Native mother tongue dilemma

To help preserve the Iranun language from extinction, Parliament Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia has established four pre-schools in Kota Belud which uses Iranun as a language of instruction for all the subjects taught there.

KOTA KINABALU: Parliament Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia has urged leaders from indigenous backgrounds to endeavour to preserve their mother tongue before it dies.

Speaking at the Forum on Heritage Language Education for Pre-Schools held at Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) yesterday, Pandikar said that he felt alone in his fight to preserve the ethnic languages in Sabah, particularly his own which is Iranun.

“When I was a YB, I have argued that aside from our traditional costumes and dances, we also need to preserve the ethnic languages of our people. Somehow, we have forgotten that without the language, we will lose a large part of our heritage. Believe me, the costumes and dances will still remain in a hundred years but if we don’t preserve our language, it will die,” he said.

Unfortunately, his call has been cast aside by some ethnic leaders as a political gimmick.

“I have even been dubbed as a racist because of it,” he said.

He added that a lot of local leaders do not feel the importance of preserving the ethnic language, even their own mother tongue.

“It has been forgotten by our leaders,” he said.

Pandikar also said that researchers have cited four factors that contributed to the death of a language — the fault of a person, the fault of an education system that focuses on promoting one language and dismissed the importance of other languages, particularly those with indigenous background, mixing with other races and the mass media.

He also regretted that despite being an Iranun none of his children knew how to speak Iranun.

“The language is dead for my family since my children do not speak the language. Now the entire family speaks in English,” he said.

Pandikar also expressed his sadness that vernacular schools have received RM1.4 billion in allocation annually even though the Tamil and Chinese languages were being spoken by billions of people worldwide and did not need help in their preservation while the local ethnic languages with a minority number of speakers and required assistance to ensure their longevity did not have that advantage.

The two major languages do not need so much allocation in order to thrive, he said.

However, there are only a small number of Iranuns, Kadazans, Kimarangang and other ethnic races in Sabah and their languages are in danger of becoming extinct, he said.

“Why are the languages of other races being preserved? Why are the local ethnic languages being sacrificed?”

He lamented that not much effort was being undertaken to defend the ethnic languages from extinction.

“If scientists are willing to spend millions to teach monkeys how to communicate, why is there no effort to preserve the languages of the people?”

Pandikar explained that he had approached the Education Ministry to get them interested to teach heritage languages or ‘People’s Own languages’ at pre-schools in 2011 and 2013 but the result has not been encouraging.

Among the excuses given by the ministry was that there were not many teachers who were experts in the local indigenous languages.

He gave his own solutions to that problem.

“Iranun speakers who are teachers could be posted at areas where the Iranun people dwell. That way the Education Ministry does not have to fork out extra to train teachers in the language,” he said.

He then challenged Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) to carry out their research on the teaching of heritage languages to pre-schoolers in the State to come up with the finding that these children could excel later in life.

He also said that the UMS Kadazandusun chair should be expanded further to include the heritage of other ethnic races in the State.

Meanwhile, to help preserve the Iranun language from extinction, Pandikar has established four pre-schools in Kota Belud which uses Iranun as a language of instruction for all the subjects taught there.

“This is my personal initiative to fund the four schools because I feel it is important to preserve my language and culture,” he said.

“I also have high hopes to see pre-schools, kindergartens or taska in the State use the local language of the people as their language of instruction. Expose the children to their mother tongue. Don’t repeat my mistake and the mistake of our parents,” he said.

He added that he will fight to his last breath to preserve his language.

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