Losing more than just words

National 4 minutes, 55 seconds


“LANGUAGE is the dress of thought,” is the famous statement of 18th century English writer Samuel Johnson.

So if your clothes reflect your speech, then majority of the Bruneian populace will be garbed either in a suit or the traditional Baju Kurung and Baju Cara Melayu but only a few will be seen dressed in the traditional clothes of Bumiputera or indigenous groups.

Nowadays, it is normal to hear Bruneians, particularly the younger generation, talk in a mixture of standard Malay and English while those who speak both indigenous Malay and standard Malay are few and far in between.

The local dialects used by the seven indigenous groups: Belait, Bisaya, Brunei, Dusun, Kedayan, Murut and Tutong are fading fast. The seven ethnic dialects are categorised as Malay languages under Brunei Constitution of 1959.

Bruneians’ preference to use standard Malay and English not only at home, in schools and even in business dealings is not out of whim but the need to assimilate, communicate and be understood.

“To understand each other, they may use English or Malay, which are widely spoken in the country. (However) The use of non-ethnic dialects at conversational usage levels in their daily lives can affect the ability of the young indigenous people from learning their own ethnic languages,” said Hjh Aminah Hj Momin, the Director of Language and Literature Bureau, in a recent interview.

Hjh Aminah said that factors contributing to the rarely spoken ethnic dialects include inter-marriage, married couple moving to another district and away from the family; and the rise of foreign languages, specifically English, becoming the lingua franca for education institutions.

According to her, the young ethnic people are very keen to speak foreign languages as they enter their formal education. “They are very keen to use foreign languages at daily conversational usage levels,” she said, adding that this could hinder in the development of ethnic languages.

However, she emphasised: “We are not blaming on the education (institutions) for using the foreign languages.”

Hjh Aminah said with the young married adults leaving their parents or moving away from home, many of the couples no longer speak the ethnic dialects with their spouses.

For example, “when the marriage is between Brunei and Tutong descendants, the married couple will prefer to communicate in a language that can connect them.”

Majdurano Georgiana Majallah Sain, born of Dusun-Bisaya descent, said that she would speak standard Malay when communicating with her parents at home. “We seldom speak in Dusun or Bisaya,” said Majdurano Georgiana.

She will only be speaking in Dusun or Bisaya dialect when she meets her relatives. “But we will also mix our conversation with Malay Language,” said the 25-year Information Technology (IT) Supporter.

Teacher assistant Masura Riang, 23, of Murut descent, said learning local dialects perhaps would be difficult for children who live in the city as they might have “less practice” and “less exposure.”

Being one of the young members of her ethnic group, Masura expressed her commitment to preserve the Murut dialect t by keeping in touch with the elders to deepen her understanding about the indigenous language and at the same time practice to speak the language with her peers.

But the government is not taking the slow death of its indigenous dialects without a fight it is trying its best to preserve the ethnic tongues to prevent it from dying with the older generation. It will not be a silent witness to the disappearance of its Bruneian identity.

It will shout out to the world that Brunei is a linguistically-diverse country and its dialects are the nation’s priceless possessions.

The education institutions can play their role to teach students ethnic dialects by incorporating the lessons in the Civics or Malay Muslim Monarchy (MIB) subject, said Hjh Aminah.

“Preserving the language is important because it is our identity. What important is that we must maintain our ethnic dialects to prove that we are the people of Brunei.”

Among other efforts to ensure the survival of the local dialects, the Language and Literature Bureau in 2011 had already published a book which recorded 2,000 entries used by the seven ethnic groups.

In addition, the Bureau has tapped the help of the Radio Televisyen Brunei (RTB) to introduce the words used by the ethnic groups into its programmes.

The Language and Literature Bureau is currently analysing 1,000 words used in Brunei’s seven ethnic dialects. The words are being analysed in the various aspect such as phonology, phonetic and morphology.

“The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) requires us to take care of the mother tongue in addition to the existing standard (official) language as each language of the Malay ethnic group represents the culture of the nation,” said Hjh Aminah, adding that if we take care and strengthen the language, it shows the development of our culture.

The Bureau also organised competitions on the usage of the indigenous dialects during which the students of invited schools presented a story on the dialect of their choice.

Similar competition was also held at the mukim/village level with one previously took place in Tutong District where various ethnic groups live harmoniously.

Sharing his view on the matter, Legislative Council member Yang Berhormat Hj Ramli Hj Lahit, who is also Penghulu of Mukim Telisai in Tutong District, said that during the previous Family Day event, the villagers participated in poems reading and quiz using Dusun dialect. “The participation of the villagers is encouraging and it is entertaining,” said YB Hj Ramli.

He said that only the older generation aged 50 years and above who usually practice the ethnic dialects. He underscored the need of collaborative efforts among the relevant parties to maintain the use of the indigenous languages.

YB Hj Ramli expressed hope that the relevant units in the village consultative councils, mukim consultative councils and schools in Tutong District will continue to organise such events in the future.

The Brunei Times