Remove racist references from Kamus Dewan, pronto
All of us, homo sapiens, human beings, individuals, irrespective of nationality would have one time or other uttered or made derogatory remarks which are racist. We cannot deny that each of us, either in a fit of anger, or in our thoughts, or even in daily conversation, have silently insulted or jokingly spewed terms which, depending on the situation, listeners of the intended race would have been severely slighted or laughed it off in good faith.
Australians of Greek and Italian descent have been called wogs, whilst British migrants Down Under, or British citizens in United Kingdom have been referred to as pommies. Native aborigines won’t take too kindly to being labeled as abo.
Worldwide, Americans are known as yanks, Chinese have been called chinks or chingkies; Filipinos filos and Japanese, japs. Call any Jew a k-ke or African-American a n-g–r and see where that lands you? In Japan, foreign citizens working or studying, including those of Japanese descent, e.g. Japanese Americans or Japanese Brazillians in Japan are called gaijin.
Closer to home, do we not confess that among us Chinese, we have expressed Caucasians as gweilo, ang moh kao or ang moh kui?
As offensive as these crude racists terms are, after the horrors of the Holocaust in World War 2 and the abolition of segregation laws in America and apartheid in South Africa, racist terminology have never been in written form in a formalized document in modern history, not to the knowledge of this writer anyway. Worst case scenario, illegal immigrants are described as aliens.
But here in Malaysia, sadly, there exist racist terms in the Kamus Dewan as published by our Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP), the country’s authority on usage of the national language, its vocabulary and language structure.
In the Kamus Dewan Edisi Ketiga, there is a term cinabeng which is defined as celaka, sial.
While we don’t know the intentions of the author who coined and inserted such a lexicon, we are fully aware that Chinese peoples globally and mainland China, is translated as Cina and China in Bahasa Malaysia respectively. In our spoken mangled Malaysian English, or better known as “Manglish” or even Down South’s “Singlish”, a Malaysian or Singaporean Chinese boy fitting the “stereotype” of a “typical Chinese” is commonly known as “Ah Beng”.
But for a foreigner who is learning Bahasa Malaysia, or for other Malaysians looking up the esteemed Kamus Dewan, wouldn’t confusion, jingoism or even hatred arise when celaka, sial appears to be negatively associated with the Chinese?
Indian Malaysians have been rendered a disservice as the same dictionary has categorized them as follows:
• Keling karam = orang yg suka membuat bising (ketika bercakap atau bekerja)[people who like to make noise (while talking or working)]
• Keling mabuk todi = orang yg suka merepek (bercakap yg bukan-bukan) [people who like to babble (talk rubbish)]
• Keling pelikat = orang India yang beragama Islam [Indian Muslims]
The High Court struck out a suit by the Angkatan Pelopor India Muslim Selangor and Federal Territory (Apim) against DBP which in its supporting affidavit said that the DBP did not contravene any law according to Section 4 of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (Amended 1997). Apim had applied for an announcement to be made that DBP had failed in its statutory duty and responsibility by acknowledging and allowing the words as afore-mentioned to be published in the Kamus Dewan. Apim asked for damages because the word brought shame, humiliation and degraded the Indian community of the country.
On its own, karam means sink; mabuk (drunk) and todi (fermented coconut wine). Connecting these words to keling, well, this writer leaves it to the reader’s imagination. But that’s the point of this article – that readers would be confused and link negative thoughts against Chinese or Indians when they look up references in the Kamus Dewan Edisi Ketiga.
Through the definitions identified with cinabeng and the list on keling, the esteemed DBP has inadvertently conjured pessimistic and racist portrayals of Chinese and Indians not only in Malaysia, but in the global context as well.
Countries which in the past have wielded racist laws like Nazi Aryan Germany, Apartheid South Africa, segregation America have all moved forward in outlawing xenophobic practices, right down to vocabulary. It is a pity that DBP appears to take steps backwards in the move of promoting ethnic relations.