Sunday, January 30, 2011

The excuse

Every Malaysian can speak Malay, the national language, as they learn it at school. A good share of the population can also speak English, even if they have never been to any English speaking country. Some of them do it perfectly, others might make a few grammatical and spelling mistakes but they can express themselves fluently and their comprehension skills are good. Depending on the ethnic group which they belong to then, many of them will also know Mandarin, Cantonese and Hokkien even if they haven't traveled to China, Hindi, Urdu, Tamil and Malayalam without having set foot in India. In Malacca there is even a community whose members can speak Portuguese without, of course, having ever lived in Portugal or one of its former colonies.
Italians can speak Italian and...that's it. Sometimes not even that well. Who has learned a foreign language has done it abroad, through the Erasmus program or by working at some restaurant in London, New York or Sydney, on their own accord and using their own funds. The English language lessons at school have turned out to be of little use. Of course Italy cannot be compared with Malaysia, a country with a totally different history and society. Yet it seems that something better could have been - and still can be - done about it.
One of the most widely used excuses to maintain the status quo is that our national language needs to be protected. Protected...from what kind of danger exactly? From the bad examples provided by most of the TV programs? From the increasing impoverishment of the vocabulary used at home, at work or at school? From the widespread habit of using the SMS contracted spelling standard - even when one is not writing a phone message - with the sudden and premature death of vowels and upper-case letters? Not at all...what it really needs protection from is the imaginary but potentially lethal invasion of the English language.
A false pride that the common citizens put on display in order to hide the embarrassment caused by ignorance and the laziness induced by the simple thought of learning a new language. Pride that on the other hand most of those who govern us will resort to in order to hide their lack of talent, creativity, initiative and ideas, but most of all to continue to devote themselves to their favorite hobby - the struggle for power and the accumulation of wealth and privileges - without any additional useless nuisance.
And if all the movies are dubbed and Robert De Niro keeps talking Italian, sometimes with the same voice as Al Pacino, well...who cares. It will not be a perfect solution, we won't be able to fully enjoy the artist's performance, but at least we can still understand the plot. And those fanatics who are interested in the original version can always watch it on a DVD. Or else try to read the actors' lips...

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