CM: Vital to preserve, conserve Sarawak cultures, languages, traditions

Abang Johari (second right) places his palm on a tablet to declare open the ICLS 2017, witnessed by (from left) Rakayah, Talib and Kadim. — Photo by Muhd Rais Sanusi.

KUCHING: The profound impact globalisation and the Internet is having on languages and cultures calls for an urgent need for action.

Sharing about his experience, Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg said he came to discover about the many new terminologies and words created by social media.

“I came across a word, ‘kazen’, when I browsed through Facebook, only to learn from my children and grandchildren that it means ‘cousin’.

“This is the rising language of the Internet which will pollute proper usage of language and our cultures. How to solve this?” he said at the International Conference on Language Studies (ICLS 2017) here yesterday.

Abang Johari thus stressed the importance of the conference to preserve and conserve Sarawak’s cultures, languages and traditions.

“That is why we have decided to turn the old state legislative assembly building (old DUN) into a centre of performing arts in Sarawak to promote local cultures and arts,” he said.

He added that a consultant had been appointed to look into ways to design and convert the building, including the need to study various popular sites like those in Singapore and Istana Budaya.

“They will make recommendations on how the centre should be done, which will be electronically operated and come fully equipped with a stage, sound system and seats.

“The design will even take into account the interaction between performers and audiences. When completed, we can have activities and performances that are part of our tourism products staged there,” he added.

On the conference, Abang Johari said it was timely as the world is undergoing rapid globalisation and digitalisation – politically, economically, culturally and socially.

“Advances in technology have fueled this process and the impact is felt in every aspect of life, including the languages we speak and the cultures we uphold for many generations,” he said.

Sarawak, he added, is a land rich in historical and cultural heritage and home to more than 40 ethnic and sub-ethnic groups living in peace and harmony, speaking in diverse ethnic languages and practising unique cultures and ways of life.

Even though various efforts have been undertaken by the state government and agencies to preserve and conserve the people’s languages and cultures, Abang Johari questioned if those initiatives would be sufficient when many of the languages and cultures were facing extinction.

“For example, the Tatau, Lugat, Narum, Sihan, Lahanan, Bukitan, and Seru that have been categorised as endangered languages facing extinction if no measures and concerted efforts are taken to preserve them,” he said.

Indigenous languages, he added, were not only slowly dying out due to the influence of dominant languages such as Bahasa Malaysia and English, but also due to the rise of other languages and cultures, notably that of Korea which has an impact on people in many parts of the world.

“Therefore, it is high time that the community of researchers and practitioners, as well as members and leaders of indigenous communities collaborate with local and foreign institutions of higher learning, as well as stakeholders in preserving, conserving and revitalising indigenous languages and cultural heritage for our future generation,” he said.

Abang Johari believed that Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) and its newly established Faculty of Language and Communication could take the lead in this critical initiative.

“With delegates from all over the world, this is indeed a great start for Unimas to build capacity and strengthen partnership in creating a vibrant and sustainable future for languages and cultures in the state and beyond,” he said.

He hoped the conference would have a greater focus on issues and concerns not only specific to the people of Sarawak, but also those living in Borneo and beyond who are culturally and linguistically diverse.

The conference also witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Unimas and Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka (DBP).

The two-day conference on ‘Sustaining Languages and Cultures: Borneo and Beyond’ was organised by Unimas’ Faculty of Language and Communication.

Minister in the Chief Minister’s Office (Integrity and Ombudman) Datuk Talib Zulpilip, Assistant Minister of Education and Technological Research Dr Annuar Rapaee, Unimas vice –chancellor Professor Dato Dr Mohamad Kadim Suaidi, its Board of Directors chairman Datu Dr Hatta Solhi, DBP deputy director–general Datuk Abang Salehuddin Abg Shokeran, state DBP director Dr Hazami Jahari, and state education director Rakayah Madon were among those present.

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