An actress has reignited the debate over the relevance of the Malay language after she said she felt 'stupid' speaking the language as she picked up an award at the Malaysian International Film Festival. The comments by Sharifah Amani on Friday outraged Malay nationalists and defenders of the language. In her acceptance speech after being named best actress, Amani said: 'I would like to make my speech in English because I sound stupid when I speak in Malay.' It may have been just a throwaway line, but the response was immediate. 'Her words have hurt Malays and belittled their culture,' said Rais Yatim, the culture and arts minister. 'She should not have said those words. 'Even many foreigners can speak Malay, why can't she,' he added. 'It is her mother tongue.' Amani has apologised profusely, but the clamour has only escalated. A letter writer to Berita Harian, a mass-circulation Malay language daily, said yesterday: 'She has tarnished the country, let down her own race and belittled the Malay language, which is the country's official language.' The use of English, over radio, television and signboards, has become a sensitive matter to some Malaysians who are opposed to the revival of English as a medium of instruction. Malay replaced English as the sole medium of instruction in 1970 but former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad reinstated English partially in schools and universities a year before he retired in 2003. He argued that lack of English was retarding economic growth. The government says it is struggling to find jobs for about 80,000 graduates who have been rejected as employees by private companies because of their poor English. But Malay bureaucrats have not given up the fight against English. Recently Malay language proponents announced efforts to introduce a new law to punish businesses that use Malay 'improperly', with offenders to be 'advised' to correct themselves.