As Malaysia has been effectively a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural society since the 19th century, it follows that it has also been a multi-lingual one, although both English and Malay have been successively made the official languages.
Now, while almost all Malaysians of different ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic backgrounds have long accepted and respected Malay as the official language as enshrined in the Federal Constitution and also use it voluntarily as a lingua franca for inter-ethnic communication, other languages such as English, Chinese and its various dialects as well as Tamil, Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam and Hindi, are studied, practised and used widely in society.
However, at the individual level, there are still the continuing reflections and introspections on the question of the relationship between language and ethno-cultural identity. There is also the consideration of utility in a globalising world.
All these reflections, introspections and considerations are, of course, premised on the assumption that one can only learn or master one language. Removing this assumption often opens up a vista.
To explore these individual reflections, introspections and considerations, this writer interviewed, via email, Dr Kua Kia Soong who is the trilingual principal of the privately-funded New Era College in Kajang.