The magic of ignorance - English a false prophet?

R. A. Stegemann moogoonghwa at
Wed Jan 26 14:30:23 UTC 2005

Fellow contributors,

Firstly, I would like to thank Anthea for her very interesting and
useful link. I have bookmarked it for future reference. At least a
portion of the data base is open to the world's public free of charge.

Secondly, like Anthea I do not know what the term literacy means as it
applies to the English language. Certainly, it could mean any number of
things. I would like to by-pass this question until I can upload a
portion of my paper that I recently presented at the 2005 Pacific Rim
Conference on my website. There I will provide a useful ranking that I
obtained from the IELTS and can be used by Anthea, Moses, Hal, and
others to provide their own subjective comment objectively.

Thirdly, I do have a better idea of what content localization measures
as it applies to the internet. Only 50% of all Malaysian websites
provide local content in the local language. Since Bahasa Malaysian is
the national language of Malaysia, the local language to which this
statistic refers is probably Bahasa Malaysian, though one cannot be
certain without further inquiry. I have brought this matter up, because
one of the fears expressed by the Malaysian government and Saran Gill
in her book is that Malyasia will not be able to keep up with
Information Age without widespread knowledge of the English language.
Using Trond's example of Finland and my own knowledge about the
internet, the software industry, East Asia, and the regional economy, I
do not find this to be a particularly strong argument for advancing
universal English language requirements in the Far East.  Localization
is a function of local demand, not supply, and software manufactures
will provide whatever is needed to meet that demand. I simply cannot
imagine that baso- meso-, or even mesoacro-lectal speakers of Malaysian
English would prefer English software or webmaterial over that provided
in Bahasa Malaysian or Chinese, unless, of course, the purpose of using
it were to advance their competence in the English language.

Fourthly, my assumptions with regard to who and who does not speak what
language and where that language is spoken were purposely drawn in
broad strokes in order to reduce the amount of mathematical calculation
required to achieve certain estimates. Anyone who criticizes this
technique in broad strokes without talking about the exact numbers
employed is either ignorant with regard to the technique or seeking to
obfuscate the issue by  avoiding a more thorough investigation of its

Fifthly, what is at issue with regard to local varieties of a world
language is not there existence -- obviously they exist; rather it is
their utility to those who use them and the cost and benefits of
creating them. With regard to the English language in the Far East in
particular, they have arisen because national governments have made
them compulsory, and provided a large number of phony arguments to make
them easier to swallow. The question to answer is not whether people
want to learn them, but whether the reasons they give for wanting to
learn them are valid, and what would happen to their desire to learn
them, if they only knew the truth.

Well, this is all I have to say for the moment on this matter until I
have uploaded my paper, or someone else comments, whichever comes

Once again, Anthea, thank you for the very useful link. I have the
links to the IMF, ADB, Malaysian Statistics Department, if you would
like them.


On 26 Jan 2005, at 18:04, Anthea Fraser Gupta wrote:

> 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.
> Anthea
> <winmail.dat>

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list