As English usage becomes more common, Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia are establishing a regional agreement to revitalize Malay as their national language.
"We would like to maintain Malay-Indonesian's position as a national and regional language and put foreign languages like English, Chinese or Arab in a purely supporting role," Indonesian Education Minister Bambang Sudibyo was quoted Tuesday by The Jakarta Post daily as saying.
He made the remarks Monday after signing the commitment.
Bambang said that to implement the program nationwide, the ministry was initiating a law that would stipulate the use of Bahasa Indonesia as the leading language.
The planned law would also require that Bahasa Indonesia be used for public speeches and commercial advertisements.
Bambang said Bahasa Indonesia is now in a difficult position in this country, since public places are often named in English.
"We have to halt this process; otherwise we will no longer have a national language," he said.
A similar thing has happened in Malaysia. The use of Malay has decreased over the past few decades amid increasing emphasis on technology and education.
Malaysia's Education Minister Hishammuddin bin Tun Hussein said the globalization process had diluted the usage of Malay among native speakers.
The commitment with Indonesia and Brunei, he said, would refresh the three countries' determination to fight for their united national language.
"I will ask support from other institutions in my country to use the language in international agreements and meetings," he said. "If we, the locals, who are the owners of the language, don' t want to use it, then who will?"
Indonesia and Malaysia have also established an agreement to link top schools from both countries in a network to promote the use of Malay.
The schools would facilitate sharing among teachers and students through exchange programs using Malay.
Brunei's minister of partnership, Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Kerna Dato Seri Setia Haji Awang Abu Bakar bin Haji Apong, said that the presence of foreign languages was not as strong there as in Indonesia and Malaysia.
He said that Brunei, as a small country, had been successful in promoting Malay as its national language.
"However, we have a deep concern about what is happening in the other two countries and would like to support the program," he said.