“When a language dies, it takes with it a vast array of knowledge-stories of plant, medicinal uses, songs, history, art, culture and the identity of people which is embedded in their language.”
How true is the statement above? I find it as very true.
Coming from an exogamymarriage background, apart from exposing to different cultures and different upbringing, one tend to be able to speak bilingual. In my case, apart from being fluently in English and Bahasa Malaysia, I can speak fluently in Sarawak Malay, Kenyah, Iban and Kelabit but not that fluent in Chinese (Hakka, Hokkien, FooChow, Cantonese), Kayan, Saban, Penan and Berawan.
Despite of that weakness of mine, I still can identify the origin of the language from a conversation. At time, people would mistaken by my look and start to communicate with me with a not familiar spoken language. At time, I would replied back with the same language and at time, I would replied back with the standard languages spoken (maybe in English, BM, etc).
Nowadays, especially in Sarawak, the incidents are norm due to the diversity of ethnic racial background. In Sarawak, there are 44 identified living language (still spoken) and 2 of it had ‘died’. It is no doubt that modernisation and industralisation are deemed to be one of the factors of the most influential factors on the sustainability of indigenous language. Apart from that, religion, migration, economic, inter-marriage, education and profession are also the contributor to these factors.
Bottom line, the dominant language will stay.
In today’s society, most of modern parent prefer their children to speak the mainstream language as it gives them an economic advantange. To some of the indigenous group in Sarawak, English is seen as a language of prestige thus as a result of this transformation has put some languages at a risk of falling out of use. Overtime, the language itself will extinct by itself. This is what happening to my family. We rarely spoke Chinese in the house and in the near future, my next generation might end up knowing the Chinese language as a ‘moribund language’ as they are not speaking it at all but they know the existence of such language.
Can these threaten languages be saved is another thing to ponder at.
Efforts of ‘rescuing’ the language in terms of documented the vocabulary and grammar is just not enough. The effort can be seen as preserving the knowledge but not saving the language. The language will either evolve or die out. I think that it is my duty (or your duty) to initiate the awareness of the importance of a language. For a start, do a language maintenance in the household. You may set a rule to communicate only in your own mother tougue whenever you’re at home. From there, probably it can be expanded to associations level. And later, things can progress to government policies (maybe as I liked to dream big ;p ). But what matter the most is the awareness of doing so.
Do you know that based on linguistic research findings, there are of 2 languages extinct in a month?? Do you want your language to be in the extinct list too??
Start loving your own mother tougue today.
ps – ‘akek keluk ikuk’ (in Kenyah Uma Pawe’) literally mean ‘i love you’.