Monday, August 3, 2015

Tai Keun Ying: His Contributions to the Malay Language

The Malay language is a member of the Austronesian language family - one of the world’s largest languages in the world with more than 1,200 distinct languages found from Madagascar to Hawaii. The Austronesian family can be further split into two primary groups, namely, the Central-Eastern and Western groups. Malay is a member of this Western branch, along with Indonesian, Javanese and Filipino. Many linguists believe that the Malay language has the most significant political impact throughout the history of all Austronesian languages. It is historically one of the most politically powerful languages of the enormous Austronesian language family and has served as a common language throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, Sumatra, and Borneo for centuries. In fact, the history Malay language is divided into four historical periods, namely Old Malay, Early Modern Malay, Late Modern Malay, and Contemporary Malay.

Old Malay (682-1500)
Also known as Bahasa Melayu Kuno it was written in the ancient writings of Rencong, Pallava, and Kawi. Even the Jawi script during this period was used extensively with Sanskrit.

Early Modern Malay (1500 - 1850)
The prominence of Malacca which embraced Islamic faith turned Malay into a language used in the spread of the Islamic religion. During this period of history, Malay underwent many radical changes with the:
a. infusion of Arabic, Persian and Hindi Vocabulary
b. introduction of Arabic rhetorical style.
c. changes in grammar based on oral speech.

Late Modern Malay (1850 - 1957)
The 17th century also saw the emergence of the great Hikayats as the Malays recorded their experiences, religious laws and oral literature in Jawi script. Sir Richard O. Winstedt categorized the hikayat as Bahasa Melayu Klasik (Classical Malay Language). The late Modern Malay language also involves the incorporation of loan words from Portuguese, Dutch and English.

Contemporary Malay (1957 - the present)
In 1959, Indonesia and Malaysia signed an agreement to standardize the spelling system of both countries. They named this unified system "Melindo", an acronym for Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Indonesia. However, the Melindo spelling was never executed as a consequence Indonesia's confrontation against Malaysia. As the relationship between these two countries stabilized in 1966, further steps towards the standardization of a common spelling system was implemented in 1972. Some of the changes affecting the Malaysian language are as indicated below:
"ch" is spelled as "c"
e.g. cari instead of chari
cerita instead of cherita
pakcik instead of pakchik
pecut instead of pechut

"sh" is spelled as "sy"
e.g. syarikat instead of sharikat
syurga instead of shurga
syariah instead if shariah

The written form of words like "bermain2" has since been written in full "bermain-main" and  is now being remembered as part of the history of the Malay language. To be very frank, I would rather write the duplicated form of bermain-main as bermain2 as it saves time and energy! For the sake of young Malaysians, who have no idea how the old Malay spelling was like, I have uploaded pages from a book written by my father prior to 1972 entitled "How to Read Malay Newspaper" (Volume 1) so that you can see how much Bahasa Malaysia has changed since then. I was clearing my things when I accidentally found this book. 

For a long time, I wanted to write an article about this book in commemoration of my father so that his contributions to the Malay language will not be forgotten but did not find the time to do so until today. In fact, according to my relatives, he has written several books about the Malay language but this is the only one that I could find so far. I do not want this book to disappear into nothingness because it does exist and has had its days of glory. Further, my father had spent a lot of time writing his books and it is only fair to let the world know that his books exist. At the moment, this is the only thing I can do for him. It is hope that with the publication of this article, his contributions to the Malay language will always be remembered. 

My father knows many languages. In fact, I learnt Jawi from him when I was 8 years old. He is not the kind of father who would easily let his children go if they fail their exams. When I failed my Jawi (in standard 2), apart from caning me, he drew a chart with all the Jawi letters on it and made me memorize them. He also taught me to write words and later on sentences in Jawi. 

A photo of my father - Tai Keun Ying

My father and his colleagues at SJK(C) Chung Kwo.

My father was formerly a teacher at SJK(C) Chung Kwo

My father and his students

My father and his best friend - the one who inspired him to write Malay books 

My father and his best friend - the one who inspired him to write Malay books

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