Sunday, August 20, 2006

English as Colonial Leftover

In today's New Straits Times a piece on post-colonial Malaysian poet Wong Phui Nam, which sadly does not seem to be on the newspaper's website. (Frustration!) There's a wonderful line in Wilson Henry's article about Wong choosing his words in the interview as carefully:
... as if he were picking jewels from a Nepalese trader.
Poetry is catching, it seems!

Wong was born in Kuala Lumpur in 1935, a fifth generation Straits Chinese. His struggle with his identity and ethnicity lie at the core of his work. He graduated in Economics from the University of Singapore and went into banking a post in a bank, writing poetry in his spare time.

He says:
I write in English and how many read in English or are even interested in English poetry? We have lost three generations of Malaysians who studied in the national medium.

After May 13, the question, the question of what language I was forced to write in was forcefully brought home to me. I no longer wanted to write, at least in a language I was told was a colonial leftover. The National Language Policy and other policies on national unity, culture and economics made me reassess what I was doing. I began to question the validity of the language I was writing in.
His self-imposed exile from writing lasted 15 years until Edwin Thumboo in Singapore invited him to contribute some of his work to a collection. His work appeared in numerous journals, and is taught on university literature courses. His poems have also been collected in An Acre of the Day's Glass, and he has recently completed a verse-drama Anike, to be performed next year.


Related Post

Write in English? Don't be so Disloyal! (22/8/05)

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

"We have lost three generations of Malaysians who studied in the national medium."

No we have not. I studied in "the national medium" and I seem to have done quite well. I have found though that reading bad English tends to weaken my command.

Anonymous said...

Oh and on a related note, did you hear about Sharifah Amani saying "I sound stupid in Malay" ? I felt like saying "YES, someone understands" :) I speak colloquial Malay too, never got the hang of formal Malay.

Anonymous said...

I could take that as a racist remark but I won't go there. Don't understand the fuss about writing in English or Malay or even colloquial Malay. If it reflects and can come as close to represent the life, people and culture of that particular society , we should celebrate. Guess some people still living in denial.Focus on writing something worth reading and not the language.

Anonymous said...

I don't see how that could be construed as a racist remark. She was stating a fact. How can that be racist ? she didn't even mention a race :)

sympozium said...

"His struggle with his identity and ethnicity lie at the core of his work."

- shouldn't that be 'lies' and not 'lie' ? :-)))

Greenbottle said...

oh dear...ants in my pants again...i really feel insulted by the stupid comment by that retarded young actress what's her name amani some bitch or other 'i sound stupid when i speak in malay'...if i'm not mistaken she is a malay, and if so this bitch is only making a fool of herself by feeling so proud that she has some kind of speech impediment...

above all i detest wogs...people who are neither here nor there...people who are not proud of their own history and culture and race...and this amani bitch and the like should realize that never in a million years they'll turn white just because they speaks "better" english than their own mother tongue...grow up...

by the way, as you all know english or any other language per se has very little to do with good literature...i'm equally as happy to read any good literature from the world of tamils, telegu, mongols congolese or whatever as much as those by english or european writers (unfortunately only if available in good translations in the only second language i'm comfortable with..err..english..)

Anonymous said...

Huh, who was being proud ? she was just expressing an opinion (not even a fact actually come to think of it,) that she thinks she sounds stupid in Malay so she'll speak in English. How did language become history and culture and race ? it's just language. She's Malay because she was born Malay. Whether she speak English or Malay or not doesn't make her any less Malay. It doesn't mean she "wants" anything. She was expressing an opinion. Language is a means of communication. It's taught. Race is something you are born with. It is not taught.

How can people be "less" of a race ? you might as well say a cup is less of a cup, or maybe that Sharon is less of a Sharon if she does whatever, or thinks whatever.

Greenbottle said...

huh...i wasn't there when the silly lass said the silly thing...but let's not be pedantic...i know a few people like her...and i know some malay people that even stupidly pronounce malay words as though they are mat salleh...these are not only stupid but insulting not only to themselves but they offend me...people who are not proud of their own language must be sick in their head... and to admit (without shame) that they can not speak their own language better than some foreign language in public is moronic...

these very people who bend over backword trying to speak proper english and trying to sound like some generic american or english people but are careless or even derisory with regards to their own language is to me only shows how screwed up their self worth is...

Anonymous said...

"We have lost three generations of Malaysians who studied in the national medium"

No doubt here as to what he thinks about the National Medium :))

"The National Language Policy and other policies on national unity, culture and economics made me reassess what I was doing. I began to question the validity of the language I was writing in."

But of course, kinda tired of the whining. It's valid only if it is not in Bahasa! At least have some respect for the National Language. You live, eat and shit here dont you? Wanna bet if they let you do that in some Engrish-speaking country.

Anonymous said...

Now that's another thing, a language can't be false, so there's no such thing as a language that isn't "valid".