Set up Sarawak Languages Ordinance, Ba Kelalan rep proposes

Set up Sarawak Languages Ordinance, Ba Kelalan rep proposes

KUCHING (May 8): Ba Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian has proposed for the state to have a Sarawak Languages Ordinance to integrate indigenous languages and cultural content into formal education curricula at all levels.

He said this is to ensure the transmission of cultural knowledge and traditions to future generations.

“As we are now proclaiming our status as an autonomous region within Malaysia, this is an opportune time for us. Sarawak has her own and separate identity as a land with many native communities co-existing in harmony.

“We should do everything possible to ensure that none of our communities and their languages are forgotten, to one day becoming extinct,” he said when debating the motion of thanks for the Yang di-Pertuan Negeri’s opening address today.

He said he has spoken on several occasions of the need to preserve and teach Sarawak’s native languages to Sarawak’s younger generations.

He opined that one will learn their culture and tradition through language, thus to preserve one’s culture, one must preserve and teach native languages.

On that note, he said globally there has been an increase in awareness of the need to preserve native languages.

“Interestingly, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the period between 2022 and 2032 as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (IDIL 2022-2032), to draw global attention on the critical situation of many indigenous languages and to mobilise stakeholders and resources for their preservation, revitalisation and promotion,” he said.

He also said that the Sarawak government portal states that there are “27 distinct indigenous ethnic groups that speak at least 45 different languages and dialects” in the state.

“However, from a research perspective, the best reference (used by linguists) would be Ethnologue, which is set up by the Summer institute of Linguistics.

“Their data from 2019 and 2024 show different statistics. In 2019, they listed 134 languages in Malaysia with 95 threatened, 15 dying and two extinct. In 2024, they listed only 111 living languages in Malaysia, 93 threatened languages and three extinct.

“In 2023, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka listed four of our native languages as extinct: Seru, Pegu, Bliun, and Lelak. Several others have few speakers left, such as the Lahanan language (350 speakers in 1981), Berawan (3,600 speakers in 2010) and Tring (550 speakers in 2000),” he said.

Meanwhile, Baru said some scholars have concluded that most of the native languages that have survived thus far have done so because of the intervention of Christian missionaries.

This was due to their efforts to spread the Gospel, also learned the local languages, and translated the Bible, Hymns and prayers into indigenous languages.

“As an example, being my native language, Lun Bawang. One such missionary couple was Pendita Meripa and his wife Ganit who translated the Old and New Testament and many hymns into the Lun Bawang language,” he said.

Hence in order to make a concerted effort to preserve Sarawak’s native languages, he would also request that the government establish a dedicated taskforce for language, and cultural maintenance and preservation.

The taskforce will be entrusted to create an official inventory of ethnicities, including all sub-ethnic groups, and languages spoken within Sarawak.

“It will also develop and propose a Sarawak Language Policy that will promote linguistic diversity and multilingualism as integral components of Sarawak’s cultural heritage, and establish guidelines for the preservation, revitalisation, and promotion of indigenous languages, dialects, and cultures.

“Most importantly, it will advocate for the integration of indigenous languages and cultural content into formal education curricula at all levels, ensuring the transmission of cultural knowledge and traditions to future generations,” he said.


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