The Kompannaveediya area has seen rapid transformation over the last decade. What is being termed ‘urban development’, in the form of skyscrapers and luxury properties, has come at the cost of several homes and landmarks being demolished, fundamentally changing the nature of the area.

Beneath the surface, other changes and erasures are taking place. Speaking to Groundviews in lieu of International Mother Language Day (February 21), five residents of the area – whose ages vary from 30 to 70 – reflected on the Malay language that is their heritage. Generations of intermarriage, and the language practices in the schools attended by the younger generation, see Malay slowly slipping out of use. While some of the older individuals say it is limited to their homes, young residents fear that many in their age group will grow up with no regard or need for the language.

A community leader in the local Wekanda Mosque, however, notes that there are spaces that promote the use and appreciation of the language. There are gatherings in the form of Malay clubs – often specific to a particular locality – where the language must be spoken exclusively, and with drama and song in Malay being performed. These spaces do offer a sense of community and help to preserve the language and culture, but many Malays note that they are populated by members of a higher socio-economic class, and are therefore not widely accessible.

For these men and women living in Kompannaveediya, their attempts at keeping the language alive involve speaking it to their children, who they hope will learn and more regularly use the language. Still, they worry that with the passage of time, their language will disappear from use completely.

Groundviews would like to thank Firi Rahman and Vicky Shahjahan of the ‘We Are From Here Project‘ for facilitating these conversations.

Watch the video below.