Publish More Academic Works in Bahasa Melayu To Enhance Its Status-Experts

eading is the bridge to knowledge – put simply, this well-known phrase means reading is the pathway to accessing and acquiring knowledge.

Reading also enhances one’s language proficiency, which is why Malaysians are encouraged to read more in Bahasa Melayu as it is the official language of this country and plays a role in uniting its multi-ethnic society.

However, many language activists are saying that challenges such as advancements in science and technology, sincerity and determination of leaders, and cultural aspects are standing in the way of efforts to strengthen the position of the Malay language.

They also believe that Bahasa Melayu, as a language of knowledge, is still going through the process of reaching an optimal level that aligns with its status as the country’s national language and official language. 

To what extent have Malaysia’s academic scholars and researchers effectively leveraged the competency of Bahasa Melayu as a language of knowledge in their publications?




According to an adjunct professor at the Ungku Aziz Centre for Development Studies, Universiti Malaya, Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Zakariah Abdul Rashid, local book publishing industry players must pave the way for Bahasa Melayu’s elevation as a scholarly language on par with other languages in the world.  

He opined that using the national language in scholarly materials will not diminish their academic value because Bahasa Melayu is a language of knowledge with commercial value.

University of Malaya's Ungku Aziz Centre for Development Studies adjunct professor, Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Zakariah Abdul Rashid (Pix credit - DBP)

“The challenge facing the Malay-language publishing industry at this time is how to persuade the public to use Malay as a scholarly language as its role is still perceived as very limited in the field of writing.

“This is because we (our country) do not have a clear language policy regarding the medium of instruction at universities. We have to accept that subjects leaning towards science and mathematics must be taught in English due to their technical and quantitative aspects, as well as to attract more international students to study at Malaysian universities,” he said.

Zakariah said most of the highly-regarded scientific journals and publications produced by professional organisations are written in English so as to gain a wider audience.

“As such, everyone adheres to the 'rule of the game', that is, carry out research and write in English. So, what becomes of Bahasa Melayu? This is where the lack of a clear direction is evident,” Zakariah said when speaking as a panellist at a forum held here recently in conjunction with the national seminar on Malay Language Book Publishing, organised by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP).

Malaysian Book Publishers Association president Sheikh Faisal Sheikh Mansor and Penerbit Pelangi Sdn Bhd content manager Dr Poh Swee Hiang also participated in the forum, moderated by television personality Ahmad Fedtri Yahya.

Zakariah, who was the former executive director of the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research, said it is crucial to create a well-thought-out plan involving more serious collaborations between publishers and experts from various fields to produce more scholarly works in Bahasa Melayu, given that the necessary facilities and infrastructure are already in place.

"In reality, we have abundant expertise across various fields in local universities. We also have extensive experience in publishing, and many retired government officials with vast experience in their respective fields.

“I myself have gone through papers, reports and proposals written by them and found many of them have a good command of Bahasa Melayu,” he said.

Zakariah also cited funding and translation constraints as among the primary challenges facing publishers wishing to produce academic works in Bahasa Melayu.

He said since most of the existing publications are in English, the original content has to be evaluated and translated into Malay accurately.

Zakariah (two from left) was a panelist of a forum in conjunction with the national seminar on Malay Language Book Publishing, organised by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP). Malaysian Book Publishers Association president Sheikh Faisal Sheikh Mansor (two from right) and Penerbit Pelangi Sdn Bhd content manager Dr Poh Swee Hiang (right) also participated in the forum, moderated by television personality Ahmad Fedtri Yahya (left).

“The problem is the highly technical nature of most of these academic publications. So it’s pertinent that publishers ensure the content can be presented (in Bahasa Melayu) to readers in an engaging manner and enable them to understand the author’s (or authors’) main points of discussion,” he said, adding the publication of scholarly works in Malay also requires significant financial support.  

Attesting Bahasa Melayu’s predominance in the national teaching and learning system, Zakariah said it is, however, evident only at the school level. In tertiary education, “we are still seeing a significant deficiency”.

“Bahasa Malaysia is, indeed, the medium of instruction in schools in line with our national education policy. But in universities, the situation is different. So if we want to enhance the mastery of Bahasa Melayu, we need to do some deliberate planning,” he said.




Sheikh Faisal, meanwhile, said many industry players are unaware of the funds that drive book publishing, particularly those involved in translating technical books from various fields like business.   

He said many new publishers also do not know they can enjoy tax exemptions for donating books and sponsoring book publishing activities.

“Many countries out there offer attractive funding to encourage publication of books and translation of books written in foreign languages into their own languages.

“In those countries, the people don’t read in English as much as we do. Hence, the need for funding to translate foreign works into their own languages,” he added.

Sheikh Faisal said translating works from Malay into other languages is also a way to bring Malay culture closer to foreigners.

“In the Philippines, for example, (foreign) cultural books are translated into their language to enable the people to get to know foreign cultures better. In South Korea’s case, the whole world knows about their culture because significant grants for translation and publishing are offered by their government, leading to their culture spreading widely throughout the world,” he pointed out.

Poh, meanwhile, said his company, which has 45 years of experience publishing academic books – mainly school textbooks – in Bahasa Melayu, is currently digitalising its physical books to enable more people to access them.

“We believe that by 2027, half of the textbooks coming from publishers will be in digital form, so we can expect a bigger market for digital books then,” he said.


Translated by Rema Nambiar

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