Language Vitality of Malaysian Languages and Its Relation to Identity

Soo Ying How, Chan Swee Heng, Ain Nadzimah Abdullah


Bahasa Malaysia is the national language in Malaysia, which acts as a national symbol that raise a sense of national unity, and  maintains a sense of cultural value and identity. As the country is multicultural and multilingual,  the use of Bahasa Malaysia, English, Mandarin, and Tamil  invite questions of comparative vitality, which is a strength evaluation of language relative to other languages that coexist in the linguistic sphere.The present study, via the  indicators such as language use, dominance and preference, language attitude and motivation, and language proficiency, aims to examine the vitality of these languages  and to obtain comparative information about their connections to national and ethnic identity. Vitality Questionnaire was distributed to Malaysian primary five students fromvernacular Tamil and Chinese schools. Findings indicate that Bahasa Malaysiaand English do not have high vitality . Yet, vernacular languages are rated  as having high vitality. It is suggested that  ethnic  languages dominantly shape ethnic identity and  that they  play animportant role in the students’ lives  at early age as compared to  Bahasa Malaysia  which has not gained a stronghold. Thus, the sense of national identity appears to have taken a back seat. National aspiration in this aspect of nation building is still far from being realized  if it is to be nurtured and expected to be developed at this stage of  growth. Within a multilingual milieu, establishing national identity  appears a complex issue and language choice and use may have long term effects on the moulding of a Malaysian national identity. 


language vitality; vitality indicators; ethnic identity; Malaysian languages; primary education

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