English Language and an Inclusive Malaysia

James Campbell


This article seeks to discuss the pressures and forces which define the Malaysian English language debate and suggests that a new social compact involving a renewed commitment to democracy and social justice in Malaysia may be the necessary social context needed to address the increasingly unstable tension between nationalist language concerns and the pressures of globalization. In this article we shall argue that the way to avoid the English language debate from getting stuck oscillating between the Scylla and the Charybdis of nationalist and globalist discourses is to try to move the argument around language to one informed by progressive political economy and democratic theory. This also has the advantage of potentially undermining the politics of social division and cleavage which can derail progressive initiatives such as improvement of English in plural societies such as Malaysia.


Keywords: English language; democracy; plural society; globalization; nationalism

Full Text:



A’Beckett, L. & David, M. K. (2017). National Language and Social Cohesion: Focus on Ukraine and Malaysia. Paper presented at the Proceedings of The Fifteenth International Conference on Law and Language of the International Academy of Linguistic Law (IALL2017): Law, Language and Justice, pp. 195-198.

Annie, M. N. W. & Hamali, J. (2006). Higher education and employment in Malaysia. International Journal of Business and Society. Vol. 7(1), 66-76.

Anon. (2018a). Ministry: Unlawful to use English as medium of instruction in schools. Malaysia Kini. Retrieved September 6, 2018 from https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/441575

Anon. (2018b). ‘Strengthening our English doesn’t mean forsaking BM’. Star Newspaper. Retrieved September 6, 2018 from The Star Online website:


Aun, L. H. (2017). Fault Lines–and Common Ground–in Malaysia’s Ethnic Relations and Policies. ISEAS Perspective. Vol. 63, 1-9.

Azman, H. (2004). Global English and English Literacy Education in Malaysia In P. Lee & A. H. Azman (Eds.), Global English and Primary Schools: Challenges for Elementary Education (pp.17-29). Melbourne: CAE Press.

Azman, H. (2009). English in 1Malaysia: A paradox in rural pluri-literacy practices. Akademika. Vol. 76(1), 27-41.

Azman, H. (2011). English language in rural Malaysia: Situating global literacies in local practices. 3L: Language, Linguistics, Literature. Vol. 11, 99-119.

Barnard, R. & Hasim, Z. (2018). Case study: EMI in a public university in Malaysia. In English Medium Instruction Programmes (pp. 29-40)London: Routledge.

Bianco, J. L. (2016). Conflict, Language Rights, and Education: Building Peace by Solving Language Problems in Southeast Asia, Language Policy Research Network Brief (LPREN), April, pp. 1-8.

Bianco, J. L. (2017). Resolving Ethnolinguistic Conflict in Multi-Ethnic Societies. Nature Human Behavior. Vol. 1, 1-3

Bornschier, S. (2009). Cleavage Politics in old and new democracies: A review of the literature and avenues for future research, EUI Working Papers, MWP2009/07, Florence, European University Institute, pp.1-20.

Case, William. (2018). Umno’s Ethnoreligious Order Is Not Gone — Just Waiting. East Asia Forum, Retreieved September 6, 2018 from http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2018/08/16/umnos-ethnoreligious-order-is-not-gone-just-waiting/.

Chalil, M., Mohan, C., Mering, R., Zi, T. M. & Cheah, C. (2018). Merdeka in ‘New Malaysia’: Optimism, sense of achievement in the air. Malay Mail Online. Retrieved September 6, 2018 from https://www.malaymail.com/s/1667857/merdeka-in-new-malaysia-optimism-sense-of-achievement-in-the-air

David, M. K. & Govindasamy, S. (2005). Negotiating a language policy for Malaysia: Local demand for affirmative action versus challenges from globalization. Reclaiming the local in language policy and practice, In S.

Canagarajah (ed.). Reclaiming the Local in Language Policy and Practice (pp. 123-146). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence, Erlbaum Associates.

Deegan-Krause, K. (2007). New dimensions of political cleavage. In R. Dalton and H.-D. Klingemann (Eds.). Oxford handbook of political behaviour (pp. 538-556). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

EPU. (1971). The Second Malaysia Plan. Kuala Lumpur: EPU (Economic Planning Unit): Prime Ministers Department, Malaysian Government.

Furnivall, J. S. (2010). Netherlands India: A Study of Plural Economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gill, S. K. (2002). Language policy and english language standards in Malaysia nationalism versus pragmatism. Journal of Asian Pacific Communication. Vol. 12(1), 95-115.

Gill, S. K. (2004). Medium of instruction policy in higher education in Malaysia: Nationalism versus internationalization. In Tollefson, J. W. &

Tsui, A. B. (Eds.). Medium of instruction policies: Which agenda? Whose agenda? (pp.135-152) London, Routledge.

Gill, S. K. (2005). Language policy in Malaysia: Reversing direction. Language Policy. Vol. 4(3), 241-260.

Gill, S. K. (2006). Change in Language Policy in Malaysia: The Reality of Implementation in Public Universities. Current Issues in Language Planning. Vol. 7(1), 82-94.

Gill, S. K. (2007). Shift in language policy in Malaysia: Unravelling reasons for change, conflict and compromise in mother-tongue education, ALIA Review. Vol. 20, 106-122.

Gill, S. K. (2013). Language policy challenges in multi-ethnic Malaysia (Vol. 8): Springer Science & Business Media.

Guan, L. H. (2017). Education and Globalization in Southeast Asia: Issues and Challenges: Singapore, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Hamid, S. (2018). What Democracies Can Learn From Malaysia. The Atlantic. Retrieved September 6, 2018 from The Atlantic website: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/05/malaysia-democracy-najib/560534/

Hamilton, A. (2018). Solving Malaysia’s problem with English. Free Malaysia Today. Retrieved September 6, 2018 from FMT News website: http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2018/06/18/solving-malaysias-problem-with-english/

Hanapiah, M. F. (2004). English Language and the language of development: A Malaysia Perspective. Jurnal kemanusiaan. Vol. 2(1), pp. 106-120.

Haque, M. S. (2003). The role of the state in managing ethnic tensions in Malaysia: A critical discourse. American Behavioral Scientis. Vol. 47(3), 240-266.

Ibrahim, A. (2018). Education revamp needs new ideas. New Straits Times. Retrieved September 6, 2018 from New Straits Times website: https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/letters/2018/09/408799/education-revamp-needs-new-ideas

Ibrahim, Z. (2004). Globalization and national identity: Managing ethnicity and cultural pluralism in Malaysia. Growth and governance in Asia. 115-136.

Jomo K. S. (1989) Malaysia's new economic policy and national unity. Third World Quarterly. Vol. 11(4), 36-53

Jomo, K. S. (2016). Back to the Future? Malaysian Lessons from the 1970s. Paper presented at the Tun Hussein Onn Chair Public Lecture, Kuala Lumpur, Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia.

Kaur, A., Awang-Hashim, R. & Noman, M. (2017). Defining intercultural education for social cohesion in Malaysian context. International Journal of Multicultural Education. Vol. 19(2), 44-60.

Kaur, K. (1995). Why they need English in Malaysia: A survey. World Englishes. Vol. 14(2), 223-230.

Kaur, M. (2018). Perak Sultan: Growing pains part of Malaysia's path to mature democracy. The Star Online. Retrieved September 6, 2018 from The Star Online website:

Kaur, P. & Shapii, A. (2018). Language and Nationalism in Malaysia: A Language policy Perspective. International Journal. Vol. 3(7), 1-10.

Khalid, M. A. (2014a). The Colour of Inequality: Ethnicity, Class, Income, and Wealth in Malaysia. MPH Group Publishing Sdn. Bhd..

Khalid, M. A. (2014b). The Colour of Inequality: Ethnicity, Class, Income and Wealth in Malaysia. Retrieved September 6, 2018 from http://sanusijunid.blogspot.com/2014/10/the-colour-of-inequality.html

Kok, T. (2018). Need to master English to become global players. The Star Online. Retrieved September 6, 2018 from Star Online website: https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters/2018/08/27/need-to-master-english-to-become-global-players/#RzvuqHaoSWyVsSqB.99

Lau, L. (2018). Chat in Malay but also master English, says Dr M. Malay Mail Online. Retrieved September 6, 2018 from Malay Mail website: https://www.malaymail.com/s/1664028/chat-in-malay-but-also-master-english-says-dr-m

Le Ha, P. Kho, J. & Ch’ng, B. (2013). Nation building, English as an international language, medium of instruction, and language debate: Malaysia and possible ways forward. Journal of International and Comparative Education (JICE), 58-71.

Lee, H.-A. & Khalid, M. A. (2016). Discrimination of high degrees: race and graduate hiring in Malaysia. Journal of the Asia Pacific Economy. Vol. 21(1), 53-76.

Lee, H. & Khalid, M. A. (2009). Degrees of Discrimination: Race and Graduate Hiring in Malaysia. Retrieved from http://umexpert.um.edu.my/file/publication/00006071_99752.pdf

Lim, Ida. (2018a). Pakatan needs Goldilocks approach to reforms, says academic. Malay Mail Online, Retrieved September 6, 2018 from https://www.malaymail.com/s/1637743/pakatan-needs-goldilocks-approach-to-reforms-says-academic.

Lim, Ida. (2018b). Forum Sees Risk of Umno Doubling Down on Communalism, Embracing Pas. Malay Mail Online, Retrieved September 6, 2018 from https://www.malaymail.com/s/1637750/forum-sees-risk-of-umno-doubling-down-on-communalism-embracing-pas.

Lo Bianco, J. & UNICEF. (2015). Synthesis report: Language, education and social cohesion (LESC) initiative in Malaysia Myanmar and Thailand. Bangkok: UNICEF EAPRO.

Lowe, V. & Khattab, U. (2003) Malaysian language planning and cultural rights in the face of a global world. In A. Goonasekera, C. Hamelink & V. Iyer (Eds.) Cultural Rights in a Global World (pp. 217–22). Singapore: Eastern Universities Press.

Lowenberg, P. H. (1986). Sociolinguistic context and second‐language acquisition: acculturation and creativity in Malaysian English. World Englishes. Vol. 5(1), 71-83.

Mandal, S. K. (2000). Reconsidering cultural globalization: The English language in Malaysia. Third World Quarterly. Vol. 21(6), 1001-1012.

Martin, P. (2005). Safe language practices in two rural schools in Malaysia: Tensions between policy and practice. In Angel Lin and Peter Martin (eds.) Decolonisation, Globalisation: Language-in-Education Policy and Practice (75-99.) Clevedon, U.K.: Multilingual Matters.

Mohd-Asraf, R. (2005). English and Islam: A clash of civilizations? Journal of Language, Identity, and Education. Vol. 4(2), 103-118.

Nair, Gopala Krishnan Sekharan, Rozlan Abdul Rahim, Roszainora Setia, Norhayati Husin, Elangkeeran Sabapathy, Nur Amalia Abd Jalil, Razifa Mohd Razlan, Razita Mohamad, Shahidatul Maslina Mat So’od, and Nurul Izatee Md Yusoff (2012). Malaysian Graduates English Adequacy in the Job Sector. Asian Social Science. Vol. 8(4), 143-147.

Nair, M. (2018). Yes, Malay is important but don’t neglect English and Mandarin. FMT News. Retrieved September 6, 2018 from FMT news website: https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/opinion/2018/08/07/yes-malay-is-important-but-dont-neglect-english-and-mandarin/?fmt=1

Noor, E. (2018). Building a New Malaysia - Part 2: Nation building. The Peak. Retrieved September 6, 2018 from The Peak website: http://thepeak.com.my/people/building-a-new-malaysia-part-2-nation-building/

Omar, A. H. (1979). Language planning for unity and efficiency: A study of the language status and corpus planning of Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur, Penerbit Universiti Malaya.

Omar, A. H. (1982). Language and society in Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

Omar, A. H. (1985). The Language Policy of Malaysia: A Formula for Balanced Pluralism. In D. Bradley (Ed.), Papers in South East Asian Linguistics (pp. 39-49). Canberra: ANU Printing Service.

Omar, A. H. (1998). “Language Planning and Image Building: The Case of Malay in Malaysia”. International Journal of The Sociology of Language: Linguistic Issues of Southeast Asia. 130. pp. 49-65.

Ooi, H. (2018). In Malaysia, a Win for Democracy. The Diplomat. Retrieved September 6, 2018 from The Diplomat website: https://thediplomat.com/2018/05/in-malaysia-a-win-for-democracy/

Ozóg, C. K. (1990). The English language in Malaysia and its relationship with the national language. In R. B. Jr. Baldauf, & A. Luke (Eds.), Planning language and education in Australasia and the South Pacific (pp. 305-318) Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Pennycook, A. (2002). English and the discourses of colonialism: London Routledge.

Pirozzi, G. & Bianco, J. L. (2016). Synthesis Report: Language Education and Social Cohesion (LESC) Initiative in Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand. Bangkok: EAPRO/UNICEF.

Pope, M., Musa, M., Singaravelu, H., Bringaze, T. & Russell, M. (2002). From colonialism to ultranationalism: History and development of career counseling in Malaysia. The Career Development Quarterly. Vol. 50(3), 264-276.

Puteh, A. (2010). The language medium policy in Malaysia: A plural society model? Review of European Studies. Vol. 2(2), 192-200.

Rashid, Radzuwan AB, Shireena Basree Abdul Rahman, and Kamariah Yunus. (2017). Reforms in the Policy of English Language Teaching in Malaysia. Policy Futures in Education 15, pp.100-112.

Ridge, B. (2004). Bangsa Malaysia and recent Malaysian English language policies. Current issues in language planning. Vol. 5(4), pp. 407-423.

Saad, I. (1980). Competing identities in a plural society: The case of Peninsular Malaysia: Singapore, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Salleh, H. (2000). Globalization and the challenges to Malay nationalism as the essence of Malaysian nationalism. Nationalism and globalization: East and West. 132-174.

Salleh, K. M., Sulaiman, N. L. & Talib, K. N. (2010). Globalisation’s impact on soft skills demand in the Malaysian workforce and organisations: What makes graduates employable. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 1 st UPI International Conference on Technical and Vocational Education and Training. (pp. 10–11). Bandung, Indonesia.

Selvaratnam, V. (2018). Our glaring English deficiency is too big to ignore. Malaysia Kini. Retrieved September 6, 2018 from https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/440643

Shamsul, A. B. (1996). Nations-of-Intent in Malaysia. In S. Tonnesson and H. Antlov (Eds.), Asian Forms of the Nation (pp. 323-347). Richmond: Curzon.

Shukri, S. F. M. (2017). The Role of Ethnic Politics in Promoting Democratic Governance: A Case Study of Malaysia. Intellectual Discourse. Vol. 25(2), 321-329.

Siddique, S. & Suryadinata, L. (1981). Bumiputra and pribumi: Economic nationalism (indiginism) in Malaysia and Indonesia. Pacific Affairs. Vol. 54(4), 662-687.

Singh, H. (2001). Ethnic conflict in Malaysia revisited. Commonwealth and Comparative Politics. Vol. 39(1), 42-65.

Stephen, J. (2013). English in Malaysia: a case of the past that never really went away?: English language learning in former British colonies–in this case, Malaysia–may still be influenced by the negative attitudes towards the stereotyped image English has in these countries. English Today. Vol. 29(2), 3-8.

Sua, T. Y. & Santhiram, R. (2017). Globalization, Educational Language Policy and Nation-Building in Malaysia. In Lee Hock Guan (Ed). Education and Globalization in Southeast Asia: Issues and Challenges. Vol. 36, 36-58. Singapore, ISEAS.

Tajuddin, A. (2012). Malaysia in the World Economy (1824–2011): Capitalism, Ethnic Divisions, and “Managed" Democracy. Lexington Books.

Tan, P. K. (2005). The medium-of-instruction debate in Malaysia: English as a Malaysian language? Language Problems and Language Planning. Vol. 29(1), 47-66.

Thomas, M. & Thompson, A. (2014). Empire and Globalisation: from ‘High Imperialism’ to Decolonisation. The International History Review. Vol. 36(1), 142-170. doi:10.1080/07075332.2013.828643

Tsui, A. B. & Tollefson, J. W. (2017a). The Construction of National Identity and Globalization in Multilingual Malaysia. In Language Policy, Culture, and Identity in Asian Contexts (pp. 65-82): London, Routledge.

Tsui, A. B. & Tollefson, J. W. (2017b). Language policy and the construction of national cultural identity. In Language policy, culture, and identity in Asian contexts (pp. 11-32): London, Routledge.

Tsui, A. B. & Tollefson, J. W. (2017c). Language policy, culture, and identity in Asian contexts: London, Routledge.

Tunku Zain Al’Abidin. (2017). On Malaysian English. IDEAS. Retrieved September 6, 2018 from http://www.ideas.org.my/on-malaysian-english/

Wai, W. C. (2015). The sad state of English in Malaysia. The Jakarta Post. Retrieved September 6, 2018 from The Jakarta Post website: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2015/06/22/the-sad-state-english-malaysia.html

Weiss, M. (2018). Malaysia after GE14: transition to what? New Mandala. Retrieved September 6, 2018 from New Mandala website: http://www.newmandala.org/malaysia-ge14-transition/

Yahya, Z., Ibrahim, N., Ramli, R., Yusof, N. M. & Othman, Z. (2017). Your Language My Culture My Language (YLMC): Developing a Local-Culture ELT Matrix for Schools in Terengannu, Malaysia. Kajian Malaysia. Vol. 35(2), 39-66.

Yeoh, J. & Yeoh, P. (2018). Competitiveness between Ethnic Malays and Ethnic Chinese in Malaysia. GSTF Journal of Psychology (JPsych) . Vol. 2(1), 16-21.

Zakaria, W. I. M. (2018). Malaysia needs new social compact similar to NEP of 1970s: Economist. The Sun Daily. Retrieved September 6, 2018 from http://www.thesundaily.my/news/2018/01/21/malaysia-needs-new-social-compact-similar-nep-1970seconomist

Zuckerman, A. (1975). Political cleavage: A conceptual and theoretical analysis. British Journal of Political Science. Vol. 5(2), 231-248.

Zuckerman, A. (1982). New approaches to political cleavage: A theoretical introduction. Comparative Political Studies. Vol. 15(2), 131-144.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17576/3L-2018-2403-15


  • There are currently no refbacks.




eISSN : 2550-2247

ISSN : 0128-5157