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Embrace Our Languages

Wong Shu Lee  


  February 19, 2022

Being born in Malaysia, we are blessed with diversity in our cultures and languages. Although Bahasa Melayu is our official language, we are given the freedom to speak and learn other languages. 


Languages spoken in our country include various Chinese varieties such as Cantonese, Hokkien, and Hakka, the Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Malayalam, and Punjabi languages from India, and a host of indigenous languages such as Iban. 


Languages are not just a medium of communication. Every language comes with its complex implications for identity, social integration, education, and development. However, due to the globalization processes, many languages are increasingly under threat,or disappearing altogether. 


When languages fade, so does the world's rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression — valuable resources for ensuring a better future — are also lost. 


According to studies, every two weeks a language disappears taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage. At least 43% of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given a place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world. 


International Mother Language Day is observed every year on 21st February to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. 


Though we can’t neglect the importance of learning English because it serves not only as a lingua franca but also as a lingua cultura and a lingua academica. However, other languages shouldn’t be perceived as less prestigious, uneducated, primitive, obsolete, and nonstandard. 


As mentioned, a language goes beyond the idea of a medium of interaction. It is not simply a tool with which we communicate both orally and in written form. Instead, it is an ideological entity or construct — the constellation of beliefs and traditions held by the individual speaker. It is loaded with values and interests and therefore isn’t value-free. Therefore, we need to preserve our languages. 


Let’s practice your mother tongue language at home, and perhaps share some interesting phrases of your language with your friends from other ethnicities. 


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