Thursday, October 05, 2006

Real language police

When we talk about "language police" or "grammar police" in English, we're referring to those people---including yours truly---who are annoyed by, and constantly pointing out, errors in English usage and spelling. Malaysia, however, has just approved a proposal that will make this term a lot more literal.

RM1,000 Penalty Proposed For Incorrect Use Of Bahasa In Advertising
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 4 (Bernama) -- The Cabinet, Wednesday approved a proposal to impose a RM1,000 penalty on anyone who uses the national language incorrectly on advertisement boards.

I don't think this would be constitutional in the U.S, but the idea of an economic penalty for sloppy language use is mighty appealing. However, since I don't even always view poor grammar and spelling as a reason to boycott a business, I doubt it would ever happen except through the government---and this is highly unlikely to occur, given our country's general dislike of so-called intellectual snobbery. So I guess it's up to us vigilantes to keep everyone in line!


Marve said...

The only thing is that it's not so much about using correct grammar as it is about weeding out imported English terms and keeping Bahasa Malaysia "pure". This penalty also applies to politicians' speeches, and they will be monitored during their public appearances. In the context of Malaysia's general trend towards being more culturally and socially conservative, I find it just a wee bit disturbing.

Language Lover said...

I can see how it smacks of Big Brother and/or jingoism, but Malaysia's hardly the first country to try and impose language purity; France has done it since 1975 (see article here) and Germany tried a milder and unsuccessful control over simplified spelling conventions. Perhaps I'm being naïve, but such government actions don't really bother me since I believe it's impossible to keep language from changing anyway. I do, however, feel that it's reasonable to impose certain standards on official communications, whether it's about language purity ("preservation"?) or correct grammar. When they start trying to control private conversations, that's when I'll worry.