S.H.E. vs Nameewee and multilingualism
I refer to the Malaysiakini report Namewee in a new video controversy .
Recently, we were presented an example of Newton’s Laws of Motion (Third Law) with regard to Mandarin language and particularly in referring to Nameewee’s (Wee Meng Chee) latest controversial video clip.
According to Newton, ‘to every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’. In social science dialectic, one may rephrase this theory as ‘on one hand...on the other hand’.
Back to Nameewee’s video clip, he seems portray Mandarin language as of ‘no value’ when compared to English in Malaysia. This is in complete contrast with one of S.H.E’s (a Taiwanese female band) songs entitled ‘Mandarin (Chinese) Language’.
In their song, S.H.E. claim that ‘among the different people of the world with different skin colours, hair, nationalities and tastes, the Mandarin language is the most popular choice’.
It continues: ‘The whole world is learning Mandarin’ because ‘Mandarin is being more and more globalised’ and therefore, ‘this (Mandarin) language we (Chinese) speak makes all other people listen seriously’. Mandarin in the S.H.E. song is a marvelous and valuable language.
The equal and opposite reaction to the S.H.E song is Nameewee’s video, portraying Mandarin language as ‘shameful’ and ‘useless’. In his video clip, knowing Mandarin without mastering English mean it is hard to get employment in the urban areas.
Being told to balik kampung actually juxtaposes Mandarin as a village language to English as an urban language in the Malaysian context.
Attention should also be paid to the issue of the over- domination of the English language in both as the medium of instruction in Malaysian colleges and for employment until Mandarin-speaking Malaysians are isolated and discriminated.
Besides Mandarin, Malaysians should also do a reality check on the survival of the Malay language as well as other minority languages. I have regularly been getting responses in English from even Malay speakers despite the fact that I spoke to them in Bahasa Melayu.
This reflects a choice to speak in English, which is an early symptom of the extinction of a language.
One should realise that language is a hidden resource to unlock knowledge, bridge differences (particularly due to mis-communication), to foster relationships for social harmony or business and to reflect on human civilisation (as in a Malay saying, bahasa jiwa bangsa ).
Hence, multiracial Malaysia should encourage multilingualism to blossom but not over-emphasisie on a particular language be it the English or the Malay language.
Neither should we politicise or threaten any expression of dissatisfaction due to language matters, but debate them constructively.
Complication of mankind’s destiny in all aspects has created a spectrum of colours between black and white. S.H.E.’s song and Nameewee’s video (Mandarin and English) could represent the opposite ends while our debate (in other languages) could fill up the in-between with variety.