Tapping Malay language to open doors in S-E Asia

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat (third from left) at the official launch of Malay Language Month on Saturday with (from left) language ambassador Sujimy Mohamad, Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Faishal Ibrahim, who is
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat (third from left) at the official launch of Malay Language Month on Saturday with (from left) language ambassador Sujimy Mohamad, Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Faishal Ibrahim, who is chairman of the Malay Language Council, language ambassadors Norshahril Saat, Aqmal Noor, Megat Firdaus and Nabillah Jalal, as well as Parliamentary Secretary for Health Rahayu Mahzam, who is chairman of the Bulan Bahasa Committee.PHOTO: HENG SWEE KEAT/FACEBOOK

While conducting field research and interacting with community leaders in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, Dr Norshahril Saat often has to pick up on nuances.

A good command of the Malay language, the lingua franca of South-east Asia, has helped him engage with the different communities, said the 37-year-old.

But there are still subtle differences.

"Once, while speaking with a Kelantanese politician, I took some time to digest and understand some words, and the same is true while conducting research in Indonesia, as there may be Indonesian terms that are thrown in. Basic Malay still allows me to communicate in these cases and learn new words along the way," he said.

The senior fellow at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute and chairman of the Malay Heritage Foundation was welcomed to the Duta Bahasa (language ambassador) fraternity at the official launch of Bulan Bahasa (Malay Language Month), which aired on Saturday. 

The other new language ambassadors are Dr Nur Farhan Alami, a Raffles Hospital geriatric medicine specialist, and Mr Sujimy Mohamad, managing director of ScreenBox, an award-winning Singapore-based digital content creating agency.

Dr Norshahril, who conducts research in the areas of politics and political Islam in South-east Asia and has contributed articles to the Malay media, said he will be championing the use and promotion of the Malay language in his role as Duta Bahasa.

"I have pledged my commitment to fostering the language in the future. I want to engage young people, students in particular, and share with them the importance of the Malay language," he added.

For the first time, Bulan Bahasa went online this year. It will run till Oct 11, with activities conducted through online platforms such as Zoom and Facebook Live, including a lyric writing workshop and a contemporary shadow puppetry workshop.

Starting as a Malay Language Council biennial event in 1988, Bulan Bahasa has since 2011 become an annual celebration focused on encouraging the community to embrace and use the Malay language in their daily lives.

At the event launch on Mediacorp's Malay TV station Suria on Saturday night, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who was guest of honour, said he was heartened to see the unwavering commitment from the community and its partners in promoting the love and appreciation for the language.

"A good command of the Malay language can open many doors for us and unlock many opportunities in Singapore and in South-east Asia," he said.

"Enabling Singaporeans to have a good command of our mother tongue languages is not easy, but when we succeed, the results will be very rewarding," added DPM Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Finance Minister.

REACHING OUT TO YOUTH

I have pledged my commitment to fostering the language in the future. I want to engage young people, students in particular, and share with them the importance of the Malay language.

DR NORSHAHRIL SAAT, chairman of the Malay Heritage Foundation, who was welcomed to the Duta Bahasa fraternity.

A CHALLENGING TASK

Enabling Singaporeans to have a good command of our mother tongue languages is not easy, but when we succeed, the results will be very rewarding.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER HENG SWEE KEAT, who said he was heartened to see the unwavering commitment from the community and its partners in promoting appreciation for the Malay language.

He said he is also taking Malay language classes and has been trying to improve his ability to converse in Malay.

"I hope I can communicate better with all of you," he told viewers.

Madam Rahayu Mahzam, chairman of the Bulan Bahasa Committee, noted the imagination and creativity behind each virtual event, saying these will be integral to its efforts in keeping the Malay language interesting and relevant for future generations.

She also welcomed the new language ambassadors to the Duta Bahasa fraternity and said she looked forward to their contribution and support of the Malay language.

Readers can go to mbms.sg for more information and follow social media platforms facebook.com/ majlisbahasa or @BulanBahasa on Instagram for more updates.

Malavika Menon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2020, with the headline 'Tapping Malay language to open doors in S-E Asia'. Print Edition | Subscribe