The magic of ignorance - English a false prophet?

R. A. Stegemann moogoonghwa at
Mon Jan 24 17:33:42 UTC 2005

Dear Hal and fellow contributors,

As I am not sure why you changed the title of our thread, please
forgive me, if I submit my reply under the subject title to which both
Moses and Anthea had responded. Also, please let me begin by thanking
you for providing greater focus on what appears to be the issue
currently at hand.

If I might return to the statistics I provided from Malaysia's 2001
national census. When the census was conducted there were 24 million
people resident in Malaysia. Among these were four major language
groups that can probably be subdivided into many more language
subgroups and dialects. So, as not to complicate the issue, however,
let us assume that everyone belonged to one of these major groups and
that all members of each group spoke in their mother tongue.

Among these four major groups were the Bumiputera Malays (62.2%) , the
Chinese (24.8%), the South Asians (7.4%), and the non-Malaysians (5.6%)
whose language and ethnicity are unknown. Although it is unclear in my
mind where the South Asian and non-Malaysians are resident, it seems
pretty clear that the Chinese Malaysians occupy Malaysia's cities. In
addition, we know that in 2000 thirty-eight percent of all Malaysians
lived in rural areas. This means that if there were no South Asians and
non-Malaysians living in the cities that Malay speakers outnumbered
Chinese speakers about 3 to 2. This makes Chinese an extremely large
urban minority.

Assuming that the information provided by Saran Gill in her book
_International Communication_ is correct, Chinese speakers may study in
English language medium schools provided that they also learn Bahasa
Malaysian, Malaysia's national language. The extent to which these
Chinese attend private schools, and the extent to which they are
trained in the English medium is unclear to me. I am fairly certain
that English is a required language in all of Malaysia's public
schools, just as it is a required language in many, certainly not all
European countries. The question, then, is the preferred language,
between mother tongue Malays and mother tongue Chinese. Is it Bahasa
Malaysian, the national language, or is it English, or some confused
mixture of both. If it is the latter that we are calling English than I
fear that we have different concepts of what is intelligible to the
global English ear. Whatever it is, some have apparently labeled it
basolectal and mesolectal Malaysian English.

In any case, Saran Gill's struggle to create a standardized Malaysian
English that is intelligible to the global ear only applies to the two
percent of all Malaysian that I described in a former email. How this
can be achieved by forcing all Malaysians including ethnic Chinese, and
rural Malaysians to study mathematics and science in the English
language beginning in primary one and eventually extending all the way
until they have completed secondary school is quite beyond me.
Certainly, I would be happy to listen to your insight and that of
others in this regard.

By the way, if I have understood the new ruling correctly, beginning in
2003 "... the teaching of science and mathematics will be taught in
English in Standard One ..." (Gill 2002, p. 118). Standard one is
Malaysia's primary one level.


On 24 Jan 2005, at 21:41, Harold F. Schiffman wrote:

> I agree with Anthea and Moses--what I see in Malaysia is that the
> non-Malays see English as their lifeboat, and I think this may be true
> for
> other ling. minorities in other polities. Since Malaysia has a quota on
> university admissions, and Indian and Chinese-descent Malaysians are
> always oversubscribed for the seats available to them, they have to
> prepare for emigration, or at least for admission to foreign
> unversities.
> The most logical language to help them prepare for this is English;
> this
> is ignoring the other opportunities English prepares them for in a
> globalized world employment market, so accepting Malay and rejecting
> English is suicide. Add to this the fact that Malaysia has recently
> decided to use English for technology subjects in high school, in
> order to
> participate in this same global system makes it clear to me that we
> should
> not condemn those who want to learn English and/or to see it as a
> "false
> prophet."
> Hal Schiffman
> On Mon, 24 Jan 2005, Moses Samuel wrote:
>> Anthea is right on target. And in Malaysia (and in many other
>> countries in Kachru's 'outer circle' I guess) it looks like
>> Phillipson's 'linguistic imperialism' auguments against English may
>> not have widespread support.  Here,  many people would regard English
>> working as a 'partner language' with Malay, the national language,
>> not necessarily against it.
>> Moses Samuel
>> University of Malaya
>> On 24.01.2005 02:36:41, Anthea Fraser Gupta <A.F.Gupta at>
>> wrote:
>>> Stan said,  "I wonder how much of this push for English comes from
>>> "an
>>> ignorant,
>>> self-serving elite". Maybe the the intelligent, outward-looking
>>> masses
>>> are
>>> pushing for English as well."
>>> Absolutely.  It's important to say  that probably everyone in
>>> Malaysia
>>> agrees that all schoolchildren should be taught English and Malay
>>> (the
>>> controversy is in the how). And a large proportion of the population
>>> of
>>> Malaysia already speaks very good English (and most of the rest
>>> speak a
>>> useful amount of English).  We are NOT looking at a place where
>>> English
>>> is known only by a tiny 'elite', but one where English is already
>>> known
>>> by the majority.
>>> Schools have to teach all sorts of stuff, some of which some of the
>>> learners will never use again (I personally have not done a
>>> differential equation since the age of 16). Education is about
>>> offering
>>> children opportunities and choices, not about limiting those
>>> opportunities. I say, keep on teaching differential equations and
>>> English and history and all sorts of other stuff too. However, in
>>> Malaysia, lots of people need English for all sorts of work and
>>> social
>>> reasons, because English is a Malaysia language, not a foreign one.
>>> Anthea
>> --------------------------

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