Tuesday, September 25, 2012

My Rant on my new TESL module, why Tamil is a national language in Singapore and not Malaysia, why I cannot speak Tamil properly, and why English is my primary language

Today was my first lecture for a new module called Language, Education and Development. The whole premise of the module seems interesting, but what's scary is the assessment is 100% exam-based.... and I am no good at memorising things. I need to get a hand on on stuff and apply them, at least in an essay form, which is why I prefer assignments, not that I'm any better at them. But it is my final year and I have been told I've been making steady progress. So God willing, I will do well.

So back to the module. I learned some interesting key terminology relating to the module today. They include the different languages we acquire and how they are of use to us. For instance, I know Malay, English, Tamil and some Indonesian, but they are all of different purpose to me. This gives them different names in my context. 

So I will be classifying the different languages I know according to the various terminologies I learned today.

1) First language/mother tongue/native tongue 

This is the language a person acquires in their early years. Apart from my parents, I was also raised by my grandparents. They spoke to me in Tamil all the time. And I suppose that is only appropriate since the ethnic group I belong to is called Tamil as well, which is an Indo-European group native of South India and norther Sri Lanka. But I still wonder, does first language, mother tongue and native tongue all mean the same thing? Hopefully we will learn more about that through the module. 

2) National language 

This is a language which functions as the main language of a country. Since the majority of Malaysians comprises of the Malay ethnic group, it seems only appropriate that Malay is our national language. However, down in Singapore, they have four national languages, which is English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil. I suppose that is only fair since Chinese make up the city state's majority, while the Malays are its natives, and the Tamil-speaking Indians would feel left out since they are one of the largest minorities. Nevertheless, the governments of both countries provide schools for all these major languages. 

3) Official language

This is a language, or languages which by law must be used in government, law, education and other similar institutions in particular country. In Malaysia, the national language, Malay is the official language. Following independence, Malay gradually replaced the role of English as the country's official language. I suppose it is a question of pride and national identity that we should have one of our own languages as the official language. 

4) Pidgin

This is a language which has arisen as the result of contact between people of different languages, usually formed from a mixing of the languages. My closest encounter to a pidgin would be the Bazaar Malay, or more commonly known as Bahasa Pasar or Bahasa Rojak. The contact between the different ethnic groups living in the country has resulted in Bazaar Malay. There are many general simplifications that occur within this pidgin. I would dare say I use this language more than any other language in my daily life. 

6) Indigenous language 

This is a language of people considered to be the original inhabitants of an area. In Malaysia, apart from the official/national language of Malay, there are many other spoken languages that we might consider to be indigenous to the land. In West Malaysia for instance, some Malays still speak Javanese, Bugis and Minangkabau. In East Malaysia, the each Dayak ethnic group has its own language, with Iban and Kadazan being the most prominent. 

7) Second language

This is a language which is used habitually by people whose mother tongues are different in order to facilitate communications between them. This means, English is the second language only to the Malays of Malaysia. For the rest of us, it is a third, or perhaps even a fourth language. This is because we speak Chinese, Tamil, Iban or Kadazan at home. But at school or at work, we speak mostly Malay. Or could I be wrong? Or is it possible to have two second languages? I'm interested to know more about this in the module.

8) Vernacular language

Also known as minority language, this is a language which is the mother tongue of a group which is socially or politically dominated by another group speaking a different language. In  Malaysia, that would be the Chinese and Indians languages. But still, we have vernacular schools that cater for those who speak in these languages. Also, there are various TV shows and radio channels that are in these languages. Most signboards   are also in vernacular languages. So, it is very much like Singapore, only without the national language status. This makes sense since vernacular languages don't function as Malaysia's main language. I'm not sure how it is in Singapore though. 

9) Home language

This is a language most often used within a speaker's household. Growing up in an Indian-Sri Lankan family, my Tamil was only limited to being used when speaking to my Tamil-speaking grandparents. My parents had always spoken to me in English for as far as I remember, though they pretend they never did whenever their friends and relatives ask them why my Tamil is horrible. So I suppose English is, and has always been my home language. 

10) Primary language 

This is a language which a speaker uses most often and which they regard as their main language. What can I say; having grown up in a predominantly English-speaking household, having studied in a fairly urban school and now, pursuing a degree in teaching English, I suppose English is my primary language.  

Having reflected on what I've learned today, I suppose the main reason why I'm so interested in this topic is because I get to know myself a little more, and also the socio-political geography of my country. I'm most definitely looking forward to learning more in this module. =)

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