by Jonathan Chia, email@example.com. Posted on October 21, 2014, Tuesday
KUCHING: Sarawak is home to 44 living languages but five of them – Narum, Sihan, Lahanan, Bukitan and Seru – have been categorised as ‘endangered languages’ and will face extinction if they are not preserved.
Abang Johari hitting the ‘gong’ to mark the start of IALP2014, as (from left) Unimas deputy vice chancellor for research and innovation Prof Dr Kopli Bujang, Li and Mohamad Kadim look on.
In an effort to preserve the five endangered languages, Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg said the state government had allocated RM300,000 to Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) to conduct research on documentation of the indigenous languages.
He said these languages were slowly dying out due to the influence of predominant languages such as Bahasa Malaysia and English, especially in urban areas, in view of their respective status as national and international languages.
“I mentioned about these languages, as well as the Penan (language). A lot of them are very much synonymous with the ethnic groups,” he told a press conference after officiating at the International Conference on Asian Language Processing 2014 (IALP2014) here yesterday.
The event was organised by Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) and Chinese and Oriental Languages Information Processing Society (Colips).
Abang Johari said language researchers would need to reach out to these ethnic groups, who reside in the interiors of the state, and make use of the latest technology to build vocabulary or storage of these endangered languages before they became extinct.
“It is for this reason that an event such as IALP is important as a platform for sharing and discussing research on Asian language processing.
“I also believe that this is the right time for researchers to collaborate with local and foreign institutions of higher learning as well as stakeholders, in preserving and revitalising these local dialects and cultural heritage for our future generation.”
Meanwhile, Unimas vice chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Mohamad Kadim Suaidi said the university has a Centre for Language Studies, where local and Asian languages are being taught.
“Recently, a new and unique programme has been created, allowing students to study Iban, Bidayuh and Melanau languages as part of their degree programme, covering the linguistics perspective.
“We also have the Institute of Social Informatics and Technological Innovations (Isiti), and a research group, Sarawak Language Technology (SaLT) at the Faculty of Computer Science and Information Technology – both dedicated to study and preserve the unique cultures as well as the indigenous languages of Sarawak, researching from social and IT perspectives.”
Mohamad Kadim said the addition of Malay, as well as other regional languages such as Khmer, Cebuano, Hmong, Javanese, Marathi, Mongolian, Nepali and Punjabi to Google Translate had indicated that Asian languages were of interest.
“They are now part of the growing online communities. This means that as a researcher, you should continue your current work in processing Asian languages, as in the near future, all Asian languages will be known, studied and used by the world.”
Among those present at the event were IALP2014 co-chair Prof Dr Alvin Yeo Wee and Associate Prof Dr Bali Ranaivo-Malacon, Colips president Dr Li Haizhou as well as distinguished speakers from Universiti Malaya Prof Emeritus, Datuk Dr Asmah Omar, and from Soochow University China, Prof Dr Min Zhang.