Shortage of funds the main concern

THE road to the restoration and protection of the Bidayuh language is far from smooth sailing.

CULTURAL MIX: Children learning traditional dances at the playschool.

CULTURAL MIX: Children learning traditional dances at the playschool.

No doubt, efforts made by the Dayak Bidayuh National Association (DBNA) are commendable and there is significant progress but also obstacles.

The main concern now is lack of funds. Unesco funding for the first four playschools at Pasir Hilir, Gahat Mawang, Bunuk, Skio and Jakaw will stop this year, and thereafter, the villagers will have to bear the running costs.

The other five playschools are already self-financing with DBNA aid.

Restoration and preservation of the Bidayuh language does not come cheap. The project, now totally dependent on the villagers for continuance, urgently needs financial help from other sources.

At least for now, the language is in no danger of becoming extinct as it is still being spoken in the villages, according to linguists Marilina Vega and Dr Grace Tan who are officers of SIL Malaysia branch.

However, they fear the way the younger generation are speaking the language — with the infusion of local Malay and English words — may cause it to become extinct sooner than expected.

“There is significant progress made but more can and should be done to perpetuate the language,” Vega said.

According to her, the current timeframe for Bidayuh children to learn their language is far too short and she would like to see teaching of the language extended to primary or even secondary school level where students will have the option to or not to continue learning it.

Presently, the language is taught to playschool children aged three, four and five until they enter kindergarten.

Ironically, the availability of kindergartens in the villages is seen as a hindrance.

Many children have to cut their already short timeframe to two years in order to attend kindy at five years old — and most kindies do not use the Bidayuh language.

Research has shown there are advantages to younger children being taught in their mother tongue — confidence and higher self-esteem, to mention a couple.

Tan said younger children, taught in a foreign language, would have to struggle to understand what was being taught.

They would have difficulties catching up and this would eventually cause them to underperform but the role was reversed for those taught in their mother tongue, she noted.

Vega believes children have the capacity to handle three different languages at one time.

“And a good command of their mother tongue will give them a solid foundation to master other languages. It is the children’s right to learn their mother tongue.”

She said depending on their capability, children of mixed marriages should be taught the languages of both parents.

While older Bidayuhs communicate with their children in their mother tongue, the younger ones tend to speak in other languages such as Bahasa Malaysia and English because of their value.

Vega stressed a value tag was important for the survival of any language, especially that of a minority genre and its perpetuation lay with the people involved.

According to Tan, there is, in fact, grammar in the Bidayuh language although she was told otherwise when she first came to Sarawak in 2007.

She said the language was certainly worth preserving and protecting because it represents the identity of the Bidayuh.

Both linguists felt the Bidayuh had to learn to value their language as it was the only way to ensure its survival.

“They have to learn to speak it to the young and instill in them the love of it.”

They hoped to see more literature and books written in the language.

“There are many other domains where the language can be used either in writing or orally. The language’s survival can be attributed to the work of missionaries who set up churches and carried out their vocation in the Bidayuh language.”

Such churches are still around today.

Many workshops on preserving the language as well as awareness campaigns had been held in the earlier years.

Since their arrival in 2001, both Vega and Tan have been helping to compile various documentations. Three picture dictionaries have been published while a normal dictionary is expected to be completed soon.

There are five main Bidayuh languages — Bukar Sadong, Biatah, Bidayuh Jagoi-Bidayuh Bau, Salako and Rara and these consist of 25 dialects.

Singaporean Tan and Vega from Argentina are here at the invitation of the Bidayuh community to help preserve, protect and promote their language.

SIL International is a US-based, worldwide non-profit organisation, whose main purpose is to study, develop and document languages, especially those less known, ­in order to expand linguistic knowledge, promote literacy and aid minority language development.

SIL International provides a database — Ethnologue — of its research for the world’s languages and has more than 6,000 members in over 50 countries.­

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