Search This Blog

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

English versus Bahasa

Several months ago I read a short writing in one blog belonging to a youngster (I forgot how young, but I suppose he was still in college for his bachelor’s degree). He complained when one day in one cyber café he heard two users speaking English, and both of them were Indonesians. The blogger considered that they JUST wanted to show off their capability in English! What was wrong with our own national language—Bahasa Indonesia? Why didn’t they just use it instead? He asked himself.
(I am really sorry I forgot to quote the site address. )
Last August 9 2007, Suara Merdeka published one article entitled “Alat Pemersatu Kurang Laku”; page 6 different from the one I quoted above but similar. The writer said that the phenomenon of people using foreign terms, such as bus way, three in one, etc showed that Indonesian people do not love their own language.
I love writing in English. Perhaps because I am an English teacher and I am accustomed to thinking in English when the first time I made a blog, I used English as the media. Moreover my blog where I got lots of warm comments from people all over the world was at an English website ( This made me write in English more and more. I started writing in Bahasa even when I made friend with an Indonesian guy living in New Zealand. This best friend whom I call ‘Abang’ said that he was somewhat tired to speak English all the time there so he enjoyed speaking Bahasa when communicating with me and some other mailing list friends who live all around the world. My other mailing list friends also said the same thing—they would prefer to speak Bahasa to each other rather than to use English because they wanted to maintain their capability in Bahasa. Instead of using English (to show off who is the best to use this international language after living abroad for years, for instance), they chose the national language to communicate!
So, in this small scope, I absolutely don’t agree with the narrow-minded opinion that when people speak foreign language—English for example—it means the speaker doesn’t love the national language. I want to speak English with my daughter—especially in public so that people will not know what we are talking about, and not just to show off—but she refused to respond in English, perhaps because she is not used to it, or because she felt uncomfortable to people around that perhaps would judge us as arrogant. Meanwhile, I just want her to practice her capability in listening and speaking with me (besides to speak secretly in public). Anything wrong with this learning process? Learning does not always take place in classrooms, does it?
In a bigger scope, such as the use of Bahasa for titles of books, especially for literature—read it as novels, dramas, or poems, including movies—I am of opinion that in literature, people are free to express their being artistic and creative in using any language. In literature, the choice of one word—in any language—can mean a lot. If the word is changed into another word, the creator probably will think that the ‘sense’ is different. For the name of some television programs, or the name of some buildings/malls/offices, I somewhat agree that they had better use Bahasa. Should the government made a regulation about this? I don’t really agree with this though. To me this is not really crucial, compared to the government’s responsibility to provide job vacancies for the citizens so that they don’t need to go abroad to be migrant workers only to “let themselves killed by the irresponsible and cruel employers”; or to alleviate the poverty; or to decrease the prices of everything; or many other things: including paying attention to some insane mayors or regents of some cities/regencies in Indonesia that tend to make crazy regulations (such as checking female students’ virginity!!!)
In this globalization era, we all must realize that mastering one international language—in many cases English is considered to be the lingua franca. To master an international language, people must practice it again and again anywhere and anytime, including in public places, with whoever they speak. Will it decrease our love to our own national language? I don’t agree with it. Will it make Bahasa not be used as the national lingua franca among ethnic groups in Indonesia? I don’t agree with it either. The Javanese absolutely need Bahasa to communicate with the Sundanese or Balinese or any other ethnic groups in Indonesia when they don’t understand Boso Jowo (Javanese language). Even in some areas where there are many tribes like in Papua where each ethnic has respective local language and the people don’t understand each other, they need Bahasa to communicate with each other.
We will always need Bahasa to communicate with our fellow citizens from different ethnic groups who have different local language. Meanwhile, speaking English—or any other foreign language—will not easily reduce our love to our own national language.
PT56 21.49 190807


Jennie S. Bev said...

Nana, write in English and get published in publications abroad would be just the thing for you. Think about it.

Dismas Bismo said...

“…in this globalization era, we all must realize that mastering one international language—in many cases English is considered to be the lingua franca..” I totally agree with you!

I hate the fact that Indonesians (especially youngsters) have the idea that learning and practicing a foreign language is an act of mutiny to Bahasa Indonesia. I think such skepticism is what makes our beloved country still stuck in the 3rd world chart. I think that by mastering a new foreign language can actually enrich our national language.

From my part, I prefer speaking English (of course to those who are able to speak and reply back in English) because English breaks the ice easily in conversations. There’s not much BS involved (basa-basi) in addressing your opponent in a conversation; it all starts with YOU and I. Everyone is equal. :)

Anyhow, regardless what language I speak or where I am situated, Bertumpah darah yang satu, Berbangsa satu, dan Bahasa persatuan: Bahasa Indonesia is still painted across my heart, bones, and blood! Hidup Indonesiaku!

Enjoyed reading your blog! Cheers!

spew-it-all said...

I heard many times people saying that the use of english words in conversations or ads implies the lack of nationalist sense.

I do believe that Indonesian love their country even though they use english words in their daily lives.

But i would not call that kind of thought narrow-minded. I rather see it as the lack of historical knowledge on Indonesia nationalism. In fact, nationalism in Indonesia had been always built within authoritarian regime. So when Suharto regime collapsed, then they blame english language.

I don't have any problem with people using english words as long as they use it appropriately. Sometimes it baffles me that many parents force their children to master English even though they might not be interested in doing it. Is it learning process or does it want to be part of globalised world? In this case, pride matters most than education.

EBIET said...

I hundred percen agree with what you're saying in this blog because in many cases I came across the lack of language ability could cause a humiliating situation.

We may heard news that our legislateurs could not comprehend presentation given by foreign investor representatives in their confrence. And because of this miscomprehension maybe that's why they always make wrong decisions.

As you said that you used English with your daughter to practice her listening and speaking ability, I agree with you all the way.

But consider this, it will be necessary to use language ability in "selected environment" because we also should consider the reaction of our surrounding.

Take this logic! When we are in a place where there's another group which basically ourown group communicate in a way that we can't understand, we may fell left behind or neglected. So, once again to use a language we should consider the environment even for the sake of secrecy.

Love to read your writing !!!

A Feminist Blog said...

Thanks for all the comments here. Due to my limited time online, I will reply all of the comments in this one comment. :)
To Jennie,
I have read what is stated in the link you gave me, and I have left a comment there. I realize recently I have written more in Bahasa than in English for my blogs, especially for my blog at because of the competition I joined. Just in case the committees didn't pay attention to the posts in English. Hahaha ... And in fact, gradually this becomes a habit for me to write in Bahasa here. :(
To Dismas,
Thanks for the supportive comment. I agree with you that the young generations easily scold people speaking foreign language as not proud of our own mother tongue. This is absolutely not as simple as that. Thanks for enjoying reading my blog. :)
To Spew-It-All,
I cannot agree with you more that those narrow-minded people lack of the historical knowledge of Indonesian nationalism. Indonesian founding fathers did determine that Bahasa Indonesia was the united language on the Youth Pledge Day 28 December 1928. But they also mastered English so that in a relatively young age, Indonesia already hosted an International Summit, Asian African Summit in 1955. They spoke English much better than the people in the government now. :(
To Ebiet,
Thanks a million for the nth comment in my blog. :)
Talking about my speaking English to my daughter in public places, I mean in malls, bookstores, etc where there are many other people around me. I do believe no one will feel disturbed. But when there are not many people around us, like in the situation you illustrated in your comment, I am rarely in such a situation. :) (In fact, both my daughter and I seldom go anywhere, but go shopping once a month to buy our daily needs, go to cyber cafes for emailing, blogging, and chatting. :)
I do appreciate your dropping by and leaving comments here, Ebiet. :)


spew-it-all said...

I think this must be belated comment on this topic.

My point was that criticism against the use of english language and its ramification on 'bahasa persatuan' and nationalism may well be analysed through the frame of defining nationalism post-authoritarian regimes. What is it to be Indonesian? Speaking a bit english and a bit indonesia?

Many times people said that the penetration of foreign language reached an alarming rate and it could put nationalism at peril.
On the other aspect, discourse on sexual behaviour (RUU APP) was another example of how Indonesians try to redefine themselves and reconceptualise nationalism.

As for Sumpah Pemuda, i think in the congress itself, Dutch language was used rather than Malay. In one article it was said that the pledge was actually written in Dutch.