Do you know how many ethnic do we have in Sabah? Any of you heard about "Jejak Etnik"? Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka's (DBP) Sabah Branch Director Zubaidi Abbas explain recently in Bernama, The Jejak Etnik is DBP's Sabah first project of the kind, one of the main objective of the programme is to map out ethnic languages in Sabah, as well as to find out how the mother tongue is being used as a language of communication at home among the ethnic races. The Sabah DBP Branch director said "Jejak Etnik" was started six month ago, and was supposed to be a five-year programme but had to be 'shelved' for the time being due to limited funds.
But the bulk of the study was concentrated at Kampung Landung Ayang Laut, Kudat, in the Sabah east coast. Kampung Landung Ayang was especially chosen for its diverse ethnic population where at least 35 dialects or sub-dialects were found to be the language of communication among its residents. The ethnic groups residing in the village include Dusun, Bajau, Sungai, Bonggi, Brunei, Murut, Melayu Suluk and Kadayan.
"We found out that the use of mother tongue as their language of communication is on the decline, whereby about 2,007 or 52.5% of the population were more proficient in Bahasa Melayu than in their 'bahasa sukuan'.
"In terms of research objectives, it can be assumed that bahasa ibunda or mother tongue is not widely used in their daily communication at home as compared to Bahasa Melayu," Zubaidi told Bernama.
He said from the 1,308 respondents among the Rungus ethnic group in Kampung Landung Ayang Laut, only 676 people within the age range of one to 19 years were still proficient in their mother tongue, while only 73 people out 240 respondents from the Ubian clan of the same age speak fluent Bahasa Ubian.
"Overall, we have interviewed about 5,779 respondents, including 1,313 people who have responded by returning the questionaires sent to them.
"In some places, we sought the help of the village head,the district office and the Kudat Native Court to deliver the forms and conduct the interviews," he said.
"Our initial study showed that there was indeed a valid concern as far as extinction of ethnic dialects in Sabah is concerned.
"This is because the younger generation below the age of 30 tend to be more comfortable speaking in Bahasa Melayu rather than in their respective ethnic languages," he said.
Zubaidi explain that for an ethnic language to survive it needs at least 100,000 people to practice the language and if the number is less than that, the language is considered as 'dying'. He cited the Begahak ethnic group residing in Mukim Tungku, Lahad Datu, as a classic example of a 'dying bahasa sukuan' because it was found out that only about 2,000 people of the ethnic group speak the Begahak language. The Tobilung ethnic community at Kampung Mengaris in Kota Marudu is also said to be losing their proficiency in their mother tongue.
The reasons behind the declining proficiency in the usage of mother tongue among the ethnic groups in Sabah includes mixed marriages involving different ethnicities. For example, if the husband is a Dusun and his wife a Sungei, the Bahasa Melayu will be the dominant language of communication at home, thus effectively 'denying' their children's chances of practicing their mother tongue.
"Another glaring factor is through migration. The moment an ethnic group migrate, their language of communication will be very much influenced by the new community or the environment," he said.
Here is the list of ethnic language that can be found in Sabah.
- Illanun (Irranun).
- Nunuk Ragang.