LANGUAGE is a primordial tool. Due to an ability to understand and create language, homo sapiens was able to communicate in a sophisticated and highly complex manner. Language is more than merely jiwa bangsa; trust us when we say it’s also your personal weapon, seduction tool and Achilles heel depending on how well you master it. But language is also tricky; what do you think makes a language fade or thrive? Why are there barely any material on VR smartphone technology written in Bahasa Melayu? How do we know for sure when to use dari and daripada?
According to the world’s most extensive language catalogue, Ethnologue, there are 7,097 known living languages in the world — a number that could be much higher if we took into account languages no longer spoken today. And speaking of dead languages, there’s an award-winning play about dying languages and dying relationship coming to town soon. It’s called The Language Archive and it was written by American playwright Julia Cho. It’s even a Susan Smith Blackburn Prize winner!
Although this is the first time The Language Archive visits Malaysian shores, it has been staged around the world numerous times since it premiered in South Coast Repertory, California seven years ago.
Next month, the play will be reaching Ku Ash Theatre via production management house PH7. After acclaimed performances in FFM and MPFKL-nominee Cuak and impressive stage runs for Wild R!ce‘s Another Country and Hotel, rising star Ghafir Akbar is set to direct some of Malaysia’s most reliable stage actors including Anitha Abdul Hamid, Gavin Yap and Farah Rani in this staging of Julia Cho’s masterpiece. Also in the cast are national performing arts legends Zahim Albakri and Sukania Venugopal.
“Our children no longer speak the language of our grandparents, our film awards are divided by language, and our forms of communication have resorted to emojis and acronyms,” notes Ghafir in the official release.
“It takes a lot of effort to truly communicate with someone truthfully or to listen and clearly understand what they are trying to convey. This play reveals how easily we use language to manipulate meaning, thought, and intention either consciously or subconsciously. The characters in this play hide behind language and words, and conceal their true intention, just like us. To me, this is where the humanity of these characters lie.”
The play revolves around George who is a linguist in distress as he tries to balance two big responsibilities: saving a dying language and saving his crumbling marriage. To add to his existing struggles, his wife Mary is ready to leave him in pursuit of her own happiness. Meanwhile, Alta and Resten, the last two speakers of a rare and dying language that George is archiving, refuse to utter absolutely anything to each other.
Did we mention that George’s assistant, Emma, also has a crush on him and George is too oblivious to realise it?
PH7’s staging of the play hopes to get audiences to take note of the ways we deal with all the languages around us. Given recent media attention on misguided attempts by producers associations and awards ceremony to push for more widespread use of Bahasa Melayu for instance, The Language Archive is no doubt a timely choice.
In any case, if you have undying love for language and are a sucker for great romantic comedies, you know where to be come October.
For tickets to The Language Archive (RM75 and RM95) visit Airasia Red Tix or visit these Rock Corner (The Gardens, Subang Parade, The Curve & Bangsar Village), Victoria Music Centre (Sungei Wang Plaza, Amcorp Mall & Tropicana City Mall) or drop by any of its Penang affiliates (Artist Gallery Gurney Plaza & Artist Gallery Queensbay Mall). All images obtained via Facebook. Article written by Aizuddin Norzaid and Deric Ect.