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Book: International Communication - English Language Challenges for Malaysia




Chapter One: Overview and Framework

Chapter Two: Globalisation: Understanding the Concept and Working Out the Linguistic Challenges

Chapter Three: The Past, Present and Future of English as a Global / International Language

Chapter Four: Language Policies and English Language Challenges in Malaysia

Chapter Five: Standards and Pedagogical Norms for Teaching English in Malaysia

Chapter Six: Standards and Linguistic Realities of English in the Malaysian Workplace

Chapter Seven: Voices and Choices: Concerns of Linguistics,  Advertisers and Society

Chapter Eight: Medium of Instruction Policy in Higher Education in Malaysia  –  national interests vs.  internationalization

Chapter Nine:  Conclusion:  Directions for the Future




This book deals with current linguistic challenges that you read and hear about everyday in the media, issues that Malaysian society is greatly concerned.  These are dichotomous challenges between national concerns and international needs, between the use and application of the national language and the international lingua franca – English - and between varieties of Malaysian English and standards for international communication.

These challenges become even more important with prospects of inevitable globalisation and the need to be able to compete internationally.  This has seen the need for a population fluent in a language essential for international communication.  Therefore this book examines the English language challenges facing the Malaysian communicator in the 21st century.  These linguistic challenges are contextualised in a number of pertinent domains, ranging from the concerns of executives and decision-makers in the workplace, as well as copywriters in advertising to students, intellectuals and policy-makers in the field of higher education.

“This publication will serve as an important milestone document for scholars, academics and language professionals who are interested in the sociolinguistic issues of English language policy, development and change.  I have every reason to believe that this book will serve a large readership consisting not only of people in the field of language and linguistics, but the general public as well.  It would be relevant as one of the main references on the language situation in Malaysia pertaining to English, in sociolinguistic lectures in the local universities and abroad.”

Professor Emeritus Dato’ Dr. Asmah Haji Omar

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In present times, with challenges of inevitable globalization facing most countries around the world, major changes are taking place with regard to language policy and language development.  These changes are influenced not only by political, but increasingly by economic considerations.  The pull between these two contradictory factors places many a nation at linguistic crossroads in having to delineate linguistic priorities for themselves.  These include delineating priority choices: between national concerns and international needs, between the use and application of national languages and the international lingua franca – English, between varieties of English and standards of English, between medium of instruction in English and Bahasa Malaysia, between nationalism and pragmatism.  These are themes that you read and hear about everyday in the media, issues that society is greatly concerned about.

These writings place these themes in a proper theoretical framework.  Therefore, it is timely for this book to be written – this is a book that examines varying sociolinguistic challenges that affect many countries around the globe, but which applies specifically to the Malaysian context.  It consists of nine chapters, dealing with the role and use of language in Malaysia, specifically the role and use of English in the public, professional and social domains.  As with any discussion of English in Malaysia, this book also takes into account the role of Malay as national language, and its significance as a social language in the life of Malaysians.

This work can be categorized as belonging to sociolinguistics, or more specifically macro-sociolinguistics.  This means that issues are dealt with according to the policies and ethos of the society, as well as the use of the language in domains.   The chapters reflect a proper application of methodology, and a deep understanding of the theory of the sociology of language.  There are references to works in the field on similar issues in other countries, as well as works written by local scholars.

Malaysia, like many other developing countries that belong to a post-colonial tradition, is a nation that is at linguistic crossroads.  The crafting of linguistic policy and decisions made on language change and standards have over time been negotiated through a precarious minefield of political and economic considerations.  To add to the complexity of the situation, this is a nation that is multi-ethnic and therefore has different and sometimes even more complex challenges to face compared with nations that are made up of a mono-ethnic population.  This book in working out the linguistic priorities in the discussion of language policy and language change in Malaysia, examines this multifarious context from two perspectives. 

It does so firstly by tracing the struggle between the role and functions of Bahasa Malaysia and English in meeting the nation’s pragmatic needs.  This is clearly explicated in the field of higher education, especially in the contrast between the selection of the medium of instruction policy for private and public institutions of higher learning in line with Malaysia’s aspirations to be the regional centre for education and the resulting implications for the multi-ethnic population.

The second perspective derives from the fact that over time and with language policy changes and sociolinguistic development, English has developed into varieties.  This book follows this second perspective to focus on the examination of national identity and international intelligibility in a discussion on language standards.  This is contextualised in the workplace domain.

The balancing act between political and economic considerations is examined to work out priorities in terms of linguistic policy and language change, which will lead on to a delineation of future research directions.  This will enable nations at linguistic crossroads to face the challenges of the new century pragmatically and on their own terms.

This publication will serve as an important milestone document for scholars, academics and language professionals who are interested in the sociolinguistic issues of English language policy, development and change in the Malaysian context.  I have every reason to believe that this book will serve a large readership consisting not only of people in the field of language and linguistics, but the general public as well.  It would be relevant as one of the main references on the language situation in Malaysia pertaining to English, in sociolinguistic lectures in the local universities and abroad. 

Professor Emeritus Dato’ Dr. Asmah Haji Omar

Professor & Holder of the Za’ba Chair of Malay Civilisation

Director, Institute of Malay Civilisation

Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris

Tanjong Malim, Perak Darul Ridzuan

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The area of sociolinguistics is wide-ranging and encompasses many different aspects.  On one end of the spectrum, it deals with “language as a social problem and resource.” At the other end of the spectrum, it “starts with language, and social forces are seen as influencing language and as contributing to the nature of language.”  (Fasold, 1987:  ix)  This book focuses mainly on the former but also considers how the social forces influence the nature of language.

Any examination of language and communication should be interfaced with its roles, functions and its uses in society.   Language does not exist by itself, but has meaning and significance only in relation to the users of the language and their attitudes and opinions towards it – how the particular language is regarded, how it is used and the implications of the decisions made by the end-users who make up society.  After all, “Communication (and the use of language) cannot be studied in isolation; it must be analyzed in terms of its effects on people’s lives.”  (Gumperz, 1982:1)

For language issues and concerns to be examined and addressed in society, it is important to set up research areas, which enable the dynamic interface between linguists, stakeholders and society to take place.  In this book, to ensure that the interface between language and communication in society be made relevant, the research process will be contextualised in a number of pertinent domains.  These range from the concerns of executives and decision-makers in the workplace, copywriters in advertising, students in Universities, policy-makers in the field of higher education and most importantly to the interface between the Government’s stand on English language policies and the language’s development in society.  All of these domains will be contextualised in a supra-domain of globalization and international communication, which is one of the greatest challenges facing most developing countries who have varying language policies in this century.

Malaysia, like many other developing countries around the globe, belongs to the post-colonial tradition.  After attaining independence, this tradition resulted in strong feelings of nationalism and all changes were made in line with the aspirations of nation-building.  Linguistically, this was manifest in the establishment of national language policies to build and reaffirm a national identity.  In the 21st century, there is a pragmatic need to include in the post-colonial tradition, that of internationalization.  This is to enable the nation to effectively face the challenges of globalization.

The two main languages that play a significant role in its development are Bahasa Malaysia and the English Language.  The historical and present developments of these two languages are intertwined and decisions made on one, affect the other.  Both the languages have a tense relationship as a result of national / local and international / global concerns and demands.  The focus of this book is on the English Language – how issues related to it are discussed and viewed by sectors of society made up of the government, the linguists and the end-users – the laymen who develop and use the language as they need to.


Framework of the Book

A number of chapters in this book were originally written as invited papers.  These have been or will be published in various international journals / book to enable the knowledge and information to reach out to a wider audience.  These include the following international journals: World Englishes,  Asian Englishes, the Journal of Asia-Pacific Communication and a chapter in the book on “Medium of Instruction Policy:  Which Agenda?  Whose Agenda?”  Having them together in one volume will make them readily accessible to a variety of users:  undergraduate and postgraduate students, applied linguists, researchers, language teachers and policy makers, who are interested in the development of English in the global context and the resultant issues and challenges facing Malaysian society

The chapters in this book have a common thread interwoven to form the tapestry of knowledge and information.  The common thread is that of the development of English in the nation leading onto varieties of English and the all important issue of standards of English for international communication.  This thread has been used to sew a common seam throughout the various chapters, and in parts it has been repetitively sewn to ensure an even stronger seam as readers peruse the individual chapters set in varying domains.

The following synopsis of the various chapters provide the framework of the entire book,  “International Communication:  English Language Challenges for Malaysia.”

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Chapter 2


The second chapter builds up a case for the international role of English in this age of globalisation.  It begins by demystifying the concept, by examining the origins and tracing the journey through civilizations, which has led to this age of globalisation.  This new age signals the need for nations to re-engineer themselves to face the challenges arising from the integral relationship between globalisation, information technology and the knowledge economy.  This then raises the issue of the nature of workers needed for this period of rapid change and global competition.  All of the above highlights the context for one of the most important challenges for developing nations, that is, the communicative and linguistic challenges in this age of globalisation.

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Chapter 3


Issues and Concerns in the Malaysian Context  

This chapter focuses on the past, present and future role of English as a global / international language.  This will be done via a critical review of two books that are in the forefront of this area.  These are David Crystal's, "English as a Global Language" published in 1997 by Cambridge University Press.  The second is David Graddol's, "The Future of English?" published in 1997 by The British Council.

This critical review will present an overview of issues and challenges relevant to Malaysian society in the 21st century.  These issues and challenges will then be dealt with in varying domains in greater detail in the subsequent chapters.

One of the main issues dealt with is what makes a language a global language and how it is that English has attained this international status and not any other language.  In this context, will be raised the various issues and challenges relevant for Malaysian society in the 21st century.  These comprise the issue of identity vs intelligibility.  These two words are especially relevant in the debates contrasting the roles and functions of the national language (Bahasa Malaysia) and the second language (English) and in contrasting the uses and functions of the standard variety of English and colloquial varieties of English in the Malaysian context.

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Chapter 4



In a nation, like Malaysia, which is aspiring to attain developed nation status by 2020, it is imperative that it has a generation of people who are able to communicate effectively in English to enable it to compete on the international platform.  In this context, this chapter aims to examine the changes and challenges faced by the English language, from the post-independence period to present times based on two concerns.

The aim of this chapter is to juxtapose the concept of nationalism and pragmatism and their influence on language policies in the nation.  As it does this, it traces the journey of language policy from the post-independence period to present times and examines two main concerns faced by the English language as a result of the need to be nationalistic and the need to be pragmatic at different phases of nation building. 

The first concern lies in the relegation and subsequent renewed emphasis on the English language at different points in time.  These range from the post-colonial period of nation building, when the status and role of Bahasa Malaysia was elevated to that of national language and medium of instruction, to the 21st century, the age of globalisation, when it is essential for the nation to have a language that provides the means to international communication.

The second concern is the development of the language into varieties of English during the post-independent liberation and expansion phase and the need to focus on language standards especially in the 21st century phase of consolidation and pragmatic progress for nation-building.  Underpinning this complex journey is the constant pragmatic reminder of the crucial need for Malaysia to have a generation of people fluent in English as an International Language to help it realize its aspirations.

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Chapter 5


This chapter argues a case for the necessity of maintaining acceptable standards of English, appropriate for learners of English as an international language in Malaysia.  This will have direct applications for the formulation of a pedagogical model of speech which provides a norm to aspire to in the teaching and learning of English.  These issues will be contextualised by referring to a particular instance of a social reaction to the development of the different varieties of English in Malaysia.  In addition, research will be conducted at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, regarding the issue of the acceptability of the different varieties of English.  These findings will provide support for the recommendations that basic formal features of a Malaysian pedagogical model of speech be developed in order to facilitate international and intranational communication.

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Chapter 6


Malaysia, like many other countries belonging to the Outer Circle, is in a position where she has to grapple with notions of English language standards.  With the medium of education having been Bahasa Malaysia since 1970, there have emerged in the workforce, educated speakers who speak sub-varieties of formal Malaysian English.  These make up the executives who contribute to various organizations, whose businesses depend on both intranational and international connections.  One of the essential skills required of these executives is that of delivering business presentations both internally to colleagues and superiors and externally to customers of the organization.

This research investigates:  how Malaysian linguists perceive and categorise the sub-varieties of Malaysian English, as spoken by select speakers, along the lectal continuum; whether gatekeepers (those who posess decision-making powers in the respective organizations) regard the same select speakers acceptable for delivering business presentations to different audiences, both internal and external to the organization.

The dynamics of the perspectives of both the linguists and gatekeepers will throw essential light on what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in relation to standards and the emerging linguistic realities in the workplace.

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This chapter has as its backdrop the viewpoints of linguists and the choices of advertisers with regards the voices used to represent society.  These voices and choices are contextualised via one of the most powerful means of reaching out to influence urban society – radio advertisements in English.

In Malaysia, as in many other outer circle countries, there are institutionalized varieties of English used in the domains of society.  This article investigates the nature of these varieties of Malaysian English used in radio advertisements.  Is there a correlation between the varieties of English used and the function of the various parts of the advertisement?  What reasons do the decision makers in the advertising industry have for their various choices of the voices in radio advertisements?

The investigation of the above questions will have implications for issues related to identity, status and standards of the institutionalized varieties of English.  The interface of opinions and responses of linguists, advertisers and society will provide greater credence and awareness of the implications of the choices of Malaysian voices over the sound waves.

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Chapter 8       

MEDIUM OF INSTRUCTION POLICY IN HIGHER EDUCATION IN MALAYSIA - national interests vs. internationalization

This chapter will place in juxtaposition the medium of instruction policy of the private with that of the public higher education sector in Malaysia.  In Malaysia’s attempts to be the regional centre for higher education, the private sector has developed at a tremendous pace resulting in twinning programmes with foreign institutions of higher learning and the setting up of branches of foreign universities.

The selection of medium of instruction policy in the private sector is dependent on the needs of internationalization and the ability to attract not only Malaysians but also students from abroad.  Therefore, English is the select language of instruction and communication in these institutions.  The public universities, on the other hand, serve national interests and have as the medium of instruction, the national language, Bahasa Malaysia.

The implications of the adoption of constrasting language policies are then worked out for the multi-racial population of Malaysia.  The chapter then takes the discussion further afield by drawing into the picture other countries that have also had to deal with national interests and the demands of internationalization.  The chapter ends with recommendations for a nation that is at linguistic crossroads, a nation that needs to marry national and internationalization interests for the birth of an industrialized nation by the year 2020.

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Chapter 9       


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