English in Malaysia: Identity and the Market Place
AbstractThe paper examines Malaysian and Singaporean state policies and examples of literary works that directly or indirectly address the position of English to analyse some of the discursive contradictions and tensions undergirding the use of English in their societies. Contention over the role of English, rejected as a colonial threat to national identity â€“ constructed as essentialist Malay monolingualism â€“ has historically and continuously riven state, public and literary policies and discourse in Malaysia. Ee Tiang Hong's early work articulates the dilemma of the Malaysian Anglophone poet whose voice is critiqued as mimicry of â€œforeignâ€ tongues. Muhammad Haji Salleh emerged as an elite Malay intellectual with his unnuanced disavowal of English use in Malaysia as a dark psychological depredation of the national soul. This total English language rejection, however, is called into question and undermined by his later bilingual practice of dual Malay and English publications of his work and his praise for the two language rivers that compose him as a single poet-subject. English is now viewed as an instrumental language necessary for competing in the global economy. In Singapore, where this instrumentalist language policy remains uncontested, the state has positioned Singlish, the local variation of English that serves as a major expressive marker of Singaporean identity, as a threat to global economic ambitions.
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