The Ideological Stance of Multilingualism in Education in Malaysia in the Press 2000-2020


  • Stefanie Pillai Universiti Malaya
  • Surinderpal Kaur Universiti Malaya
  • Meng Huat Chau Universiti Malaya



Education Policy, Indigenous and Minority Languages, Language Policy, Malaysia, Multilingualism


The past 20 years have witnessed major shifts in language and education policy in Malaysia. This reflects a range of social, economic, and political forces that influence and shape the policymaking in this multi-ethnic and multicultural country. Past research has suggested that language and education policies in Malaysia tend to have two main stances and are generally related to Malay (the national language), English, Mandarin, and Tamil. One stance is related to issues of globalization and employability, and the other is related to national and ethnic identities. In view of these stances, this paper seeks to contribute to the discussion and debates on these issues by empirically investigating inherent ideological positions in official statements published in two newspapers in the past 20 years. Specifically, it adopts concepts from critical discourse studies, and uses methods from computational linguistics to examine official statements from a total of 30,508 Malaysian newspaper articles published between 2000 and 2020. The findings indicate that the role of Malay and national ideology, and the global positioning of English continue to be central concerns in the discussion of language and education in Malaysia. In addition, the importance of learning Mandarin is also emphasized. However, indigenous and minority languages are largely absent in the discourses on education policies in the country. The effects of this exclusion are already apparent in the shift to languages like Malay, Mandarin, and English as a first language, and the increasing number of languages considered to be under threat in Malaysia.

Author Biographies

Stefanie Pillai, Universiti Malaya

Stefanie Pillai is a Professor at the Faculty of Languages and Linguistics, Universiti Malaya in Malaysia. Her areas of research interest include language use and language policies in multilingual contexts, and varieties of English. She also works on language documentation and revitalization with a particular focus on Melaka Portuguese, an endangered language spoken in Malaysia. 

Surinderpal Kaur, Universiti Malaya

Surinderpal Kaur is an Associate Professor at Universiti Malaya. Her core areas of research focus on critical discourse studies and multimodality. Her research interests include social media discourses, terrorism, far-right discourses, gender, and sexuality. Her more recent research explores Islamophobia, hate speech and extremist discourse. 

Meng Huat Chau, Universiti Malaya

Meng Huat Chau is Senior Lecturer at Universiti Malaya where he teaches and supervises research in Applied Linguistics. His areas of research interest span corpus linguistics and educational linguistics, with a particular focus on learner corpus research, language and writing development, multilingualism, Global Englishes and issues of agency and engagement in language education. His more recent research and writing consider the contribution of Applied Linguistics towards a sustainable world. 


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