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Thursday, September 22, 2016

81pc of 136 languages in Malaysia dying

KUCHING - Eighty-one per cent of 136 languages in Malaysia are dying, the worst among all Southeast Asian countries.

According to the former Director of Unesco's Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education, Dr Sheldon Shaeffer (pic), the situation calls for concern from the Government as having diversity of languages is important for sustainable development.

"It's related to sustainable development and future (of the country). We want to promote as much diversity and difference as possible not only biological diversity but also cultural and ligustic diversity. We don't want a future where there will be only one of few languages," he told Daily Express at the Second Malaysian Indigenous Peoples' Conference on Education (MIPCE2).

He said Indonesia has only recorded 46 per cent of languages that are dying.

He said it is ironic that millions are spent on saving endangered species but no money is spent on endangered languages.

"To me, they're both important for sustainable development," said the anthropologist who earlier presented his paper entitled "Mother Tongue and Early Childhood Development: Synergies and Challenges."

Putting it in anthropological perspective, Dr Shaeffer said the languages of indigenous communities contain a large amount of knowledge and wisdom which have been accumulated over centuries.

"Their knowledge about plants and animals and medicine, for instance, might be beneficial to the modern man or to science," he said.

However, he urged that in order for indigenous communities to fully participate and contribute to sustainable development, their mother tongue must be used as the vehicle to transmit information.

He also said the Government must realise that indigenous children learn English and Malay better if they become literate in their own mother tongue, especially for those who live far from urban centres.

He pointed out that research has shown the dropout rate among indigenous children was 30 per cent compared with the national figure at only 4 per cent.

"A large part is that they go to school but they don't understand what's being said," he added.

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