Mixing languages

According to an article I found today, the government of Malaysia is worried about the way young Malays are mixing Malay with other languages. This is known as “rojak” language and the most common combination of languages is Malay and English. The Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports has called on the authorities to “to implement and monitor the use of proper Malay language”.

The article also talks of the Malay language being “eroded” and “polluted” and of the need to “save the dignity of the Malay language”. The Minister also said:

“We know that language, community and culture are always evolving with the time, [...] Conversing in ‘rojak’ language is now regarded by society as modern and advanced without realising that it is tearing apart the very fabric of our values and culture, [...].”

This is an example of the age old complaint about language often made by older generations about younger generations. The idea that a particular language is going downhill has been around possibly as long as language has existed.

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This entry was posted in Language, Malay.

11 Responses to Mixing languages

  1. Joe DeRose says:

    I’m sympathetic to those who want to preserve linguistic traditions. It’s always sad when the last living speaker of a language dies, and I applaud the Malaysian government for seeking to prevent or postpone that eventuality for the Malay language.

    I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but I think it’s easy for us who speak English to lose sight of the fact that foreign words don’t slide as easily into other languages as they do in English. The French are criticized for efforts to preserve their language, but the sound and fluidity of French are diminished when you throw in foreign words, such as “Qu’est-ce que tu fait ce week-end?” Arabic has made a game effort at pulling in foreign words. Sometimes it works, such as when فلم (film) is treated like an Arabic root and formed into the plural افلام (aflam). But words like كمبيوتر (computer) just don’t work in Arabic, and sound jarring in conversation.

    — Joe / Atlanta / USA

  2. TJ says:

    Well, as for “computer” in fact we use it in our daily conversation, at least on the dialectic base, but there is one more original word for “computer” which is “hásúb” [or Haasoob] with hard “H.” It comes from the root H-S-B which relates to everything has something to do with calculations.
    However, the matter of evolution of a language is something natural, maybe it can be considered as a bad thing when this thing comes from influence and in a large wave of words, but in general I think it is natural and it is a part of our evolution!

    Arabic for example, had many dialects before the presence of Islam in Arabia, almost every group of tribes can differ at least slightly from other tribes in their dialect, but all of them were considered arabic. Yet, the language of arabs in Mecca or the tribe of Quraysh was considered the most advanced and it is the dialect that later was called officially “Arabic” and it is in which Quran was revealed. The dialect (or language) of Quraysh had many foreign words because Mecca was a center of trade, thus their language had many foreign words which was formed and shaped into arabic and some of these words were used even in Quran, like “sondos” which comes from Greek and means “silk” and Istabraq which comes from persian (as far as I remember) and means silk as well or some other type of clothes. There is also Qaswarah which is one of the names for the lion and it comes from Abyssinian.
    The evolution of languages is really determined by who leads the community, and the community is defined in terms of its economy and industry beside some other things. Thus, I believe myself that this is a thing that occurs naturally in this life, (because one community cannot lead all the time, it is a case of ups and downs!) but the bad part is, when it comes as a huge wave that erase the façade of the culture and the language by the huge amounts of weird words coming into it, and the youngsters would follow it blindly.
    Who does not use the word “radio” right now, even though it has a special word in every language, almost?

  3. Stuart says:

    “the fact that foreign words don’t slide as easily into other languages as they do in English”

    That is a very blinkered view and suggests that English differs from all other languages in some way, which of course is ludicrous. All languages have the ability to take words and expressions from other languages, and those words then get pronounced according to the phonetic conventions of the borrowing language, not of the original language. In English for example, we do not pronounce ‘grand prix’ or ‘lingerie’ as a Frenchman does, or ‘koran/qu’ran’ as an Arabic speaker would. Likewise, English words borrowed into French are not pronounced as English speakers say them, not least because different languages have different inventories of sounds which do not correspond with other languages.

  4. Anders says:

    “All languages have the ability to take words and expressions from other languages, and those words then get pronounced according to the phonetic conventions of the borrowing language, not of the original language”

    If a word slide easily into another language or not has not only to do with its pronaunciation but also with its possibility to decline or conugate. If we try to put swedish plural on the english word ‘designer’ we get ‘designrar’ wich doesn’t sound well. Maybe swedes could use the english plural ‘designers’ but what would then the swedish definit plural look like – ‘designersna’ – wich sounds really stupid. It is easier to use the swedish word ‘formgivare’ instead, wich means the same and sounds well when declined.

    Since English has so little morphology it is likely easier to borrow into English than into many other languages.

  5. Joe DeRose says:

    Anders explained my point far more capably than I did; thanks.

    To be clear, though, I wasn’t saying that English was alone in the capacity to absorb foreign words easily – just that it is an example of languages that do so easily. Italian, in my opinion, is another example.

    But based on my (admittedly limited) knowledge, I suspect that languages with this capacity are the exception rather than the rule.

    — Joe / Atlanta / USA

  6. rek says:

    Korean seems to be full of words adopted from English, even though Korean spelling rules don’t permit the kind of consonant clusters and final consonants English has, and often require four jamo to make the sound of one English vowel. Nonetheless, words like ‘table’ and ‘tape’ and ‘taxi’ and ‘ice cream’ have slid in smoothly because the spelling was adapted.

  7. Ben says:

    It seems to be, for me, more of a cultural division rather than a purely grammatical one. Certain cultures are more likely to accept the adoption of loanwords than others. Good examples are Hindi, English, Japanese, and Tagalog. In all of these, we can find loanwords for some basic concepts, even Swadesh words.

    English – they (from Old Norse) animal (from Latin)
    Hindi – zyada (“more” Farsi?) lekin (“but” Arabic)
    Japanese – ii (“one” Chinese) arubaito (“work” German)
    Tagalog – kada (“each” Spanish) sori (“sorry” English)

    Other languages are much more adverse to the concept, such as Icelandic, Chinese, and Modern Standard Arabic (the colloquial dialects don’t have as many hang-ups)

    -Ben

  8. Benjamin says:

    One differnce is also how a language treats those foreign imports… Japanese just put foreign words in syllable form and pronounce them accordingly (as far as I know) – the orthography is obviously not kept… on the other hand, in German imports are likely to retain their original form and pronunciation for quite a long time. Thus they really feel strange sometimes…

    Another reason, why I’m a bit conservative in this case is, that most foreign words are just completely useless. They are just used because they sound modern, cool, international and whatever… which I don’t think can be called “evolution of a language”. Imports should improve the language and not just change it.

  9. TJ says:

    In fact for the word “zyada” it is Arabic as well, and comes from the root “z-w-d” which relates to everything has to do with increments and addition.
    I think the word “they” is not a real borrowing of the word, but just a branch of evolution since Old Norse is also a germanic languages as English,so they are neighbors and the occurence of such words among relatives is common, like Arabic and Hebrew and Aramaic (Syriac, Assyrian) as well!

  10. TJ says:

    It’s not all about being “cool” or feeling modern. If for example Bill Gates was German and called his product “Fenster” and it spread world wide, people will borrow this word in every language and say Fenster, because it is a new product which is known by its original name and have no equivalent in other laguages for that specific thing. In Arabic, in Arabic books related to computer, they call it Nawáfið instead of Windows. I read once such a book and I got lost by the terms they used. This is mainly because we are using english-language products and translating the names of items and menues into arabic is not really useful, because we are introduced to the main product in English in the first place.

    When a new product is introduced and it gets wide spread, new wave of words can get injected into other languages, not because they sound cool, but because they are descriptive for what they are meant to. Is there any other names for “karaoke” in other languages?

  11. rek says:

    TJ – The Korean word is 노래방 (no-ray-bang), which literally means song room.

    Ben – Korean also borrowed that word from German, but here it only refers to part time jobs: 아르바이트 (a-reu-bai-teu).