Thursday, December 10, 2009

Judge rejected Anwar Ibrahim's appeal on language grounds; Karpal calls for official promotion of English language

The Edge - Karpal: Time for English to be second official language.

Short summary - Anwar sued Dr Mahathir 3 years ago for alleged libel. He lost suit. He engaged Karpal Singh to appeal. Justice Abdul Malek Ishak dismissed Anwar Ibrahim’s case.


The appeal was not drafted in Bahasa Malaysia. It was in English.

Karpal Singh sighed that points of submissions and arguments in the High Court, Court of Appeal and the Federal Court proceedings are still done in English, and most ironically of all, Justice Abdul Malek, who dismissed the case on a language technicality, wrote his 30-page judgment in English.

Karpal left a parting shot at Justice Abdul Malek, stating: "I would have thought there was more than a need for him to have written his judgment in Bahasa Malaysia in view of the strong language he uses in support of it."

Wakakaka -sometimes the best we can do is just to laugh at the situation, as we can do buggerall, at least until the next general election.

Leaving that aside, I have personally found that of the 3 major ethnic groups in Malaysia, the Indians have been the ones not only the most fluent with English but who feel completely at home with its usage. In other words, to many Indians, English is virtually their ‘mother tongue’.

Now, before Indians or non-Indians start jumping on me, I need to qualify what Indians I have in mind.

Indian Malaysians aren’t a homogenous group – the common ethnic groups are the Punjabis like Karpal Singh (a minority in Malaysia), the mamaks (meaning ‘uncles’, a common appellation for Indian Muslims), Tamils including the Sri Lanka variety (the majority group, and I was told, the latter would look down on the former as socio-cultural inferiors), Malayalams, Telugus, etc.

Socially there are the highly marginalised groups like labourers, rubber tappers and poor, and the very very rich like Ananda Krishnan and MIC leaders, and lamentably caste-wise, the Brahmins at one end and the Dalits at the other.

Then there are the majority Hindus, a significant Muslim population, Bahais and some Christians but very rarely Buddhists (unless they’re Singhalese which mean they would refuse to be classified as Indians in the first place).

So on so forth …

The Indians I have in mind are the urban educated middle-class, regardless of ethnic origins – dads or/and mums are usually doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, teachers, academicians, businessmen, etc. They and their families are more likely to be speaking English at home (possibly except with their servants), unlike their social equivalents in the Chinese and Malay communities who would usually lapse into their 'mother tongue' once at home.

Why is this so?

For those English speaking Indians, could it be a traditional hangover from the British Raj days, both in India and colonial Malaya, where English has become so deeply embedded in their professional, social and personal lives that it has become their unacknowledged ‘mother tongue’?

Could it be because they are not motivated to talk in Indian (Tamil or Telugu or Punjabi, etc), as there are far too many languages, a different one for each Indian ethnic group?

Though Chinese also have various ethnic languages, most Chinese can converse across the dialectal divides; despite the dialectal differences there are many common terms/words which are near-sounding enough for their meanings to be guessed at and imitated; best of all (if Chinese educated) the common written form can be read without any trouble or difficulty regardless of its dialectal origin.

It’s not just the English language alone; I observe that most Indians are more at home with English culture – tea and cucumber sandwiches, English literature, poetry, plays, lifestyle, etc. Obviously assimilating English cultural mores and habits help enhance language proficiency.

When I was in India I visited the home of an Indian Brigadier General (someone took me there). I found our host to be nothing less than the perfect English country squire, in dressing, mannerisms and domestic practice.

Dressed impeccably in country tweeds and boots, which you would expect of a gentleman owning a Sussex or Cotswald country estate or farm, he was seated beside the fireplace with a black Labrador dog at his feet (it was winter in Northern Indian then). Shotguns, stuffed deer heads complete with antlers, college or regimental colours lined the walls of the cosy sitting room.

Though his wife and two beautiful daughters wore sarees, if you close your eyes, you would think they were English, speaking in perfect English with only a slight trace of Northern Indian accent.

Naturally we had pre-dinner drinks, dry sherry for the men and sweet ones for the sweeties. A platoon of male servants in magnificent Indian traditional gear served and pampered us.

Oh, dinner was properly announced by the chef (cook?) and semi-formal in the European style. We had the standard chicken soup, grilled pheasants (I was informed by one of the daughters that her dad had shot them gulp), venison (dared not asked whether it was also shot by the General), veg, wine, desserts, etc.

Of course we had port and brandy with our coffee. I was also offered a cigar but I politely declined.

‘Twas all a jolly good show old boy – indeed, rippling old top. God save the Queen ;-)


  1. come on, we live in malaysia. why court appeal was written in english?! don't the lawyers know that bm is official language and any official deal should be in bm. even parlimen debating is using bm, so it's obvious matter of court should be in bm too. we're already merdeka > 50years for goodness!

  2. Kaytee: Mostly true, except you will be hard-press to find a number of Anglo-ised Indians to that extent. More than other parts of Asia, the British controlled far more of the subcontinent for far longer a period than, say, China.

    While most traders came from China, most professionals came from the subcontinent where they were far more likely to be English educated. Moreover, with the upper- to middle-class colonial Malay population disinterested to civil service under the British residents, a lot of civil servants from the subcontinent came over. With the top bits of Whitehall from Oxbridge, you could say some of the culture rubbed off.

    As for language, the vast majority of Indians here still are able to speak Tamil. The bits that don't, or don't do very well, are the middle- to upper-class. For the Chinese, there is a clear rationale for learning Chinese - Mandarin is thought in class, and is used as the language of business and governance in China and Taiwan. For Indians, most Malaysian Indians are southerners, native of some Dravidian tongue that is entirely unrelated to Hindi, whose use in India is far more limited than Mandarin in China.

    There is a social and economic advantage to learning Chinese. But if you don't speak Tamil (or Malayalese or Telegu, etc.) at home, there is little advantage to learning the language.

    Anonymous: Most of the law (case law and statutes) are in English, and most of the profession--especially at the higher up--is more fluent in English than Malay. Add to the fact that, in the case of commercial law, English is still the language of business here. Therefore, the cost of switching the language of the courts is very, very high.

    India too have India as the national language, and a lot of states have their own state languages too. Yet the Union language of the judiciary is English, as with all but four states.

  3. Not surprising at all, KT. According to Wikipedia, the Indian subcontinent was under British colonial rule from 1858 to 1947. And prior to 1858 the British East India Company was already active there for more than a hundred years.

    That's plenty of time for the English to introduce their culture there and for it to take root.

  4. Anonymous 9:07 PM, December 10, 2009 - yes we live in malaysia. yes bm is our official language. if the only reason for rejecting the appeal because it was written in english, then why oh why did the judge wrote his own written judgement in english? tulis bahasa lah! sendiri pun tak tau guna bm, nak buat judgment suruh semua orang pakai bm. and i would like to know, what language did the other side lawyers used to submit their case?

  5. Another low for our predominantly corrupt and biased judiciary!

    Cakap tak serupa bikin!!

    Let the CJ and AG unearth for us some worthwhile decisions written in BM over the last 20 years. Then we'll see if the CoA acted impartially or NOT!!

    We are all of 1 race, the Human Race

  6. novalizar,

    what do you expect from ketuanan melayu judges.

    they have to serve UMNO first, lah. everything else is inconsequential.

  7. For the briefest moment back there, I thought you're going to whack DSAI again. Hahaha... that's a relief.

  8. stupidest stupid judge judged judging judgement