Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: shankar s.)
The fact that Malaysians are multilingual often surprises foreigners. Many Malaysians can seamlessly switch from Malay, Malaysia’s official language, to English to their mother tongue or various local dialects. While this is an admirable feature of the country, it occasionally creates controversy.
In 2018, when the Minister of Transport Anthony Loke had a radio interview with a Cantonese broadcaster, he agreed to conduct the interview in Cantonese. Yet, he was condemned by those behind the Speak Mandarin Campaign. Yet, promoting Chinese should not mean speaking only Mandarin and rejecting all other dialects
After the current government came to power at the beginning of this year, when Deputy Minister of Education Mah Hang Soon took office, he was also criticized by netizens for his comments in Chinese on Facebook. In addition, the Anti-Corruption Commission set up a Chinese version of its official website, which attracted critics who pointed out that under the Constitution, all official content must be published in Malay. The website of the Ministry of Tourism, however, has versions in over ten languages. Is this also against the Constitution?
There is no question that Malay is the country’s official language, and it therefore makes sense to use Malay for official matters. Yet, in this case, the main purpose of the website was simply to convey information. The faster and easier it is to understand, the more convenient it is. After all, the online audience is not limited to just Malaysians.
Malaysians should prevent any actions that are xenophobic or hostile to speakers of other languages and instead allow all languages to blossom.