Monday, August 22, 2011

The Final Argument for Reconsidering PPSMI?

The Final Argument for Reconsidering PPSMI?

On 22nd April 2011, there appeared in The Star a short opinion, “Just being practical” conveyed by Liong Kam Chong regarding the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI).

His arguments are the same as those advocates of PPSMI, particularly Dr. Mahathir and PAGE (see Internet: “kritikan terhadap mahathir”, “kritikan kedua kepada mahathir” dan “sangkalan terhadap page”) except for the last point whereby he thought he was able to demonstrate the “poverty” of the Malay language using a passage from an article in particle physics. Before I come to this “poverty”, let me first raise his other points.

His first argument for the government to reconsider PPSMI, and that raised earlier by PAGE (The Star 11 Nov. 2010), is based on the right to choose, a human right, or the right for education in the mother tongue (Presumably English is the mother tongue of those Anglophiles). If that is so, what about the other minority languages in Malaysia other than those already in vernacular schools? Why is English so special? Of course everyone knows the stereotype answers (such as given by PAGE in The Star 11 Nov. 2010, 5 August 2010, 22 March 2010; also in the Internet mentioned above): English is the language of the world, the language of science and mathematics, the best licence for ease of employment, … bla…bla…bla… and all these have been rebutted or debated by many elsewhere (examples are in the Internet mentioned above).

However, Liong thought that he had found yet another new factor regarding the appropriateness of PPSMI expressed as “practical and realistic”. Surely he must have realised that the notion that PPSMI is "practical and realistic" at the school level only applies to an elitist group of people which is very much in the minority. Why should public money be spent for this group? They should be able to mobilize their own resources to establish their own private schools instead. But he said, again repeating the other cliché, that “the Malay language may be able to cope at the primary level” implying Malay schools are inferior to English schools. Again he overlooked the fact that even the science and mathematics school students in UK are not the best in Europe. Moreover he conveniently forgets the fact that our local universities have been admitting students from the Malay medium schools since 1983 (UKM since 1970) and continued teaching in Malay without much problem until they were practically forced to use English by Mahathir’s language policy of 2002. Of course the advocates of PPSMI strongly support the initiative by forgetting the fact that UK graduates have never been regarded as the best in Europe. This is not to mention the education policies in non-Anglosaxon developed countries such as in Europe whereby English is just their second language like ours before 2002.

Liong also commented on the issue of translation, i.e science and mathematics (in English) are changing very fast for translation (into Malay) to keep pace (the same argument by PAGE appeared in The Star 11 Nov. 2010, and also in the internet mentioned in the first paragraph of this article). Liong, and the supporters of PPSMI, are forgetting the fact that even English scientists and mathematicians have to do translations all the time (many selected non-English science books and journals are translated yearly, including from Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Russian); non-Anglosaxon scientists and mathematicians can read and write English even though their educational background are non-English just like ours for the last 30 years (A latest survey on English proficiency found that Malaysia is in top ten non-Anglosaxon countries in the world just below Germany. See Internet “how Japanese compares with the world in English proficiency”; also The Star 7 June 2011). More importantly the changes made in science and mathematics at the school and first degree levels are not really as fast as portrayed by the advocates of PPSMI, otherwise all European countries would be the first to change their system of education fully into English. In general it takes at least 20 years for a “new accepted” scientific theory to become part of the university curriculum. Examples are aplenty but perhaps the most well known are Relativity Theory and Quantum Theory. These theories have been well accepted since 1920’s and 1930’s respectively but the two theories were introduced at university level (even in Europe and United States) only in 1950’s. Now, physicists throughout the world have been witnessing the most celebrated new theory in theoretical physics since 1990, the String Theory, formulated (since 1980’s) replacing the two theories but it is believed that the new theory will not be in the university curriculum for at least another ten years! Looking at books published yearly in English, one deduces that, given the present strength of our scientists, the problem of translation can easily be solved like any other non-Anglosaxon developed countries, provided there is a strong commitment and the political and cultural will of government in making Malay a language of science just like several present European languages including Czech, and Asian languages such as Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

Finally, he tried to persuade those who are not supporting PPSMI by giving an example of a passage of physics written in English and its Malay translation (his translation) to illusrate the ‘poverty’ of the Malay language. He then cynically and arrogantly asks the readers to judge and make a choice between either English or Malay: which is the better medium? Knowing how bad is his Malay translation it is obvious that English is better, or using his expression, “practical and realistic”.

Let us copy the passage and its translation here:

“Quarks combine into strongly interacting particles called hadrons. Baryons are hadrons with half integer spin quantum numbers (1/2 or 3/2). Mesons are hadrons with integer spin quantum numbers (0 or 1). Baryons are fermions, and mesons are bosons. Mesons have baryon number equal to zero, baryons have baryon numbers equal to +1 and -1. Quantum chromodynamics predicts that the possible combinations of quarks are either a quark with an antiquark, three quarks, or three antiquarks (this prediction is consistent with experiment). All hadrons , except for protons , are unstable.” This is his translation:

“Quark bergabung menjadi partikel hadron yang disebut kuat berinteraksi. Baryon adalah hadron dengan nombor kuantum spin setengah-integer (1/2 atau 3/2). Meson adalah hadron dengan nombor kuantum spin integer (0 atau 1). Baryon adalah fermion, dan meson adalah boson. Meson memiliki nombor baryon sama dengan sifar. Baryon memiliki nombor baryon sama dengan +1 dan -1. Kuantum Kromodinamik meramalkan bahawa kemungkinan kombinasi dari quark ialah quark baik dengan sebuah antiquark, tiga quark, atau tiga antiquark (ramalan ini konsisten dengan percubaan). Semua hadron, kecuali proton, tidak stabil”.

Firstly, the method of comparison between the two languages in physics is already biased and, ill-intentioned, as he presumed English as the original language in the field and Malay is only its translation. Why not choose Malay as the original passage and English as its translation? Perhaps he thought that there is no original Malay writing in this field, which only shows his state of being ill-informed; or biasness toward Malay language. He should know that in this field of physics (actually almost all modern physics) most of the original materials are in German! Why did he not choose a passage in German and ask appropriate persons to translate it into English and Malay? Of course by doing so, he would not achieve his objective because readers would most probably judge that Anglo-saxons are just “reinventing the wheel (rewriting the German scientific terms into German-sounding English words!)”, repeating the expression he used when trying to degrade the Malay language in his article.

Secondly his translation is really bad, perhaps done on purpose, so that the readers will feel and find that English is better. He wants to make sure it “sounds pidgeon” and “sounds stupid” in Malay and worse still, not carefully translated so that it invites misconception or misunderstanding. It is in this situation that his cynical conclusion becomes valid after all. Perhaps in order to achieve his aim, he uses many inappropriate words in his translation: he chooses the word kombinasi for combination (not gabungan even though he chooses bergabung for combine); partikel (not zarah or kumin) for particle, berinteraksi (not saling bertindak) for interacting, nombor (not bilangan) for number, integer (not angka bulat) for integer, spin (not memejam or pememejam) for spin, konsisten (not tekal) for consistent, and stabil (not mantap) for stable. A better translation for the first sentence would be, “Quark bergabung menjadi zarah hadron yang saling bertindak dengan kuatnya.” The second to fifth sentence should not be literally translated but should be reconstructed to become two sentences about baryon dan meson respectively. This would be even better than the original English sentences. The second last sentence also left much to be desired, in fact it is misleading especially with the expression “quark baik dengan sebuah antiquark”. (Incidently, a better numerical coefficient for particle is butir not buah). The whole sentence could easily be improved significantly to avoid confusion or sense of inadequacy of the Malay language. But of course Lim, and the advocates of PPSMI, do not want all these to happen!

Thirdly, let us examine the terminologies in the passage, which Lim thought could impress readers that those words are originally English.(Most of the material below are taken from an online etymological dictionary):

all. Originally Germanic. The equivalent Malay, samoa (now, semua) exists at least since the 7th century AD.

*an. Believed to be originally an Old English word even though it could be from French, un; or German, ein. The equivalent Malay, satu or suatu, is believed to be an original Malay word (related to the Javanese word, siji) even though the Sanskrit word, sa, se, asa, ase, and eka- also found in Malay.

antiquark. From anti+ quark. Please refer quark below. As to the word anti-, originally from Latin and Greek but later adopted by French before in turn adopted by Anglo-saxons.

baryon. Invented in 1970’s from bary + ion. The word bary is from Greek which means heavy. The word ion is also from Greek which means go . It was suggested by a British Philosopher, Whewell, to a British physicist, Faraday, in 1834 who was seeking for a term for his new finding on electric phenomenon, and soon adopted by him.

boson. Invented in 1970’s from the name of a famous Indian physicist, Bose (died 1974), Bose+ion. For ion please refer baryon above

chromodynamics. Invented in 1970’s from chromos+ dynamikos, both are from Greek. The word chromos means colour, dynamikos means study of motion.

combination. Originally Latin, combinatio, combinationem

consistent. Originally Latin, consistens, consistentem

*either. Originally Old English

equal. Originally Latin, aequalis; adopted into English in the late 14th century. The equivalent Malay word, sama, found in at least since the 10th century AD

except. Originally Latin, exceptus, then French, excepter ; adopted into English in the late 14th century

experiment. Originally Latin, experimentum, then French, esperment and finally became English in the 15th century.

fermion. Invented in 1970’s from the name of a famous Italian physicist, Fermi (died 1954), Fermi + ion. For ion please refer baryon above

hadron. The word was first invented by Russian physicist in the form of adron which is believed to be from Greek, hadros which means thick or bulky. It becomes an English physics terminology only in 1960s.

*half. Originally Old English

integer. Originally Latin, integer, which means whole or complete

Interaction . The word was adopted as an English word in the 19th century. Originally from Sanskrit+ Latin, antar + actionem , or Greek + French , entera+ accion . The Greek word entera is most likely from Sanskrit antar which is a well known Malay word antara, or antar since at least in the 8th century AD.

meson. It was invented from mesos + ion. For ion please refer baryon above. As for the word mesos, it is from Greek which means middle. It becomes an English word in physics in 1947, after a British physicist, Cecil Powell found the particle. Its existence was predicted by a Japanese physicist, Yukawa in 1934. Powell named the particle meson because at that time the mass of the particle was between electron and proton.

number. Originally from Latin , numerous, then became French, nombre, before English took it as number.

particle. Originally Latin , particula , and adopted as English word in the 14th century. The Malay word for it, zarah (from Arabic), was used even in the 13th century; and kumin is most likely the original Malay word.

possible. Originally Latin, possibilis. Adopted as an English word in the 14th century. The equivalent Malay word, mungkin, adopted from Arabic since at least in the 13th century

predict. Originally Latin, praedicatus. Adopted as an English word in the 17th century

proton. It was invented from protos + ion. As for the word ion please refer baryon above. The word protos is from Greek which means first. Some believe that the term was coined by a British physicist, Rutherford, in 1920. But earlier, British embryologists already used proton to translate a German word, anlage.

quantum. The word were first introduced as quant , quanten and quanta by a German physicist, Planck, in 1900 which mean lump. It was adopted as English word in 1928 when a German physicist wrote a book on quantum theory in English in that year, even though English have adopted a Latin word quantus to become quantum and quantity in the 17th century but without referring to physics at all.

quark . This word was invented by Jewish-American physicist, Gell-Mann in 1964. It is not even a human voice, in fact a nonsense word from a sound of a kind of duck which he picked it from a novel , Finnegans Wake by an Irish novelist, James Joyce. I am sure only third or first year physics students (even in English speaking countries) heard the word.

*spin. Originally from German, spinnan,spinnen. The concept was first introduced by a German physicist, Pauli 1924, but the terminology was introduced a few years later by three German physicists, Kronig, Uhlenbeck and Goudsmit. Some believe that spinnan is originally Old English but it means different thing and nothing to do with physics.

stable. From Latin, stabilis; then adopted by French, estable before it was adopted as an English word in the middle of the 13th century.

three. Possibly from Sanskrit, tri-; or Greek, treis; or Latin, tres. The equivalent Malay word, tiga (earlier version, traya) is believed to be original Malay (Some believe the word is related to the Javanese word, telu) were used since the 7th century AD.

zero. Originally from Arabic, sifr. Then first Latinised to become cifr, ziphr, zipha, zipherum, cinero,… and finally became zero in Italian which was adopted by Anglo-saxon in the 17th century. The equivalent Malay word, kosong, is believed to be an original Malay word and it exists at least since the 6th century AD. The words sifr, sipar, sifar were adopted (from Arabic) by Malays perhaps since the 13th century AD.

So there are very few original English words after all! Only 3 or 4 words (each marked with asterisk in the above list) out of 29 “English words” above are actually original. That is very poor, certainly not purer, richer, or more original than Malay language (as shown by the above same data). Now, every one should realize that Liong was actually too emotional towards English so much so that without knowing the facts goes on to impress readers that English, based on the passage that he had chosen, is purer or more original than Malay.

We hope that with this short communication, those supporters of PPSMI like Liong who, we believe, naturally represents if not all, most of the PPSMI supporters would at least stop hoodwinking the public with their mask of ignorance, but instead be more rationalistic and have a better and more sensible attitude towards science, English and other languages including their own languages. Only the anglophiles passionately embrace science and English to the extent of even surpassing the Anglo-saxons themselves, and ignorantly and irrationally dismiss other languages.

Shaharir b.M.Z., No. 11, Jln ¾, BBBangi, Selangor (Ogos 2011)