The previously described situation, in which Tamil communities either consisted of rural estate workers or urbanized middle-class Tamils is now complicated by a third factor, the urban squatter settlement populated by Tamils who have left the plantations and are now working in various low-paying jobs in urban areas such as Kuala Lumpur, Johore Baru, and Penang. They congregate in squatter settlements (Rajoo 1993, in Sandhu and Mani 1993) and send their children to Tamil medium schools.In at least one case I know of, the urban area has come to the plantation--the Kuala Lumpur megalopolis has sprawled out into Selangor State to engulf former plantation land, which has been converted into luxury housing, but the Tamil school and a squatter zone continue to exist, cheek by jowl with the fancy housing. Such schools persist in their substandard conditions, despite their status as "National-type" schools, which should receive state subsidies, but are provided with very little other than teachers' salaries. [Also not a new paragraph] For whatever reasons these communities still choose Tamil medium, the general overall economic and cultural destitution of these groups means that Tamil medium prepares them for nothing but the substandard conditions they have always had--they work at part-time jobs, in factories at the lowest level, as messengers and sweepers, and have the highest rate of single-parent families, alcoholism, crime, prostitution and all the other social evils of the modern urban underclass. One Tamil stated to me that it appeared that the Tamils are and will always be the ``niggers" of Malaysia; he saw no way for these Tamils to break out of this cycle and move up the socio-economic ladder. Those that manage to do so, by attendance at National Schools, will leave the Tamil language behind. In his view, Tamil will only survive in Malaysia if Tamils remain poor and at the lowest level of society. We therefore now have two language strategies employed by the Tamil ``community" in Malaysia. One continues to prefer Tamil schooling; the other abjures Tamil schooling and is economically motivated to prefer Malay and English; Tamil may remain as a home language, but in many cases not even this happens. This is not to point the finger; this strategy, of embracing English to the detriment of Tamil, is in fact a survival mechanism engendered by the national language policy. Several elements of that policy conspire to cause this:
Summary and Conclusions: The Tamil language will probably survive in Malaysia into the twenty-first century, but perhaps only in isolated rural pockets, or as the language of a marginalized urban underclass. When all is said and done, it is less the overt language policy (as enshrined in the Malaysian Constitution) that determines this outcome than the socio-economic history and present conditions of the Tamil community in Malaysia. Tamil has no economic value in Malaysia, and is therefore maintained by the socio-economically destitute as a last vestige of primordial ethnicity. Since even in the developed western countries (e.g. the US) a similarly destitute urban underclass persists, and continues to maintain its own variety of English despite teachers' attempts to extirpate it, the prognosis for Tamil is unlikely to be any different in Malaysia.