The magic of ignorance - English a false prophet?

Anthea Fraser Gupta A.F.Gupta at
Wed Jan 26 10:04:00 UTC 2005

According to ASEAN connect ( in 2002 50% of the Malaysian population were literate in English. I do not know the source of this figure, or what the measure of 'literacy' was. I have written a number of critiques of official figures, which always have to be interrogated, and I do not reject the experience of people who know a place, such as myself, Hal, and Moses. 
I certainly did not live in an expatriate enclave myself, and I am pretty sure Moses doesn't! Assumptions such as "let us assume that everyone belonged to one of these major groups and
that all members of each group spoke in their mother tongue" violate the real complexity of what happens in multilingual places, where a large proportion of the population live in multilingual families, and many people are products of mixed marriages. Selection of a code to use in a particular context is complex and determined by all sorts of social factors which people are sophisticated to cope with. Lots of Chinese and Indian people live in rural areas too, by the way. And of course Saran Gill's information is correct..

The Malaysian government has given the world the impression that the standard of English in Malaysia is poor. IT ISN'T. Of course there are local varieties of English -- there are local varieties of English in the Appalachians, New York, London, and Northumberland as well. What a boring world it would be for linguists without dialects.

My last word on this topic: the standard of English in Malaysia is good. The standard of Malay is good. Everyone is happy to learn English and Malay (and some people want to learn some other languages as well). The fuss is about the details. Education can always be improved and all governments alter things.



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