Attitude the main threat to local languages – professor


KOTA KINABALU: Attitude, rather than war and diseases, is the main threat to local dialects and languages, according to Professor James T. Collins, the Northern Illinois University’s Centre for Southeast Asian Studies director.

It is the refusal of a native speaker to use his or her dialect and language and pass it down to his or her children that is leading to the demise of their district dialect and language, he said in his presentation on language research based on history, geography and communications at Universiti Malaysia Sabah.

“It could be out of shame because they consider their dialect and language as ‘kampungan’ (of village standard).

“The elder generation may not want to pass down their language because they want their children to excel in school… they may also want to show how much they have moved towards modernisation,” Collins said.

“It is a matter of preference and of the heart. Perhaps they prefer to use English or Malay rather than their own dialect or language,” he said, adding that such attitude is not endemic to a specific race.

“Even the Chinese are showing their preference towards Mandarin rather than towards Cantonese or Hakka,” he said.

The Penans of Sarawak who have migrated to Bintulu for instance have mentioned that they have forgotten their mother tongue after merely 10 years of moving away from their community, he said.

And it is impossible for someone to forget their own language and dialect after that short a period living away from their community, he said, adding that the threat then is in the heart of the speaker.

Collins said that in order to ensure the longevity of a district dialect or language, efforts must be made to convince its speakers that their dialect or language is priceless and should be conserved.

“As outsiders, we need to convince them that their district language, dialect and traditional practices are priceless and useful.

“By the term outsiders, I mean the government, the church, the NGOs (non-government organisations) and others. Everyone should try to convince them,” he said.