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Malaysia DBP tells why it won’t say sorry over use of ‘keling’

Robin Augustin FREE MALAYSIA TODAY Tue, March 23, 2021

Photo: Free Malaysia Today

PETALING JAYA: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) says it will not apologise for the use of the word “keling” in describing a person of Indian origin in the dictionary.

Its director-general, Abang Sallehuddin Abg Shokeran, said this was because the use of the term in the dictionary was not derogatory.

Earlier today, DAP’s P Ramasamy slammed DBP for its lack of apology or regret over the use of the word.

The issue began after a screenshot of the definition for the word “tambi” on DBP’s online dictionary went viral recently. DBP defined it as a “word used to refer to a keling person younger than us”.

“‘Tambi’” is also Tamil for “younger brother”.

Abang Sallehuddin said the issue was linked to a past edition of the dictionary and DBP never had any intention to insult Indians.

“As I have said before, DBP and society should avoid using the term in this day and age,” he told FMT.

“Dictionaries record history through words. Every word has a historical, social and cultural value.”

He said in the 4th edition of Kamus Dewan, published in 2005, the definition of the term “keling” was:

  1. An Indian empire along the Coromandel Coast called Kalinga and Telingana, renowned among sailors and traders who came to Southeast Asia as early as the third century.

2. A term used to refer to traders and sailors from Kalinga and Telingana, who came to Tanah Melayu as early as the third century.

Abang Sallehuddin said social and cultural values could change over time.

“The word ‘keling’ has historical value. Before, the term did not have any negative connotations, but this has changed. When the value of a word changes, DBP takes note of it.”

Abang Sallehuddin said in its latest and biggest dictionary, Kamus Dewan Perdana, the term “keling” was labelled as taboo.

“Why should we use words that hurt others. In Islam, we are taught to refer to someone properly and the name they like.”


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