Unimas at forefront of preserving, conserving languages and cultures of Sarawak

Kadim (left) exchanges the documents with Abang Sallehuddin, witnessed by (back row, from left) Rakayah and Abang Johari. — Photo by Muhd Rais Sanusi.

KUCHING: Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) has always been at the forefront of preserving and conserving languages and cultures of Sarawak.

Its vice–chancellor Professor Dato Dr Mohamad Kadim Suaidi said that based on Unesco’s findings, half of the world’s languages would disappear by 2100.

“This includes many endangered and threatened languages in Asia as well as those in Malaysia such as Kristang, the language of the Portugese-Eurasian community in Melaka and the Kejaman and Miriek of Sarawak.

“So far, two languages of Sarawak – Seru and Lelak – have been reported to be extinct,” he told the International Conference of Language Studies (ICLS 2017) here yesterday.

Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg officially declared open the conference organised by Unimas’ Faculty of Language and Communication.

More than 200 participants from all over the world converged here to present and discuss their latest research findings and innovations in their related fields of studies and create a vibrant and sustainable future for languages and cultures in the region.

The university, Kadim added had partnered with the state government and various stakeholders and communities in developing and executing preservation and conservation projects.

“This is evidenced in the multi-award winning e-Bario Project – an initiative conceived as a research project to determine opportunities for social development available from the deployment of information and communication technologies within remote communities in Sarawak.

“This is in line with the state government’s aggressive adoption of ICT for national development and (dealing with the) under-developed infrastructure and scattered population of Sarawak,” he added.

The latest initiative, he said, was the establishment of the Bario Community Museum, which sought to rebrand e-Bario as a knowledge centre for the benefit of the local community and beyond.

The preservation and conservation of languages and cultures of Sarawak, he added, was also evidenced through the recently established Unimas’ Faculty of Language and Communication which is offering a Bachelor‘s Degree in Linguistics where Iban, Bidayuh and Melanau languages are taught from linguistic and communicative perspectives.

The aims of the conference are also aligned with Unimas’ Strategic Plan 2016-2020 that seeks to ensure ‘sustainability for diverse and dispersed communities’ through four commitments, namely excellence in education and training, excellence in innovation and ecosystem, global visibility and prominence, and sustainable financial portfolio.

“With all these in place, I believe Unimas can position itself as a regional point of reference in the fields of language and culture.

“This conference can provide an avenue for researchers and practitioners to foster opportunities for multidisciplinary collaborations and build bridges of partnership in creating a vibrant and sustainable future for languages and cultures in the region,” he added.

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

This MoU recognises the potential value of such synergistic collaborations in utilising expertise and data collected by both parties to support language documentation and preservation in this region.

The partnership provides a common approach to increase strategic focus and cooperation between Unimas and DBP in planning long-term research projects and publication of books documenting the languages and literature of various communities in Sarawak.

The cooperation will focus on the areas of research, publication, training, academic programme and executive development programmes.

Unimas was represented by Kadim and dean of Faculty of Language and Communication Professor Dr Ambigapathy Pandian while DBP was represented by its director–general Datuk Haji Abdul Adzis Abad and deputy director –general Datuk Abang Sallehuddin Abg Shokeran.

Minister in the Chief Minister’s Office (Integrity and Ombudsman) Datuk Talib Zulpilip, Assistant Minister of Education and Technological Research Dr Annuar Rapaee, Unimas Board of Directors chairman Datu Dr Hatta Solhi, state DBP director Dr Hazami Jahari, and state education director Rakayah Madon were among those present.

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