Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Agoda please take note

Dear Agoda,

Of late I've noticed that you advertise in Malay, the national language of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, and I see your Malay ads everywhere. You are now one of those foreign folks who care for the Malay language more than .

However, allow me to correct, I mean polish your command of the language with two of the most common advertising tag-lines I come across.

In this one, I believe you mean "New Langkawi hotel deals" for the second line. Urusniaga isn't the right word for 'deal' in this context. It should be tawaran, which literally means "offer". Hence, "Tawaran hotel (insert place name) yang baru."

Ah, you actually use tawaran here. Good on ya. But the red tagline is definitely laughable because you said "Don't miss the missed" or something like that. You used two inflected forms of the same word, lepas. Wonder what it was originally in English. I guess, "Don't miss out"? I suggest "Jangan lepaskan peluang ini" which means "Don't miss out the chance" and looks and sounds better for local eyes and ears.

Anyway, all the best to you and I look forward to see these little boo-boos fixed before more and more people start laughing at your Malay. That can't be good, right?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bahasa Malaysia in the world of information technology

In my Malay-language blog, I have made some comments about how well-adapted Bahasa Malaysia is in the 21st-century, information technology-centric world. In urban Malaysia, people do not see the need to localize software interfaces and such to Malay or Chinese because in the 90s, people were introduced to computers which only operate in English, and as such, become too accustomed to using it in English. Pretty typical in developing countries, I suppose.

In the meantime, the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Malaysia's national language regulator, have come up with a great amount of IT and computer-related terms in Malay, many of which I am certain do not appear to be borrowed wholesale from English at all. However, long-time Malaysian PC users are not likely to embrace those local terms because they have been using the PC in English and they're too accustomed to the English terms for a long time. It is also believed that this is one of the factors that perpetuate the use of mixed language, a centre of contention,

However, this does not mean the new local computer terms in general will not see the day of light, aside from muat turun (calque from "download") that has become well-established by mobile app ads on TV to say the least. About more than half of Malaysian households do not look forward to owning a PC not merely because of being in the low income bracket, but also they may not feel at home using a PC in a language that is foreign to their culture (i.e. English).

Perhaps they are unaware that there are localization solutions ready for them by both Microsoft and Linux distribution developers, just like there are language options on mobile phones.

However, the Malay computer terminology come up by DBP has met criticism from local software translators concerning the extent to which the local terms reflect the meaning of their English equivalents. For example, lalai (which means "negligent" or "careless") has been made the equivalent of 'default', which I find as having a strong negative connotation and may confuse users.

Nevertheless, I do think that poor localization, or poor knowledge of localization solutions, remain a major obstacle in putting more PC's in Malaysian homes. It is more important to localize IT terms for the general public than to localize, say, aerospace engineering and biochemistry terms for local universities. It'd be a good idea if software translators unite and form an alternative language regulator specializing in computer terms if they are not happy with what DBP has cooked up.

Another matter is the rampant use of bad language (SMS-style shorthand, mixed language) among Malaysian internet users, which I believe does more harm than good in the long run. The use of such language will give new, mostly-rural Internet users the impression that Bahasa Malaysia had been neglected and left to ruin by the urbanites. It also makes Bahasa Malaysia look bad in front of non-Malay speakers, especially ethnic Chinese and Indians who strive to score A in BM in public exams, only to struggle to understand what the native Malay speakers say in chat rooms.

Most websites catered to Malaysian users, particularly are only available in English, thus more people will bemoan about the current fate of the national language. Like I might have implied earlier in this post, the influence of English in post-colonial Malaysia appears unbridled compared to other countries, to the extent that it can be likened to deforestation, destroying our lingual ecology.

To counter the problem, on 2009, the year the polemical policy of teaching Science and Mathematics in English was scrapped, Malaysia revives its National Language Month every October. It is now in its third year and honestly, I don't feel anything proactive about it other than "cultural activities", and elocution and poem contests. I expect to hear something as daring as lashing on the use of poor language in chatrooms and forums, call for the restructuring or replacement of DBP with a more credible, non-government-linked language body etc.

Now I have a wish: if we install a new government in the next general elections, we'd make Kota Bharu or Kuala Terengganu Malaysia's new centre of ICT for the people.

Oh yes, it's been three months since I last posted something, I'd close this post with a tribute to Steve Jobs.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

So not fair!

(Adapted from Tak aci betul!)

Being a translator for Bahasa Malaysia-dubbed children's content can be a pain, especially when coming to grips with local broadcast guidelines which are applied inconsistently between local and (dubbed) foreign cartoons, best understood if you understand Bahasa Malaysia. There are rules which stipulate what cannot be heard from dubbed foreign cartoons, but doesn't seem to apply for made-in-Malaysia productions. I mean, local cartoons can get away with what is forbidden for dubbed foreign cartoons, why?

We are not supposed to use the words aku and engkau, the informal-pronouns equivalents of "me" and "you" respectively, on the pretext that cartoons are targeted to kids who are not mature enough to use the pronouns. Instead we translators can only use saya and kamu/awak, the more polite ones, which doesn't make any sense in, for example, an action-packed Japanese shonen anime like Dragon Ball Z Kai. Not only it's a bit tricky for me to distinguish "saya" and "Saiya" (remember, most of the world pronounces it the Japanese way: sigh-yah, unlike the Americans which go say-uhn), the polite pronouns are really out of place in conversations between sworn enemies. See how useful aku and engkau are in situations like these.

And yes, broadcasters and broadcast regulators seem to be unaware or even have forgotten that quite a number of Japanese anime are unsuitable for primary-age kids; if you want that kind of anime dubbed, give the dubbing team more freedom of expression, otherwise we cannot guarantee quality work for the target audience.

Saya Saiya. (Saiya Saya?)
Compare this with the characters in Upin & Ipin, a (proudly) locally-made CGI animated series, clearly targeted towards younger kids that Dragon Ball (but have a huge following among the grown-ups; hence I think of it as), in which the eponymous twin protagonists communicate with each other and their friends with the pronouns aku and engkau. See? If 5-year-olds know how to use aku and engkau properly, why the unfair protectionism?

Thankfully, in recent years there were a couple of mature-oriented anime dubbed in BM which managed to pull it off with aku, engkau and some sort of strong language, but they were somehow misplaced in the daytime kids' slot and the complaints from some of the audience may have forced the regulators to finally tighten up, but without the complete and proper understanding that not all anime are for kids. We don't want to put up with tak guna which is becoming a clich├ęd phrase for translating harsh words like "damn" or the ilk in dubbed programmes.

Besides that, local dubbers are also told against using elements of pidgin language (bahasa rojak) or dialects, but look at another local cartoon, BoBoiBoy. I have caught it several times tossing in some English words in where there are Malay equivalents, like "order" (as in asking for a purchase, which should be pesan), and you let them in anyway just because they are precious Malaysian-made cartoons? What the heck are the broadcast regulators trying to do, kill the Malay language?

But then again, pay TV gives more freedom to write what to be recorded in Bahasa Malaysia dubs than free-to-air TV, particularly Cartoon Network with its edgy programming. The best example of this is The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, in which the Grim Reaper speaks in the Negeri Sembilan dialect, and the characters mostly communicate with aku and engkau. That sure tickles our funny bones.

Finally I have found the time to write this stuff in English in hopes of grabbing the attention of international cartoon distributors who are concerned with the quality of international dubs, so they can lodge complaints to the relevant local authorities and bring to book whoever came up with the idea of having different rules for local and foreign cartoons in such a manner that dubbed cartoons would always be flawed than local ones in terms of dialogue. If this ain't double standards, then what is it?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Translatewiki.net and community translation sites

Sorry for not posting anything for quite some time; I have been preoccupied with a Translation Rally on Translatewiki.net and a subtitling job that pays me (finally!)

Translation Rally? Oh dear, I wish I had told you sooner. OK, Translatewiki.net is the place to translate the interfaces of wiki sites and selected open-source software into your language (if it's not English). This especially goes to languages in developing countries (as it's supposed to be 'free' software and resources).

At certain times, Translatewiki.net will reward its most loyal contributors by holding a Translation Rally to encourage people to contribute as many translations as they can in a given period of time to share a fixed bounty (which would be divided by the total number of contributors who are verified to surpass the minimum amount of translations required). Remember, Translatewiki.net is not a paying job, and contributors should not join rallies merely for the moolah; they must strive to stay on to help keep their languages alive in cyberspace by translating more often, rally or not.

You know, software makers in developed countries feel sad to see so many languages getting left behind in the rapidly-developing realm of information and communications technology. They feel this is not good because as more and more people become over-dependent on foreign languages (like English) to use software or even gain general knowledge, in the very long run they may look upon their own native tongues as 'backward', thus accelerating language extinction. Or, those who strive to defend their languages will be left behind in the technological world. It reeks of the Malaysian's problem with juggling the languages they learn (as in bahasa rojak, debate on medium of instruction on Science and Maths and so on)!

Besides Translatewiki.net, there are many more community software/website translation portals out there, but I know only a few prominent ones, like Launchpad.net (where you translate Firefox, Ubuntu etc) and translation apps on Google and Facebook, too!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The case for a culture of dubbing

The moment I first discovered a trove of Disney animated clips dubbed in various languages on YouTube, it really makes me feel kinda ashamed as a Malaysian because it is only quite recently that somebody has taken the initiative to dub American animated fare to Bahasa Malaysia in a regular basis. Then again, I feel proud to be finally be part of the process for once, when I did translating and polishing work for a Disney Channel programme last year.

Anyone who has resided in Malaysia before the 2000s may know that in Malaysia, we traditionally air American, British or English-language animation and children's fare in English. We didn't bother to dub them to BM for some reason; perhaps it is the pretext that watching English cartoons help our kids learn English faster. Yet the decades of English cartoons didn't seem to make things any better for the country to me.

I get that English is the lingua franca for commerce, high sciences, diplomacy etc, but definitely not for arts and entertainment. And the practice of dubbing Hollywood animated fare clearly demonstrates that there is no single language that dominates entertainment and performance arts.

Looking back at history, Disney's Tarzan was the first and only time a Hollywood film was dubbed in Bahasa Malaysia for cinemas, way back in 1999. Disney said the local dub was well-received by cinema-goers and planned to dub more films into BM. But it was only in 2007 that they announced their second ever BM dub project for two instalments of High School Musical. The following year, Disney Channel launches its BM audio feed and it progressed from a three-hour block to virtually 24-7.

Prior to that, TV9 was launched in 2006 and featured a daily kids' block of Nickelodeon cartoons dubbed in BM. Nickelodeon's own channel also activated its BM audio feed a year after. Cartoon Network followed suit in mid-2008. And it was only earlier this year that public broadcaster RTM began airing a Playhouse Disney block in BM every weekday evening.

Compare this with other countries. The Europeans have done it since the early half of the 20th century; Japan started it somewhere in the 50s. As for former British and American colonies where English is still considerably influential and remains a co-official language, Hong Kong does it in Cantonese, India does it in Hindi, Tamil etc, and the Philippines has done it in Tagalog, all before the turn of the century. And I am talking about dubbing animated fare from English-speaking nations (especially but not limited to Disney or USA) into their native languages as a commonplace tradition.

And this may not be straightforward to some Malaysians, particularly urbanites, who are fluent in English and their world revolves around the Anglophone cultures. If English is the universal language of the world, and it is imperative for our kids to learn it, then why should cartoons and kids shows in English be dubbed into forty-something other languages?

Again, I bring up the Scandinavians. Kids watching American cartoons dubbed in their own language doesn't mean they downplay the importance of English for their future; and their mastery of English doesn't mean it has a primary role in their culture. Like I said in my previous post, they use their knowledge of English to keep their own languages alive; and dubbing is one of the ways to do it, a crucial one to ensure that kids have pride in the language that speaks for their native culture in the era of globalization.

Look at them. Their kids watch SpongeBob SquarePants and Mickey Mouse dubbed in their language and grow up being able to juggle many languages. The same can't be said for Malaysia, where English cartoons have been on air for decades and yet we hear laments of our falling standard of English and the fall from grace of the national language, and the resulting zero-sum mentality among Malaysians when it comes to languages (i.e. Malay vs English). Hence, I guess that Malaysianizing cartoons is for the better.

Now that Malaysians have TV slots and TV channels dedicated to airing American cartoons in BM, it's only a matter of time before Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks animated films are "Bahasa-Malaysianized" as well in our theatres.

(Related post: Kenapa perlu alih suara?)

Monday, April 11, 2011

How English is promoted in Malaysia nowadays

(This is my first original post in this blog)

On 3 April 2011, the Sunday Star weekly newspaper made a feature which discusses the command of English amongst Malaysian students, in "Bilingualism is the way". Portions of this article have part of, if not all of, what is needed to put an end to the nonsense that placed English in conflict with BM in Malaysian society.

Among those interviewed for the feature are Emeritus Prof Datuk Dr Nik Safiah Karim, a highly-respected Malaysian linguist:
The root of the conflict, offers language expert Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Nik Safiah Karim, is the way the importance of English is conveyed to the students.

Students are told that they need to master the English language or else, when instead it should be impressed on them that both languages are important,” says the renowned champion of the national language.
That's the freaking problem, my friends! There has been a stark tendency between the "pejuang bahasa" of both BM and English to overemphasize their language over the other, while right-minded Malaysians strive for a harmonious relationship between the two.
“English is important for knowledge and international communication while Bahasa Malaysia is important for national identity, culture and heritage,” she says, stressing that problems arise only when one language is judged to be superior over another.

Dr Nik Safiah, who is in favour of putting equal emphasis on both languages, refutes the accusations from certain factions that the decline in the standard of English among young Malaysians is caused by the prominence given to the national language in our education system.
“The standard is low for both languages so we need to review the way they are taught,” she points out.
Well said, Dr Nik. It must be ensured in the Malaysian education system that language lessons in BM and English are equally enriched so that Malaysians have proper command of both languages rather than jumbling them up in each sentence they write or speak.

Another notable interviewee in the feature is Datuk Termuzi Abdul Aziz, director-general of Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, the governing body for the Malay language in Malaysia:
Drawing attention to the Scandinavian nations, which have a good multilingual practice, he says: “Their citizens use their mother tongue for almost everything but at the same time, almost everybody can communicate in English. They have no issues about learning English because they are confident and proud of their mother tongue while accepting that English is the international language of business and knowledge.” 
To resolve the language “conflict”, we should get over our hang-ups and learn English, while at the same time have confidence in the national language's status as a language of knowledge, he adds.
That's what a culture of translation is for. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, translation is not for the sake of those who don't understand the source language...you know the rest. Though he later mentions that translation would "take time", translating general knowledge and fiction for the masses should be a breeze compared to scientific and academic journals which aren't meant to be accessible outside scholarly grounds, hence I don't mind if scientific journals require a unifying language for the world.
Most of those who went through the Malay medium education system from the 1970s (when Bahasa Malaysia was made the medium of instruction in schools and later at local public universities from 1982 to 2003), have no problem being bilingual, he points out. “Many have become successful professionals and corporate leaders.”
That's true to some extent, especially among the urban dwellers. But what about the rural folk who hardly find a good opportunity to practise what they learn from English lessons in their school days? And has our education system over these years succeeded in making Malaysians proud of Bahasa Malaysia; if so, to what extent?
He believes that having Malaysians who are proficient in both languages will only enrich the national language, as it will create a two-way flow of information and knowledge.
Well said again. This is what the Scandinavians do with their command of English, challenging themselves to come up with local terms of new concepts that emerge from the fast-paced English-speaking world day by day, alongside their strong tradition of translating, am I right?

Right now, all I want of DBP is to try to convert itself into an non-governmental organization that doesn't come at the receiving end of significant political attachment or influence, but that relies on the support of the populace who cherish the national language. And find more brains who are proficient in English and as many foreign languages as possible.

Let's roll back to the intro of the feature for something I find really intriguing:
IZUAN M can speak and write in two languages but he knows this will not be enough for him when he goes into the job market. 
That is the predicament for many Islamic Studies undergraduates like him, says this Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Islamic Civilisation student.
They are proficient in Bahasa Malaysia and Arabic but weak in English.”
Hmm...makes you think why Malay students like them are more interested in, or rather, feel more comfortable with Arabic rather than English for a second language. Nevertheless, later in the passage, these kids acknowledge the virtue of learning English to prepare themselves for the globalized world. Again, like Dr Nik Safiah said, the problem lies in how the languages are promoted and taught. Inherently, the Arabic lessons are probably far more effective than English lessons in the campus. So tell me, the folks at UM, what can you do about it?

Can the Constitution really protect a language?

I just got the news that PPSMI may be coming back in a smaller scale for selected schools, cheering up its proponents who do not fear that it will never erode the status of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language for it is protected by the provisions of Article 152 of the Federal Constitution. And the same Article has been used by opponents of the policy based on their interpretations.

I am not here to announce my stance on the PPSMI issue which has divided Malaysians. I am here to critique on the extent that Article 152 of the Federal Constitution can preserve the vitality and stature of BM as the national language of Malaysia. And I am adamant that I'm going to tell it based on an inherent fact, not opinion.

Let me ask you this: Are rules of law living beings with minds of their own, what more the supreme law? Can something which isn't a living being with a mind of its own, by itself, protect a country's interests like public safety and even protecting symbols of national identity like the national language?

Many Malaysians still believe in the pretext that Bahasa Malaysia is still alive and kicking as the main language of the country as it has been guaranteed by Article 152. But in reality, BM is far from the glory it was promised upon by the supreme law. I readily admit that there are many factors that have made certain groups feel alienated with BM. Those who claim to speak BM, regardless of race, don't speak it fluently; they tend to use bahasa rojak (sometimes in formal occasions) and may display inability to write BM professionally. Local and localized websites not catered to anyone other than Malaysians are only in English, without a BM option.

By realizing all this, how can we still claim that BM remains the main language as guaranteed by the Constitution? To say that we make a law to protect the language so it can live on forever more is like saying we make a law to ban fireworks so that fireworks be wiped out from our market from now onwards (rather than having law enforcement to take on firework traders after the law is passed).

It is not the duty of the law to protect the national language; it is the people's. One can say there is no need for a legal provision to protect a language, as is demonstrated by the US, UK and Japan, neither of which provide for a national or official language in their respective supreme laws, yet English and Japanese flourish as among the world's major languages. Meanwhile in Singapore, Malay is the sole national language as per constitution, but now many of its citizens, including Malays, can't speak it fluently!

If Malaysians are to be sincere in loving their national language, they must pay lip service no longer and strive to use the language properly, for the Constitution, being not a living being with a mind of its own, cannot protect the language on its own. It is a creation of some living beings with minds of their own, as a guidance for a community of living beings with minds of their own. What's the point of a law anyway, if people don't know how to appreciate what the law is protecting?