Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bahasa Melayu di Malaysia, Bahasa Arab di UAE

Membaca kontraversi mengenai penggunaan bahasa lain di papan tanda jalan di Pulau Pinang membawa kepada persoalan dan dilema bahasa Melayu di Malaysia.
United Malays National Organisation yang membawa ketuanan Melayu sebagai obor perjuangan sendiri masih berjiwa Inggeris dalam nama parti terbesar Melayu sedunia itu. Penggunaan bahasa Inggeris dalam pengajaran Sains dan Matematik oleh pemimpin United Malays National Organisation sendiri adalah langkah ke belakang yang mesti dirombak untuk mendaulatkan bahasa Melayu diperingkat akademik.

Saya sendiri adalah generasi yang mendapat pendidikan ke peringkat SPM dalam bahasa Melayu sepenuhnya. Setelah SPM, saya dihantar ke UiTM untuk kursus intensif bahasa Inggeris sebelum dihantar ke New Zealand.
Kursus 6 bulan itu berjaya memberikan saya kefahaman bahasa Inggeris yang sepatutnya menjadi pengisian dari Tingkatan 1 lagi dalam menguasai bahasa Inggeris. Di New Zealand, sewaktu di Tingkatan 7, saya mengambil subjek bahasa Inggeris yang mempunyai bahan kesusasteraan Inggeris dan New Zealand. Mulanya terkial-kial tetapi akhirnya, alhamdulillah menambah minat saya untuk menguasai bahasa Inggeris sehingga mengambil subjek minor ke tahun dua dalam kesusasteraan Inggeris.

Dilema yang sama dihadapi oleh bahasa Arab di UAE ketika ini!

How will Arabic be preserved with rules like these?

If one is to believe the statements coming out of Government, then one major concern is the way in which the whole nature and ethos of what is being described as the “UAE’s national identity” is being undermined and lost as a result of the development of the past 30 or 40 years. Indeed, this year has been dubbed “Year of National Identity” – how to define it and how to preserve it.
There are many reasons for the “undermining”, which certainly exists. At one level, it’s a simple reflection of the change in the country’s demography. What was, in large measure, an Arab country in the not-so-distant past is now one where more than 80 per cent of the population are non-Emiratis, and where over two thirds, at a guess, are non-Arabs. Not only are languages other than Arabic widely used, such as Urdu, English, Bengali, Malayalam, and, increasingly, Mandarin and the various Filipino languages, but a new lingua franca has emerged, and is spreading, which is a curious mix of Arabic, Urdu and English words and a highly-simplified grammar. I call it “Urdubic”, though others may have their own name for it.
At another level, the threat to national identity comes from increasing globalisation – whether it be in business, on television channels, absorbed as a by-product of education overseas, or in a non-native tongue at home. That’s not just a matter of language, of course, but in culture and daily life. Even in food – where the all-pervasive presence of American fast-food chains affects almost all, with a consequent rise in obesity and heart disease.
My concern, however, is with language, particularly the use of Arabic. Of course English is widely used in business, and, indeed, in Government. It would be difficult to engage with the outside world otherwise. It is absolutely right that English is considered to be a high priority in both Government and private schools. Any young Emirati today who lacks fluency in English will be at a clear disadvantage to better-equipped compatriots in the future.
I worry, though, that, in the drive to promote a knowledge of English as a second language, the need to promote Arabic as a first language is being sidelined.I am not bothered about those who have a different mother tongue and for whom Arabic will always be a second language, though I regret that so many expatriate non-Arabs make no effort to try to learn a few simple words. That’s pitiful. Rather, I am concerned about those for whom Arabic is a first language.
I am told by colleagues who recruit native Arabic speakers, including Emiratis, into positions where a proper level of Arabic literacy is required, that all too often the standards even of university graduates with degrees in the Arabic language are simply not up to scratch. That must be in part due to the teaching they receive, both in school and university, as well as the use of Arabic at home.I recently had an interesting conversation with the headmistress of one of Abu Dhabi’s leading primary schools. Around 20 per cent of her students are Emiratis and in some classes there’s an almost 50-50 split between those with Arabic as the mother tongue (Emiratis and others) and the rest, many whose first language is English but many from Europe, India and elsewhere.
The language of instruction in the school is English, so that, naturally, takes priority. In accordance with Ministry of Education guidelines, the school provides Arabic only at the kindergarten or foundation stages (up to five years old) for those whose mother tongue is Arabic, in two 20-minute conversation classes a week. Is that really sufficient for Emirati and other Arab children, particularly those being brought up in homes where parents, sadly, might devolve much of the responsibility for their children to employees who speak no Arabic whatsoever? Will those children ever be properly fluent in their mother tongue?
I have a particular interest in the topic because my wife, a native Arabic speaker, and I have a small child currently in the kindergarten stage. It will be a hard task to bring her up to be as bilingual as possible, though we’re trying. She is having the twice-weekly conversation classes and, provided her level stays high enough, she should go on to the formal classes in Arabic for native speakers next year.
I gather, though, that the rough rule used by the Ministry of Education to determine whether a child should go into “native speaker” classes is based on the nationality of the father. How, I wonder, do they assess a couple of Arab birth who have taken up British, Canadian or American citizenship? There are plenty of those around.And as for mixed marriages, I, as a Briton, would be ruled out from the start. Were my child to be put in a class next year designed for those for whom Arabic is not a mother tongue – simple beginners – it would be a distinct step backwards. I have no quarrel with the school: they don’t set the guidelines and, rightly, must focus on English.
Language is, surely, a fundamental part of national identity. So what is the Ministry of Education doing to tackle this issue of declining Arabic literacy skills among so many of the country’s native Arabic speakers, Emiratis and others?After more than 30 years here, I should, I concede, speak much better Arabic than I do. I hope that my young child will do so, and my wife and I intend to make the effort to ensure that she does. But I’m well aware it’s not going to be easy. Shu Sawee?

Peter Hellyer is a writer and consultant specialising in the UAE’s heritage and environment. He has also written extensively on the country’s social, political and economic development


Brian Barker said...

I think the World needs a spoken lingua franca as well.

An interesting video can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LV9XU

Evidence can be seen at http://www.lernu.net

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