Thursday, December 09, 2004

Lingua Franca of the Archipelago

Lingua Franca of the Archipelago

Yesterday a Malaysian friend who was on a business trip to Jakarta SMSed to ask me where's the best place to go for nasi padang. I replied: Sari Bundo, Jalan Juanda--and couldn't help feeling a pang of envy.

I had planned to make a trip to Jakarta this month; but it doesn't look like my schedule will permit it. Half my life is still in Jakarta: my new QBWorld membership card is still waiting to be collected from their Jalan Sunda store, my Sarinah VIP card is with Marlyn, I'm still maintaining my bank accounts and credit card over there and I need to top-up my XLcom prepaid account!

Back here in Malaysia, I still haven't really settled down to living like a local KLite yet, and am still using my odd mish mash of Melayu and Indonesian. My command of Malay, which was never good in first place, is I think now, completely hopeless. Sometimes I inadvertently address Malay salesgirls here as "mbak"; words like "nggak" and "bisa' keep rolling out from my tougue; I'm always worrying whether I can find "parkir" rather than parking and I ask waiters for the "bon" instead of the bill everytime.

No matter how bad my Malay has become, at least I'm better than some of my Singaporean friends who don't even understand what the lyrics of their national anthem, Majulah Singapura mean. The older generation of Singaporeans could at least speak some pasar Malay; but they are a dying breed, which I think is quite sad.

Malay is a beautiful language and one that is not difficult to learn, as many foreigners would testify. I often find bules in Indonesia who had the benefit formal bahasa classes speaking the language quite flawlessly, albeit with an accent.

No one would have blamed Sukarno had he chosen Javanese as the national language of Indonesia; but he made the wiser choice of choosing Malay instead, which is more egalitarian, easier to learn and had for centuries been the lingua franca for trading in the Malay Archipelago.

Does the Malay language have a future? Our Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka would certainly like to think so. Let's say that the language will still be around in 300 years time. Now, if we are able to travel forward in time to the 23rd century and happen to bump into someone who speaks the Malay tongue, somehow I have a strong feeling that the person will most likely address you as "Pak" (or "Ibu") and greet you with a "Selamat Siang".

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