'Malay' is still misunderstood

Shintaro's picture

Malay is the largest language in the ASEAN and the largest minority language of Thailand, but it doesn’t mean that every Thai journalist has to know much about the language. However, spreading wrong information to the mass because of the lack of knowledge about it is another matter.

A news report from the Bangkok with a headline “Anti-peace talks banners put up in deep South, casualties followed” contains the following paragraph, reporting about tens of banners which were put up in several places of the three southern border provinces.

"Each banner bore a message in Malay written in standard Bahasa Malaysia script: "Kedamaian Tak Akin Lahir Selamahak Pert Uanan Tidak di Akui", which translates as "Peace will not occur as long as the host does not endorse it".

Several mistakes which shows carelessness of  the writer of the report can be spotted in this single paragraph. The first one is a small mistake. There is no script called 'the standar Bahasa Melayu script'. In Malay the script is called 'tulisan rumi', which means the roman script, and its letters are exactly same with those of English.

The second one is more serious. The pictures of the banners are practically available everywhere on the internet. But the writer of  the article still misspelled the message. Possibly the writer tried to decipher the message from the picture in the article without trying to find other pictures in which the message is very clear, and ended up in a miserable failure. The message isn’t  ‘Kedamaian Tak Akin Lahir Selamahak Pert Uanan Tidak di Akui’, but the ‘Kedamaian tak akan lahir selama “pertuanan” tidak diakui’. In some banners the message is still misspelled (like the one in the picture) but these misspells are not so terrible as to disturb the interpretation. There are no such Malay words as ‘selamahak’, ‘pert’ or ‘uanan’.

Lastly, the translation of the last part is too arbitrary. The Malay sentence cited by the journalist is utterly incorrect. Understandably the translation is also incorrect. As a lecturer of Malay, I'd translate it as follows: 'as long as the ownership isn't acknowledged'. It has nothing to do with endorsement.  

Such lack of knowledge about Malay, the largest minority language of the country, shows the general indifference to the language. If the article is about a minority language in a very remote country, such mistakes are acceptable. But it is really difficult to understand why this can happen in a country where nearly two million people speak dialects of Malay.

The message on the banners was written in the standard Malay with the roman script, not with the Arabic-based jawi script which are by far more familiar to the local Malay people in the southern Thailand. A banner in Narathiwat was hung together with two Malaysian flags. It might be that the message is issued to be read not only by the locals but also Malaysians.

We have no information about who wrote and hang these banners. The mistakes in the spelling on the banners are quite similar to those mistakes regularly made by my students, and almost all of my students are of Malay ethnicity. For this reason I assume that the message was created by a person of the same ethnicity. 

It is unclear whether the writer(s) of the banners agree or disagree with the Patani Peace Process only from the message. But the headline of this article describes them as 'anti-peace talks banners'. This is not what the writer of the message on the banners want to deliver, but an interpretation of the journalist who clearly misunderstood the message itself. As a matter of fact, there is no word in the banner which means 'negotiation', 'peace talk' or 'peace process'. It only says that 'The peace will not be achieved as long as the ownership is not acknowledged'. The general tendency among Bangkok-based journalists to connect many things with ‘anti-peace talk’ sentiment is very alarming given the fact that the process is still unstable, because the failure of the process means the extension of this endless war in the South.

In the message on the banner, what is meant by ‘ownership’ is not clear too. Actually the word should be used is not ‘pertuanan’ (having a master) but ‘ketuanan’ (being the owner or ownership). The ‘ownership’ might be that of the land. But more reasonable translation of this word is the ‘rights’ of the Malay people in the South which so far have been widely and consistently denied by the Thai authority.

Not only the denial of the rights, the abuse and misuse of power by the security officers also still continue to this time. Among the most recent examples is the detention of a young female tadika (religious school) teacher during a summer camp in which she was one of the instructors. These abuses are generally and mistakenly regarded as based on the Emergency Decree. However, if looked closely, more abuses are the result of the extrajudicial power allocated to the security officers via the Martial Law, a law legislated during the era of the King Rama VI of nearly 100 years old. Such abuses are rarely covered by the mainstream medias, except some really serious ones. Actually there are so many minor abuses which have never been known to the people outside the three provinces.


It must be admitted that the Patani Peace Process is still fragile, and many things should be done in order to make it more stable and feasible, including the wider participation of the insurgent groups. The message on the banners has nothing to do with ‘anti-peace talk’. As is mentioned by the National Security Council (NSC) chief, Paradorn Pattanathabut, these banners might be the signs sent by the other insurgent groups which haven’t taken part in the peace talk.



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