English in Malaysia: Identity and the Market Place


  • Shirley Geok-lin Lim, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA


The 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 – constructed as essentialist Malay monolingualism – 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 “foreign†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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Author Biography

Shirley Geok-lin Lim, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

Shirley Geok-lin Lim received Fulbright and Wien International Fellowships at Brandeis University (Ph.D. 1973). Crossing the Peninsula won the 1980 Commonwealth Poetry Prize, the first for a woman and Asian. With 10 poetry and 3 short story collections, 3 novels (Joss and Gold, Sister Swing, and Princess Shawl), The Shirley Lim Collection, and a memoir, Among the White Moon Faces, (1997 American Book Award winner), she has also published 2 critical studies, edited/co-edited numerous anthologies, special issues of journals and scholarly collections. She served as Women's Studies Chair (University of California, Santa Barbara) and Chair Professor of English (University of Hong Kong), has taught at MIT, National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University (NIE), City University of Hong Kong and other international institutions, and is currently Research Professor at University of California, Santa Barbara.




How to Cite

Lim, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA, S. G.- lin. (2015). English in Malaysia: Identity and the Market Place. Asiatic: IIUM Journal of English Language and Literature, 9(2), 1–25. Retrieved from https://journals.iium.edu.my/asiatic/index.php/ajell/article/view/676




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