UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Pressing for Melayu : English-language newspapers and language in the Malaysian education system, 1957-1969 Lee, Lui Xia


Although Malaysia gained independence while promising that it would strive for racial equality amongst its diverse communities, the political elite, composed of Malays did not fulfill that promise. Malay political elites were fueled by an imagined threat that the ethnic Chinese population’s economic growth would take over their land and eventually rid the Malays from the country. As such, the Malay political elite made the Malay Language/Bahasa Melayu the official language of the country and medium of instruction, disregarding many ethnic minorities’ voices desire for recognition of their ethnic identity’s place as a Malaysian. Many minority groups felt betrayed by this decision, which increased already tenuous race relations. In parallel with this crisis of identity, Malay periodicals and newspapers began publishing articles that advocate for a Malay-first nation. Similarly, Malaysian English newspapers refrained from criticizing Malay pre-eminence rhetoric and neglected smaller groups’ sentiment about this issue. Instead, the two most circulated English newspapers, The Straits Times and The Malay Mail, chose to remain subservient to the political elites and disregard the issue of Malay pre-eminence (ketuanan Melayu) in discussion of formative national policies. This paper uses The Straits Times and The Malay Mail to explore the English-language newspaper’s presentation of the discussion of language in the country’s national education policy from 1957 to 1969. I argue that newspapers facilitated the paradigm of Malay pre-eminence, but that they also became contested sites for the discussion surrounding that paradigm.

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