Over the years, Indians have significantly contributed to Malaysia’s popular culture and growth. Truthfully, their unrecognised role is evident in the film industry, printing culture, the theatre and famous movies. If you look closely, the presence of Indians linger strongly in street names, temples and mosques, and a big part of the landscape and cultural heritage.
As Malaysians, we are so very used to observing signboards in Malay and English, but our colonial signboards were epic! It gave equal prominence to all the three languages. The picture below seems to be a random collection of a signboard, with Tamil inscriptions of Kuala Lumpur pictured during the Malaya period. Has anybody else come across this signboard?
According to Harvard University’s Prof Sunil Amrith, these tales were mostly overlooked, as the migrants left no record of their lives. A large component of intellectuals and merchants in the case of Indians migrated to South Africa, alongside the indentured sugar plantation workers. This is perhaps the reasoning behind the extensively written South African Indian diaspora, making it more significant partly due to the fact that Mahatma Gandhi also briefly lived in South Africa.
The Indian language consists of Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Hindi, Punjabi and a host of other Indian languages spoken by linguistic subgroups. There is no direct correlation between Tamil and the Indian identity, as Tamil is not used as the lingua franca in these subgroups. The presence of Tamil on public signs is also not as frequent as the presence of Mandarin or Cantonese. The second reason lies in the lower market value of the Tamil language.
Based on the image above, the signboard are displayed in all three languages. The presence of all three languages on the signboard promotes the integration of minorities and helps prevent disputes among all three races.
In 2019, Melaka mounted 24 signboards in several languages, these signboards can be seen at the famous Jonker Walk, Jalan Tokong, Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, Jalan Hang Jebat and Jalan Kampung Kuli.
Trilingual sign boards should be welcomed! Its about time to get em’ signboards up in the rest of the country. Are you of the same opinion as me?