Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A language maligned

I can barely read the local papers without cringing these days.

It seems having to deal with news of murder, crooks ripping off helpless old ladies and natural disasters is not bad enough.

The editors have to let bad grammar, mis-spellings, awkward headlines and downright bizarre phrases through to make my newspaper-reading experience a painful one.

Does anybody CARE about the English language anymore? Or is it going the way of the dodo? Someday soon, we’re going to hear young adults say over their teh peng glasses, “English? Oh, yeah hor, I think larst time sure got one langwich call like dat wan.”

Not so much as a note of mourning will be heard for the language when it finally gives its last breath and dies. Not even 10 seconds of respectful silence will be observed. Not here, anyway.

Why do I say so? Because judging by the standard of English in Malaysian newspapers (and most magazines) today, nobody cares that the language is being mauled to pieces on a daily basis. Apparently, it doesn’t matter how the language is being spoken, as long as we… especially we in the developed state… SPEAK ENGLISH! H’RAY! Break out the bubbly, we’re officially “educated”! And “developed”!

I find it hilarious that the country’s most widely circulated and read English daily has a one-page column on all things English — speaking and writing it correctly, common misuses, etc.

I only find this hilarious because if I didn’t laugh about it, I’d cry about what they’d done to the language in the rest of the paper.

The pink book said!

When I started primary school, my mother bought me a “homework book” to write down all assignments in. I suppose the little pink paperback was her way of making the sudden shock of rules, nasty older students and teachers from a different universe a little more pleasant on me.

One of the first few pages had this “Arabic quotation” (if any Arabs read this, please verify the accuracy of the quote for me. Thank you.):

He who knows and knows that he knows,
He is wise. Follow him.
He who knows not and knows he knows not,
He is simple. Teach him.
He who knows and knows not he knows,
He is asleep. Wake him.
He who knows not and knows not he knows not,
He is a fool. Shun him.

Like Calvin of my favourite comic strip, I wish I could open a roadside stall selling “The Plain Truth”. Imagine this: “Hey, you! You act the grand lady but your grandma at the fish market speaks better English! Looks and smells better, too! That’ll be RM100, please.”

Likewise, there are people who, upon having their English corrected, get all flustered and indignant and insist that they've got it right. How much is it worth to tell them, “Hey, if you were an Arab in the old days, you’d be a fool. Since you’re a Malaysian in the Noughties, that means you're just plain stupid! Ha ha ha!”? Pity I don't have the privilege of being small and cute, no matter how annoying and mouthy.

Like someone who mentioned that a certain project will be publicised through “many mediums”. Correction: “You mean media?” “No, MEDIUMS.” “But… [pausing for reflection upon seeing annoyed look that I would dare to correct her supposedly good English] OK, mediums.”

The high price of diplomacy

It was on the tip of my tongue to say, “Huh? You’re going to hire all those poor out-of-work temple clairvoyants as sandwich men now that they’re in between festivals? So kind!”

I think I’d have paid at least a ringgit to be able to say that right then.

But my ensuing silence, though difficult to keep, was probably worth a few ringgit more.

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