Experts fear that new generation of Muslim Malays in Deep South uses more Thai, less Malay

Experts have expressed fear at decreased use of the Malay language in the three southernmost province, so-called Patani, at a public forum held by Deep South Watch earlier this month.
 
Manawawi Mama, a lecturer in the Malay language, Yala Rajaphat University, expressed concern that these days when young people speak, they have a habit of mixing Thai and Malay in their speech. If they can’t change this habit, young people from the Deep South will not be able to communicate with people from countries where Standard Malay is the mother tongue; their speech will be incomprehensible to native speakers of the standard language.  
 
Manawawi also argued for the “clean-up” of Patanian Malay, known as Melayu to the locals. Even though most Thai words can be easily expressed in Standard Malay, people in the Deep South always use Thai loanwords in their speech. He compared the Patanian Malay as nasi gabu, a popular rice dish in the Deep South which is a mix of several ingredients together with budu sauce, to show how messy the language is. 
 
To address this problem, he recommended youth to choose either Thai or Malay when they speak, not bfoth, and when speaking Malay, to try to speak Malay properly.
 
 
“We learned Malay since a very young age. Our Tadika teachers (Weekend religious school for children) also taught us in Malay, not a mix. Each of us probably spent 20 years learning and studying in Malay. So how come we still can’t use it properly? You all in this room will be the ones that dictate the future of the Malay language in this country,” he said.
 
Hara Shintaro, Former lecturer of Malay Studies at Prince of Songkhla University Pattani campus, described knowledge of Standard Malay in the Deep South as being in a dire state, using patients in intensive care as an analogy. There must be a greater recognition among those in the Deep South that Standard Malay is a critical bedrock of local culture and the core spirit of the Malay race. Without language, there can be no race.
 
Meanwhile, Tuwaedaniya Meringing, a reporter from Malaysia’s TV3 who is based in Hat Yai, showed the benefit of becoming expert in Standard Malay: there is an increasing demand for Standard Malay skills in the communication industry of Indonesia and Malaysia.  However, not many people from the Deep South are able to fill the need. 
 
The lack of understanding of the importance Malay keep people from trying to learn it, Tuwaedaniya noted. He said most of the young people who use social media tend to use Thai more than Malay. To revive Malay usage in Thailand, he recommended that young people read books in Malay to sharpen their language skill. 
 
“There are more than 200 private Islamic schools where all the teaching is done in Malay. And we were born speaking Malay. But somehow the language is disappearing (from our lives),” he said.
 
Nik Rakib Nik Hassan, Malay language lecturer, at Prince of Songkhla University, Pattani Campus, invited participants to look back into the history of the Malay race. Although it has been understood that Melayus are the inhabitants of Southeast Asia who speak Malay as their mother tongue), people of some ethnic or indigenous groups have also been mistaken as Malay, such as the Minangkabau, the Javanese, the Bugis, the Acehnese, and the Dayak and the Batak.  (Some in these groups also identify themselves as Malay).    
 
Nik Rakib also pointed out that Malay is increasingly spoken in countries where the native tongue is not Malay (in Vietnam, for example). This is the reason for people in Thailand’s Deep South to speak the language more properly, he argued. 
 
Apart from the discussion by experts, students from five schools and one university in the Deep South shared experiences and lessons on promoting Malay language in everyday life.  Participants in this round of panel discussion came from Darussalam School in Narathiwat, Nahdatulsyuban School in Narathiwat, Bakong Pittaya School in Pattani, Thamavitya Mulniti School in Yala, Chariyatham Suksa Foundation School in Songkhla, and Maahad Darul Maarif – Majlis Agama Islam (PETIDAM) in Pattani. 
 
These students have organized extra-curriculer activities to promote Malay literature, Malay poetry, and Anasyid (Islamic songs) in Malay, Arabic and English. At the Darussalam School in Narathiwat, for example, students have set up the Club Bestari Bahasa Melayu (The club for the sustainability of the Malay language) to broadcast news and information in Malay through the school’s radio station. At Nahdatulsyuban School in Narathiwat, students have created clubs or groups to read Malay poetry and practice Anasyid singing as well as delivering speeches in the standard language. At PERTIDAM, students have volunteered in Tadika Schools to help children become more familiar with the the Jawi alphabet, used to be popular in Patani, and are planning joint activities to promote the Malay language with Princess of Naradhiwas University.
 
 
Before the seminar ended, students from Nahdatulsyuban School and Bakong Pittaya School joined the reading of beautiful Malay poems, mesmerizing all participants.
 
Abdulsukor Din-a , an administrator of the Chariyatham Suksa Foundation School,  recommended building a network with schools or organizations in countries where Malay is the first language, which will lead to joint activities for cultural exchange and language promotion. Meanwhile, Sitimuna Payodueramaeof Nahdatulsyuban School young people should try to take advantage of modern technology and use their smartphones to help them enhance the communication in Malay. 
 
“The New Generation and Malay Communication” seminar was organized by the Deep South Journalism School (DSJ) on 6 February 2016 at the Parkview Hotel in Pattani province. 
 
 
The article was first published on Deep South Journalism School, edited and translated into English by Prachatai