Khan, several relevant laws must be amended and enforced strictly in order to boost the use of Bahasa Melayu. These laws include the Societies Act 1966, Registration of Businesses Act 1956, Companies Act 1965, Trademarks Act 2019 and Tourism Industry Act 1992.

“The Communications and Multimedia Act and advertising by-laws must also be enforced more stringently,” he added.

Ong, meanwhile, pointed to the need to devise a plan and strategy for building a language-related software or application in line with Industrial Revolution 4.0 technology to uphold the dignity of the national language.

“To date, DBP’s language reference portal has proven to be a world-class search engine innovation that’s helping to advance the construction and development of Bahasa Melayu and serving as a reference for people all over the world.

“According to a DBP report, there are 125,846,476 words in DBP’s corpus. Hence the importance of developing a search engine that’s fast and efficient to help surfers to get the language-related information they’re seeking. This facility should also be promoted aggressively,” she added.


Translated by Rema Nambiar




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