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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Localized English

When reading “We have the right to change English” in The Jakarta Post (you can also check it in Right to Change English I remembered what Jack C. Richards said in the TEFLIN Conference held in Surabaya in 2002. He said that as one consequence to label English as a universal language, people in Britain, Australia, and America no longer can exclusively possess it. This is the high time to accept the emergence of localized English; for example Singlish (Singaporean English) (one most common example for this ‘Singlish’ is when a Singaporean says, “No way lah”. Therefore, one can conclude that Richards also encouraged Indonesian English to emerge.

this pic was taken from here

In 2003, in my workplace there was a native speaker coming as one guest teacher. She is from one area in Britain and she had a very different accent when speaking English. The way she pronounced many words also did not follow the phonetic symbols usually found in many dictionaries (such as OXFORD, LONGMAN, HORNBY). She said that in Britain different areas had different accent as well as pronunciation. Because she learned her mother language since she was born, when she went to school and learned the ‘correct’ way to pronounce according to the dictionaries, she (as well as her fellow citizens I suppose) did not give it a damn. She said as long as they understood each other, that was enough. They did not need to bother themselves with the correct pronunciation. (This talk reminded me of one short article I read in one ELT book, I forgot the title of the book, either “Practice and Progress” or “Question & Answer”, the title of article was “Do the English speak English?” referring to the different ways of British people to pronounce English words.) She also said that even the English teachers in Indonesia pronounce English words ‘correctly’ because they always referred to the phonetic symbols in many dictionaries. They also tried to always follow the correct grammar rules.

To combine what was said by Jack Richards and the guest teacher in my workplace, I felt more at ease when teaching my students, no longer burden them to speak as closely as native speakers’ accent and pronunciation, for example, or to carefully choose the best dictions (that was worldwide accepted) to express something, as long as their interlocutors understand the message conveyed.

How about to ‘create’ Indonesian English, such as saying, “What’s wrong sih with you?” or “So what is it dong?” When Singaporeans can say, “No way lah,” of course Indonesian people can say similar things, such as by adding ‘sih’ and ‘dong’. However, I still insist that it be important to teach students to follow strict grammar rules. In Bahasa Indonesia, one can say, “Saya sudah makan” or “Sudah makan saya” or “Makan? Saya sudah” is very well accepted here. But then to ‘adopt’ this ‘chaotic’ grammar rules when speaking English, I am of opinion that it is not supposed to be done. Moreover, the use of active and passive voice in Bahasa Indonesia sometimes is interchangeable. Pay attention to the previous example I wrote, “Saya sudah makan” and “Sudah makan saya” are meant to be active sentence, “I have eaten”. When the first sentence is clearly active sentence, the word order of the second sentence can be classified into passive sentence although the speaker means active one, only he/she wants to emphasize the word “sudah”.

Therefore, in order to ‘create’ Indonesian English, then Indonesian people mix it with the way they speak Bahasa Indonesia—especially the grammar rules--, I don’t think it acceptable because it can result in wrong understanding.

Some workmates of mine sometimes joke, “My body is not really delicious today” to say “Aku sedang kurang enak badan hari ini (I don’t really feel well today)” is absolutely only for joke. Because if we then ‘label’ this kind of joke as accepted Indonesian English, I am afraid we will even more arbitrarily ‘ruin’ this universal language only because we are convinced that we have right to change English.

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johnorford said...

i think cos english is a global language, everyone has the right, actually duty, to remix it and speak it how they want to -- while ensuring other can understand ;)

i much prefer an indonesian talk fluently with an indonesian accent, than stuttered faux accented english.

main thing is to have fun while speaking english, and that was the key thing i learnt when i was an english teacher :)

A Feminist Blog said...

Love your supportive comment in the first paragraph, John.

For the second paragraph, I shyly must say to you that I once experienced I couldn't find a correct term of one word in Bahasa Indonesia when I was interviewed in one local television station. So, I chose an English word for that.
Arriving home, I got complained by Angie for forgetting such an easy word in Bahasa Indonesia. hahahaha ...