Malaysia: ad-hoc language policy in Sarawak

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Mon May 26 15:37:29 UTC 2008

Dato Ling Beng Siong vs Dato James Wong in Council

A very interesting anecdote happened about forty years ago when Dato James
Wong (SNAP)was the Limbang member of the Council Negri and Dato Ling Beng
Siong, Bawang Assan Member was the Minister of Social Welfare. If my
friend's recollection was accurate (he was there as legal observer), they
were having a debate on the expenditure of the Nazaruddin WAlk in the Museum
grounds, Kuching. The Honorable Member Dato James Wong asked whether the
Minister of the concerned Ministry was aware of how much money had been
spent on the Nazaruddin Walk and if the money spent had been deliberated
carefully, without causing much distress on the budget of the state.

The Speaker of the Council Negri was Dr. Sockalingam and Sidi Munan was a
translator of Iban to English in case some one could not understand Iban.
The following exchange took place in the Iban language. Dato Ling Beng Siong
did not speak much English but was fluent in Iban, and Dato James Wong could
speak English, Malay and Iban. The two were extremely fluent in Iban as they
were timber merchants. This explained the very unusual debate in the Council
Negri which conducted its affairs in English, Bahasa Malaysia and Iban. This
language policy still remains to this day.

Dato James Wong to the following effect in Iban : Kati nya udah sukat? (Have
you measured the area?)
Dato Ling Beng Siong fluently answered in Iban : Udah. Nuan uleh meda kediri
kian.(You can go there and see for yourself.)

The exchange which took place in Iban could be understood by most of the
members of the Council Negri and created a great deal of laughter. Only Dr.
Sockalingam could not understand Iban and he was very much in the dark. He
asked for a translation. But Sidi Munan replied, "Mr. Speaker, Sir, the two
Honorable Members of the Council Negri could understand each other
perfectly, so there is no necessity for any translation."

That brought the August House down. This can only happen in Sarawak, our
beloved state. I have no intention to defame any one. But it remains an
interesting fact that our honorable members of the Council Negri then were
very humourous and were carrying out their work cordially.

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