Tuesday, June 21, 2005

jailed for a kedah slang

Ahmad Hafizal would go down in Malaysia’s history as a significant individual. He became a celebrity of sort as the first Malaysian youth to be jailed for not attending the Khidmat Negara or National Service. It made a great headline because he was (at least to me) a very embodiment of character that the National Service sought to shape in every Malaysians school leaver. He had not attended the NS because he had to sacrifice himself, winning the rice for his extremely poor family. In fact he had even sacrificed from the opportunity of education, dropping out of school at a much earlier age to till the land, working in the paddy field, earning a pittance all in the name of his family. Was he not a hero? Larger in character than any that NS can ever help to shape.

If others think that he was sent to jail for the NS, I beg to think differently. I think sent to jail for his slang.

Reading through the events leading to his prosecution, I thought he was prosecuted for his slang. Or more accurately his inability to express himself in the standard language. No!. I do not wish to question the law or the learned judge’s judgment and be prosecuted for contempt of court myself. Certainly I am not that anywhere near to be a hero. But I write about language and its peculiarity and I found something peculiar and even hilarious in the case. It was said that when asked by the judge whether he knew about NS, he answered yes. Whether he knew the consequence of absenteeing, he also said yes. When asked why he did not attend the NS he said he was ‘lazy’. For that he was sent to jail.

I did not attend the trial, but I was certain he answered the questions in Bahasa Melayu, and in Kedah slang to be exact. I knew for certain because with my other half a Kedahan, I met and knew many Kedahans and I have now a fair grip on their slang, how a word can have a different meaning if pronounced differently.

Let’s touch only on the ‘yes’ (ya, tau) and lazy (malas, segan) in Kedah slang.

In standard Bahasa, ‘tau’, or ‘tahu’ means yes. But in Kedah slang ‘tau’ can mean either ‘yes’ or ‘I have no idea’ depending how it was spoken. When Harizal answered ‘tau’ the first two questions, he had meant ‘No, I have no idea’. The court thought he said yes and proceded to the next question.

Imagine the judge asking, ‘Awat hang tak pi Khidmat Negara?’.(Why have you not attended Khidmat Negara?) and getting his response ‘segan’ for an answer. If the judge understood ‘segan’ to mean lazy, then jail was supposedly the right punishment. But ‘segan’ as many of us know can also mean ‘I can’t afford it’. He could not afford the time as he was working and he can’t afford it financially as he was earning for the family. He was just being honest under the circumstances. I could imagine a poor uneducated boy, standing in the defence dock, awed by the whole court proceeding. He would have been a meek, confused, intimidated (by the ambience) and fearful. I have been in the court once myself and found myself awed by its regality. Imagine what thought goes in the poor boy's mind then. If I had been Hafizal myself, I could have been cowed, may be even pissing in my pants. I don’t blame him for answering in short ‘tau’ and ‘segan’. He had just wanted to get it over and done with.

The rest, consequently became history.

No comments: