19 March 2009

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at
http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.
Wednesday March 18, 2009
AIDS missing ‘acquired’ impact

Our mindsets are determined by the words we use or don’t use. And words can also set our minds a certain way.

RECENTLY I had the pleasure of listening to one of our national poet laureates recite a poem about the birth of his daughter. It was of course in Bahasa Malaysia, and it was lovely to listen to the cadences of the language.

I don’t know very many languages that can sound quite as beautiful as the Malay language. I remember enjoying the movie Puteri Gunung Ledang precisely because of its poetic script.

At times like that, I wished I could speak my own language more elegantly than I do. I grew up in English-medium schools, including the elite government boarding school I attended for two years.

Young minds: Students attending a public speaking workshop. If we accept that every child has a right to education, then we adults cannot impede its access to knowledge in any way.

Some years after I left school, the switch to teaching entirely in Bahasa Malaysia was implemented. But during my time, the only Malay I had at school was during Bahasa Malaysia classes.

Worse still, as a Science student, I had absolutely no exposure to any literature in either English or Malay. Going overseas to study of course did nothing much for my Malay.

It was only years later, when I started to work in HIV outreach and when I had to communicate to audiences that did not necessarily understand the issue, that my Malay got the polishing it very much needed.

Even so it was a frustrating endeavour, not so much because I could not speak, since with practice my Malay improved, but because the vocabulary I needed in Malay was simply inadequate.

Just take the translation of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, for example. In Bahasa Malaysia, it comes out as Sindrom Kurang Daya Tahan. Which sounds fine except that a very key word, “acquired”, did not get a look in.

I don’t know why that is. But by not translating the word “acquired”, Malay-speaking audiences are likely to make a conceptual mistake in understanding how HIV operates.

English-speaking audiences realise that HIV is not something a person is born with nor that it occurs naturally within us. It is an infection which one can only acquire by doing something risky.

But Malay-speaking audiences are more likely to miss that point with the inadequate translation. I don’t know this scientifically, but sometimes I wonder if this missing word is the cause for much of the stigma associated with, and discrimination against, people with HIV.

People who study linguistics know what I mean. The words we use or don’t use reflect our mindsets, or they can set our minds a certain way.

So it’s not an issue of what language we use, but how well it copes with current ideas and concepts. Bahasa Malaysia is trying hard to keep up but it does that mostly by simply taking on English words.

I was shocked when years ago I was told that it is perfectly acceptable to call the TV programme, 3R, Respek, Relaks dan Respon.

Even if these words alliterated better than Hormat, Santai dan Balas, they still sound odd, but somehow also younger and cooler.

In many ways, this underscores the problem we have in keeping the teaching of Maths and Science in Bahasa Malaysia.

Unless we are not expecting our students to get very far in these two subjects, there is no reason to teach them in English.

And perhaps they won’t want to advance in these subjects if we keep teaching them in Malay, Chinese or Tamil.

But what if we have students who want to be mathematicians or scientists? At what point do we switch them over?

Or do we simply tell them that they can only go as far as our language can cope with mathematical theories and scientific concepts.

Does this then mean we can never hope for any Malaysian to become a Nobel Prize-winning scientist or mathematician?

I think that we should turn the whole question on its head and look at it from a rights-based perspective.

If we accept that every child has a right to education, then we adults cannot impede its access to knowledge in any way.

That means that if we insist that our children learn science and mathematics only in the vernacular, then to ensure that they have exactly the same rights as every other child in the world, we would have to make certain that they can access all the knowledge they need all the way to PhD level and beyond.

In other words, we would have to translate the global body of mathematical and scientific knowledge into Malay.

Why should other children have the possibility to study at Harvard University when our no-less bright children can’t because of their language?

One way to overcome that is to set up a Harvard University branch in Malaysia teaching entirely in Malay. If someone comes forward to do that, then that whole language debate becomes null and void.