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Academic Paper


Title: English in Malaysia: a case of the past that never really went away?
Author: Jeannet Stephen
Linguistic Field: Sociolinguistics
Subject Language: English
Abstract: The English language has been part of Malaysia for a long time, going back to the beginning of British colonial rule in the 18th century. The present attitudes towards English can be said to vary from conservative (e.g. referring to it as bahasa penjajah, literally ‘language of the coloniser’) to general acceptance (e.g. English is part of Malaysian history) and to a liberal/modern/Western outlook (e.g. calling for the return of English-medium schools). The conservative view stems from the history, or, for some, the memory, of the role English played in the colonial education system as the language of the elite which served to separate the urban and rural populations into the haves and the have-nots. Inevitably, the abolition of English-medium education became one of the key matters for debate during the campaign for independence from British rule in the 1950s. Malay nationalists considered English-medium education to be part of a British agenda to maintain control of the country after Independence. Replacing English with Malay as the medium of instruction as well as the national language in Malaya was, therefore, vital. In 1967, through the National Language Act, Malay became the sole official language in Malaysia a decade after Independence. Thus, from 1970 onwards, the phasing out of English as a medium of instruction from the Malaysian education system was carried out fervently, while at the same time Malay was zealously promoted, not only in education but in all spheres of public life.

CUP at LINGUIST

This article appears in English Today Vol. 29, Issue 2, which you can read on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .



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