The US-China trade talks were held in Shanghai yesterday to (try to) resolve the trade war. 

I’m not going to write about trade war. I wrote it many times, it’s getting bored. What caught my attention here is the calligraphy at the background. 

That form of writing is known as the “Seal script” or “Zhuanti” (篆体), an ancient Chinese writing system codified during the late Zhou Dynasty and Qin Dynasty (from around 400 BC to 200 BC). In contemporary Chinese script, it looks like this: 来山更 … 去山如画 … 因 … 共山 … 杖立云 … 首见山. Read it from right to left, from top to bottom. 

How did I know? In secondary school (SMK, took optional Chinese) I was taught the evolution of the Chinese writing system, from the “Oracle Bone script” (甲骨文) to the “Bronze inscription” (金文) to the Seal script to the “Clerical script” (隶书) and finally the “Regular script” (楷书) that we are using today. 

The Chinese characters began as ideograms. When people wanted to write “bird”, they drew a bird; to write “dragon”, they drew a dragon. That’s the original Oracle Bone script. Over time, the characters were simplified and beautified, but still retain the original features of the ideograms. 

You can see a goat in the Chinese character for “goat” (羊), with its horns and goatee. For “fish” (魚), you can see the scales and tails. You can easily spot a lot of “mountains” (山) in the picture I showed you. 

Why do we need to know all that frigging history? Because it will make you appreciate and understand the Chinese language more. How do you love a language when you don’t even understand the logic behind its writing system? 

If no one give a fuss about learning the old Chinese script, then why suddenly people felt so offended by the old Malay script (Jawi)? 

I was appalled by the comment saying “the learning of Jawi (khat) does not contribute to helping students master the Malay language”. 

Yes, khat alone is not enough. You really need to frigging learn Jawi properly. If you want to be a “master” of Malay language, learn Jawi. Otherwise, you are just a competent speaker at best, not “master”. If you want to beat the foreign workers in terms of commanding the Malay language, learn Jawi. 

First of all, if you want to speak perfect Malay, you need Jawi as a guide. We wouldn’t have broken Malay like “tan-ya” or “bun-ga” (I frigging heard it myself). It should be “ta-nya” and “bu-nga”. “Ny” and “ng” are consonants. You can easily differentiate them through Jawi, but not in the Latinized Malay script (Rumi).

Older folks still know how to pronounce different sets of sounds for d, h, s, t and z: د and ض for “d”, ه and ح for “h”, س, ث and ص for “s”, ت and ط for “t” and ز, ذ and ظ for “z”. The “s” in “unsur” (عنصر) is ص not س. It’s a bit thicker. If you pronounce it like the normal “s” in the English, it sounds funny, very funny. 

But since the Latinized Malay script doesn’t assign special characters to these sounds, the correct pronunciations lost as a result. If you can pronounce “hadir” as حاضر, you are a pro. Every time I hear people pronounce رمضان as رما دان it hurts my ears. Those rules have all been written in Jawi. You will not get it, if you don’t know Jawi.

“Rakyat” was originally written as رعيت. After Latinization, the newspapers in the 1960s until 1970s used “ra’yat” as its Romanized form. But over time, that majestic, irreplaceable glottal sound of ع became a frigging “k” sound. See how the Latinized script killed the beauty of the classical Malay phonology.

Although the Jawi script is based on the Arabic script, it has been “indigenized”. There is no “c”, “g”, “p”, “v”, “ng” and “ny” in the Arabic language, so چ, ݢ‎, ڤ‎, ۏ‎, ڠ‎ and ڽ‎ were added in Jawi. Therefore Jawi is not Arabic. Light in Arabic is “نور” (read “nur”), but in Malay it’s “cahaya” (چهاي), a word originated from Sanskrit. 

Jawi is not Arabization. It’s just a writing system, a writing system that can transcribe Sanskrit words, Arabic words, Persian words, Portuguese words, Dutch words, English words, or even Chinese words. I’m not very keen about the trend of “Arabizing” existing Malay words (“ibu” became “ummi”, “isteri” became “zaujah”, “syurga” became “jannah”), but you see, Arabization can still happen without Jawi. So shed your frigging fear of Jawi like a vampire fearing garlic.

Jawi ceased to be the official Malay script only in 1967. Those days were the high time of modernity. The modernists assumed that, once you adopt the Latin alphabet, illiteracy will drop, and the country will prosper. It did reduce illiteracy, by sacrificing some aspects of the language. 

Without Jawi, you won’t be able to read the historical documents existed from around 1300 until 1950, all written in Jawi. You will not be able to read the classical Malay proses like gurindam, syair and hikayat of that period, all written in Jawi. If you need others to transliterate the manuscripts in a language so you can frigging read it, do you consider yourself as a master of a particular language?

By not knowing Jawi, you are disconnected to the past history of this nation. If you don’t know your history, then somebody else will write it for you. If you don’t appreciate your own history, then somebody else will appreciate it for you. 

Lee Hsien Loong knows Jawi. The Singaporean intellectuals and policymakers take the Malay aspect of their history more seriously than us. I won’t be surprised if one day Singapore will claim itself as the true heir to the Malay civilization. They have a frigging Sang Nila Utama statute while many of us don’t even know who Sang Sapurba is. 

The Chinese, Japanese and Koreans all attempted Latinization but gave up. Their languages are not made for the Latin script, it will cause great confusion. “Kagaku” means both science and chemistry in Japanese; it can only be differentiate by Kanji, not even by the indigenous Kana script. The Chinese solution is the Romanization of Chinese with “Hanyu Pinyin” to make it easier to learn, without abolishing the script itself.

These countries grown become top economies even by maintaining their complicated writing system. Thailand with their frigging difficult Thai alphabets got no problem developing their country. So there is no correlation between development and the use of Latinized script.

I’m not against Latinization. It has its merits. But what’s wrong with teaching Jawi to the current and future generation? 

Not just Jawi, I think we should also learn Kawi and Rencong, the pre-Jawi scripts derived from Pallava. Then you will see the relationship between the Malay language with other languages like Javanese, Balinese and Sundanese, all using Pallava-based scripts. But start with Jawi first. If you can’t even master Jawi, don’t bluff about Rencong which is from another universe.

Jawi doesn’t have economic value? If you know Jawi, then Arabic will be easy for you. The Arabic is one of the six frigging working languages of the United Nations. It is also the most-spoken language after English, Mandarin, Hindi, Spanish and French. And who can guarantee that in 20-30 years, peace will not come to the Arabs, and the region will not emerge as an economic powerhouse? By that time, those who know Jawi and Arabic sure got advantage.

The Arabs are consumerist people. 400 million Arabs really mean 400 million potential buyers of your goods. The mainland China has 1.3 billion in population, but they are a stingy bunch who won’t buy from you but rather want to sell you stuffs. That’s why every country is in deficit with China. Learning Arabic is way more profitable than learning Mandarin.

So, what’s the fuss about learning Jawi?

Perhatian sebentar…

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Seorang Pegawai Tadbir Dan Diplomatik, graduan dalam bidang Hubungan Antarabangsa Dan Pertahanan dari Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia dan Universiti Malaya.

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