Research Project (2nd mailing)

Prof. Saran Kaur Gill saran at
Thu Nov 4 03:48:04 UTC 2004

Dear Hamo,

How nice to hear from you and to receive such thought provoking questions -
I am glad cause they give me a chance to think about and clarify certain
issues which we as Malaysians may take for granted.

By the way, I have not had much success with accessing the newsletter - I
really need help here as I would like very much to read it.

Anytime you are ready, send me your address and I will get a copy of my
book off to you.

I cant quite remember which paper I sent to you but will do my best to
respond to the comments below.

Have to apologise for not being able to either bold or colour my comments
as I seem to have those icons missing in my software and the technical
support has not be able to help me.

I am also not sure if I should respond to all members of the list but since
your comments were sent out to them, I will also respond to the comments on
the list.

Best regards,


At 07:12 AM 11/4/2004 +0800, you wrote:
>Hi Saran,
>Seeing your message reminded me that I should finish your paper, but as
>you could well note in the HKLNA-Project's last newsletter, I am still
>living in Ma On Shan. My plan was to respond to you after I had a new
>address to where you could send me a copy of your book. Certainly, I hope
>your planned trip to Japan went well for you.

The Japan trip was fantastic - the paper was well received and the company
was great.

>1) At one point in your paper you state that the Malaysian educational
>system went from a bilingual to a completely monolingual one. Much later
>in your paper I discovered that private and public university graduates
>have been competing in industry based on language differences. Obviously
>something was happening in the private primary and secondary school sector
>that you failed to mention. Perhaps you could clarify this bifurcation in
>the system earlier in your paper.

In Malaysia's efforts to establish itself as a regional centre of
education, an educational act was legislated in the 90's which allowed the
higher education private sector to use English as the main medium of
instruction - this was to help them attract foreign students etc.

Therefore at the university level, there was a bifurcation of higher
education - two streams emerged which resulted in two lots of students -
private higher education in English and public higher education in Bahasa
Melayu.  This has caused serious problems for those graduating from public


>2) You ask a question in your paper that you never answer -- namely, "Why
>has there been a top-down decision made with no discussions with the
>universities at large?" Although you explain why the government decided to
>do what it did, you do not say why everyone else was by-passed in the
>process. Certainly there were more stake holders than a tiny minority of
>university academics who were by-passed. For example, what about all of
>the secondary students who never make it into a Malaysian university and
>will never become managers in a Malaysian company with overseas ties.

Your concerns are very legitimate.  In fact, this is one of the questions
that we ask the decision makers (Deputy VC's) and Deans of the faculties of
science and technology, engineering and computer science of the 10 public
universities - "How was the change in language policy transmitted to the
public universities?"  It has been found that there was no official
documentation but only a verbal directive from the Minister of Education to
the VC's and in turn from the VC's to their respective senate and in turn
Deans to their faculty members.  Therefore, it has been minuted as part of
proceedings of meetings but with no official letters stating the policy

When asked why this is so, they all say that it is because it is a
political issue and if documented would seem like an act of betrayal to the
national language.  This underlies the complex interplay of emotions and
feelings for the national language which is also largely their ethnic
language vying with the realities of the science and technology ideology
and economic factors (though some might not agree with these realities)

In Malaysia, education and politics are inextricably intertwined.  In one
of my papers, I do discuss the fact that it is because the Malays, the
dominant ethnic group have been impacted by lack of access to knowledge and
information in English as well as weakening proficiency in English, that
this change has taken place.  If the dominant ethnic group had not been
impacted the change would not have been instituted.

Part of my research requires me to obtain documents pertaining to the
change and obtaining the documents for the period before the change was
instituted is my biggest challenge.  There was a committee set up (chaired
by the Minister of Education) together with the Brains Trust
Committee  (made up of established members of academia and society) and it
is the findings from these two committees that played a crucial role in the
decision.  I am still trying to obtain the documents - have had better luck
with the latter but not much with the former but have not given up.  The
Brains Trust Committee presented their findings to the UMNO supreme council
and the decision was then blessed politically.  (UMNO is the United Malay
National Organisation) the Malay party in the tri-party national front -
Barisan National.  The Malays are the dominant ethnic group in Malaysia.

In a similar light, just what proportion of Malaysian companies are
involved in overseas trade? What is the size of their work force? And, what
proportion of Malaysia's entire economic output do they represent? I walk
away from your paper with absolutely no perspective in this regard and
seriously question, whether even the Malaysian government
has any?

The above are valid concerns and an area that I will be working on for the
monograph publication for "Current Issues in Language Planning"  (edited by
Kaplan and Baldauf).  The title of this potential monograph is "Malaysia -
The Challenges of a Major Change in Language Policy in the Face of
Globalisation."  There needs to be a stronger and more credible
relationship established between the economic forces and language policy
change.  I am sure the government is aware of these factors but
academically I would like to unearth them and establish the link strongly.

>3) At one point you state that 5000 new articles appear everyday in the
>world's English language, scientific literature. You follow this with the
>comment that it is too many articles to translate.
>Using the numbers that you provide and my own guesstimate of 16 pages per
>article, I calculate that between 10,000 and 16,000 full-time translators
>would be required to translate the entire daily volume. Is this really
>such a large number of translators?

>  In your section on language modernization you state that a team was
> appointed by the Malaysian government in 1972 to modernize Bahasa Melayu.
> Apparently that team consisted of both Malaysians and Indonesians. This
> suggest a strong overlap between the national language of Malaysia and
> the wide-area (national) language of Indonesia. The populations of
> Malaysia and Indonesia combined represent hundreds of millions of people.
> A very rough estimate based upon the above guesstimate comes to about 23
> million people per one Malaysian translator.
>Also, in this light would it not be better to speak of the number of
>translators employed by the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, rather than the
>number of books that they translated?

I feel it is important to talk about the output of translators - you may
have a large number of translators but if they are not able to keep up with
the proliferation of published knowledge in English, then it does not
signal well for this field of activity.

I am not sure if it is in this paper but in one of my papers I do give the
figures of translated output and it is found wanting - I shall quote from
one of my papers which was published in "Asian Englishes, 2003/2004: Vol 6,
No. 2"  in a special issue on "The English Language Situation in
Malaysia:  Policy, Nativisation and Standards"  guest edited by me.

"According to Hjh. Hamidah Baba, executive director of the National
Translation Agency, a full time translator can only translate 5-8 pages a
day, while a part-time translator can manage to translate a maximum of 3
pages a day." (Hjh. Hamidah Baba 2001:7)  I also go on to give you an idea
of the quantity of published works in Bahasa Melayu in public universities
which leaves a lot to be desired.

Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka depends a great deal on public universities to
carry out the translation and academics have other priorities.  Through my
research, what seems to be emerging is the fact that publications in
English are much more valued - necessary for international publications and
therefore important for promotions and dissemination of research findings
to a wider audience.  The same academics who bemoan the fact that published
and translated works in Bahasa are found wanting are not willing to devote
their time and energy to this activity.  There needed to be structural
incentives but these were not available and now with the change in language
policy, some universities are trying to institute incentives but it is a
little late like "Closing the barn door after the horse has fled" I am not
sure if I have got it right but something along those lines.

I hope gives you an idea of where we are coming from.

>Please let me close by stating that I enjoyed your paper very much,
>because it gave me a good idea about how Malaysia has gotten where it is
>today. My first overall impression is that Hong Kong, Singapore, and
>Malaysia are all very similar in their approach toward language and
>education. It is as you say "top down".
>Finally, your project appears to serve the government well, as it takes
>Dr. Mahathir's 2002 dictate as a given, rather than challenging the
>assumptions upon which that dictate was based. I have much more to write ,
>but I would like to see how you respond to the above before writing more.
>R. A. Stegemann
>EARTH's Manager and HKLNA-Project Director
>EARTH - East Asian Research and Translation in Hong Kong
>Tel/Fax: 852 2630 0349

Prof. Dr. Saran Kaur Gill
Professor of Sociolinguistics and International Communication
School of Language Studies and Linguistics
Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia
43600 Bangi

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