By Lizawati Bahanan
PULAU PINANG, Dec 15 (Bernama) — In one of his classic movies, ‘Seniman Bujang Lapok’, Tan Sri Dr P. Ramlee had uttered the phrase “bahasa menunjukkan bangsa” (language identifies the race).
That was a flashback to the early 1960s and among the most recent issue with regards to Bahasa Melayu were the claims that the use of various languages for road names and signboards in Georgetown would attract more tourists to the world heritage town.
However that appears not to hold water.
What actually drew foreign tourists to this island is Pulau Pinang’s tourism products themselves.
Most of the times, the tourists do not even bother about the languages used on the signboards or for road names and public spots.
They would arrive at their destinations assisted by taxi drivers and people on the streets.
A recent Bernama check found that foreign tourists as well as the local folks were not really disturbed over which language being used for road names and public sites.
According to those approached, the language is not a significant factor but Pulau Pinang’s image as a tourist destination is all that matters.
A tourist from Singapore, Suriati Misnan, 31, said she came to Pulau Pinang as she was drawn by the beauty of its beaches particularly that at Batu Feringhi.
“I do not even notice the existence of multi-lingual signages here.
“I came here because of Pulau Pinang’s majestic beaches and to sample the exotic food here,” said Suriati who had also used her trip to the Pearl of the Orient to visit her relatives.
A German tourist and his wife said they had no problems visiting tourism destinations in Georgetown despite the signages being in Bahasa Melayu.
They said the language used posed no difficulties for tourists as adequate information on Georgetown’s attractions was available at the hotels as well as in the Internet.
“Malaysians should be proud with their culture and language. Bahasa Melayu is unique and I and my wife also learn how to speak Malay before we came to Malaysia,” said Werner Kohler, 45.
Kohler, who is an engineer with an international firm and his 39-year-old wife Sabine, decided to visit Pulau Pinang after learning from a website about the island’s delicious food and enchanting places.
WHAT THE LOCALS SAY?
Several Georgetown folks said the language issue over the name of roads and other signages here has been blown out of proportion.
“It is mere politics. There are no problems if the authorities retain Bahasa Melayu on the signages. Before this, many tourists came visiting and they still come now,” said Mikhail Hassan Basri .
Instead, the authorities should use the funds to improve Georgetown’s tourism products, said the 33-year-old souvenir stall operator at Batu Feringhi.
Meanwhile, Universiti Sains Malaysia’s (USM) lecturer on human sciences, Datuk Prof Md Salleh Yaapar said only the national language that is Bahasa Melayu should be used for the signages.
But, the Pulau Pinang government could put up various languages at signboards at the Georgetown’s world heritage site for the convenience of tourists.
“If the purpose is to provide information on certain heritage structures like the Khoo Kongsi or Masjid Kapitan Keling, then it could in various languages.
“The names of roads should be in Bahasa Melayu, like what is the practice in other nations where they retain the usage of their mother tongue,” he said.
BAHASA MELAYU STILL RETAINED
On Oct 24, the Pulau Pinang State Government passed a regulation that allows the use of various languages on signages at Georgetown’s heritage sites as part of efforts to lure more tourists to the island.
The move drew flak from a number of parties including non-government organisations (NGOs), language activists and historians.
However Pulau Pinang Municipal Council (MPPP) President, Datuk Zainal Rahim Seman, when approached at a recent function here, stressed that Bahasa Melayu is retained as the major language on these signages.
“Bahasa Melayu is used, at the top most part of the signage while other languages like Chinese or Tamil as well as the Jawi scripts are written underneath,” he said.
At the end of last November, the state authorities went ahead with the move to have multi-lingual signs of road names at Georgetown’s heritage sites despite strong protests from various quarters.
Is the move worth the efforts? The public would have to wait and see.