Sat, Oct 21, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Malaysia mulls fines on English use in legislature


The Malaysian government's top ethnic Malay language institute said yesterday it may impose fines on lawmakers and officials who use English in Parliament and other formal events without prior approval.

"If there is a need to use words or phrases in English, members of Parliament will have to seek permission to do so," said Noresah Baharom, the language department director at the government's Institute of Language and Literature said in an open letter in the New Straits Times newspaper.

"This is a show of respect for Malay as the national and official language of Malaysia ... DBP will be given a mandate to ensure that `code-switching' and mixing of Malay with other languages does not occur in formal situations," she said in the English language paper, referring to her institute's Malay acronym.

A fine of 1,000 ringgit (US$273) could be imposed on offenders, Noresah said in the letter, but did not specify how the department intends to enforce the regulation.

Most Malaysians speak the national language, Malay, also known as Bahasa Malaysia, but English is widely spoken, even in Parliament. A mishmash of both languages -- known as "Manglish" -- is also commonly used in the former British colony.

Critics have said Malaysia's decision in the 1980s to change most of its school text books from English to Malay has hurt its global competitiveness, and caused English language standards among students to plunge.

Malays form about 60 percent of the population, with ethnic Chinese comprising around 25 percent and Indians making up about 10 percent. Noresah said language mixing would no longer be permitted at "formal meetings."

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