Language Abandonment : An Issue in Indonesian context

Language Abandonment

Language death happens when the last speaker of the language dies. Its process is usually gradual, and most commonly occurs when the native speakers of a language start using a second language (usually imposed by the majority or voluntarily done due to political or economic reasons) until they stop using their first language.

As a country with very diverse ethnicities, Indonesia has more than 700 local languages. With people speaking different languages that mostly are not mutually intelligible, Indonesia chose Malay language, dubbed as Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language), as the language of unity. The choice was made not because Malay language was spoken by the majority, nor was it the language of the forefathers; in fact, Javanese was and is the largest ethnic group in Indonesian and most of the forefathers are Javanese. Malay was chosen because it was the lingua franca of the whole archipelago and considered to be practical. It was and still is more practical than Javanese. Now, more and more people speak Indonesian as its first language.

As a national language, Indonesian is used in everyday life, in government offices, in education, and interacting with people, especially from other ethnic groups. Places with economic or educational significance are usually where people from different ethnicities gather. In these places, Indonesian serves as a uniting element.

With Indonesian used widely, the existence of other languages are threatened, to some extent. In 2009, 16 languages died in the course of two years (from 742 languages in 2007 to 726). Because people think that learning and getting used to Bahasa Indonesia will contribute to a better life, better accessibility, they stop using their local languages; they assimilate. Furthermore, some people avoid using their local languages, because they’re afraid that other people might disparage them. This shift in using Indonesian has taken its toll on the largest local language in Indonesian, i.e. Javanese. Many young Javanese people now forget specific vocabulary, e.g. those related to animals’ offspring, flowers, specific actions, certain sounds (onomatopoeia), etc.

Let’s think of a hypothetical condition where Indonesian is not used; it doesn’t exist. It does make sense, since Indonesian language doesn’t really have a long history compared to some other local languages. A local language with the largest groups of speakers would be Javanese. Due to its historical significance, its enormous number of speakers, the distribution of the Javanese people all over Indonesia (not to mention those who live in Suriname), the importance of Java Island in education, economy, and politics, Javanese language will most likely take over the role of Indonesian language as the language of power and unity.

Besides Indonesian language as its national language and Javanese as the language with most speakers in Indonesia, Indonesia also has at least twenty local languages that are spoken by more than one million people. Even without the existence of Indonesian language, these languages can serve as lingua franca on smaller levels, which then contribute to language abandonment of other minority languages.

Progressive Tense in Indonesian

Progressive Tense in IndonesianAs I have explained earlier, concepts in English are often represented by words in Indonesian. A very common example is the concept of TENSES. Indonesian doesn’t recognize verb conjugation to express this concept; however, we have special vocabulary that we use to represent them. I wrote how SUDAH is used to represent the PERFECT TENSE of English. Do you still remember? You might want to check again here.

In this post I will be discussing the word SEDANG. We use this word to express PROGRESSIVE actions, thus representing the English PROGRESSIVE TENSE. Look at the example:

They ARE studyING for her exam tomorrow.

(Mereka SEDANG belajar untuk ujian dia besok.)

When I went to her house yesterday, she WAS watchING a movie.

(Waktu saya pergi ke rumahnya kemarin, dia SEDANG menonton film.)

It’s very easy, right?

Everytime you want to describe progressive (ongoing) actions, just remember to use sedang.

There is an important note, though…

The thing is, PROGRESSIVE TENSE in English has many functions. The concept can be used to describe ongoing actions (we use SEDANG for this one) as well as future actions (which requires a different word other than SEDANG and will be discussed in a different post). Aside from those two functions, PROGRESSIVE TENSE is also used to express annoyed feeling by adding the word ALWAYS between the TO BE and the verb-ING. In this case, we will not use SEDANG, but rather SELALU as a direct translation of ALWAYS. Look at the example below:

She IS always watchING tv. I don’t like that.

(Dia selalu menonton tv. Saya tidak suka itu.)

So, to wrap up, the concept of PROGRESSIVE TENSE is represented by the word SEDANG in Indonesian. However, not all functions of this TENSE will use SEDANG. Progressive tense that refers to future actions and progressive tense that express annoyed feelings are the exceptions.

PS: There will be further discussion of the word SEDANG on my future post, talking about expressions using SEDANG but is not necessarily represented by PROGRESSIVE TENSE.

Richard Ariefiandy

Grammar in Speaking – Part II: grammar learning

Grammar is important in speaking
Grammar is important in speaking

For some people, learning grammar can be discouraging. Some others tend to go through the grammar to get the whole idea of how a language is used. Whatever method you’re using, grammar is not a negligible part of language learning. The problem is not about whether learning grammar or not, but rather how grammar learning is presented.

If you’re a student easily discouraged when hearing the word “grammar”, then it’s a good thing to learn language directly from listening materials. Extensive drilling is also an important component for speaking practice. However, when writing becomes necessary, then you need to sharpen your intuition. You need to realize that certain words appear before or after certain other words. You also need to know the function and position of the words. Because you learn language through listening materials extensively, the instinct of pairing words and putting them into sentences won’t be difficult.

There is an easier way to learn to speak correctly without being afraid of “grammar” discouragement notwithstanding. First, find the similarities between the sentence pattern of the target language and of your language. With simple words, try making simple sentences. Repeat the sentence until you feel that the sentence is not that different from your language. At the same time, find also differences such as verb forms (inflection), noun forms (declension), the usage of particles and articles, and others. In this phase of learning, it is not important to know how the verbs/nouns are changing, or in what situations you should use them, as long as you can make simple sentences useful for you. When you you’re used to making simple sentences like this, it is hoped that you have already mastered at least ten verbs, and twice the number for the nouns. Make sure you choose important and useful words for you that you’d encounter in your daily life, and make sure you know exactly what and how the native speakers use the words.

Then move on to making noun phrases and put them into the sentences that you’ve been learning. Noun phrases, including possessive patterns, are quite tricky to master. Get yourselves used to this before you move further.

By the time you master noun phrases, you basically have mastered simple sentence pattern. Now, to make your speaking skill better, you need to master conjunctions to make your sentences less simple. From this point, you can start using more complex expressions using different verb forms and learn when you should use it.

When learning a foreign language becomes easier you mustn’t forget to always do a listening practice to drill not only the pronunciation, but also your ability to recognize situations and context. As you master the language, you will also know your weakness. You should be able to tackle this to perfect you foreign language mastery.

What linguists do…

For the past several months, I’ve been corresponding with a linguist professor from Australia. At first it was started with questions concerning scholarship. But then it continued to something else. Linguistics and being a linguist.

Professor Nicholas Evans has given me the insight of what is the meaning of being a linguist. He sent a self-written book “Dying Words” which has shown me not only the door to what linguistics is, but it has also provided me the best seat to see linguistics from a different perspective.

One day I asked him about what contribution he has made by being a linguist. And his answer is forever engraved in my heart.

There is wisdom in every language…every culture… which is not available in other cultures, thus other languages. This is due to the uniqueness of each individual culture and language. The job of a linguist is to uncover the wisdom.


Teaching Demo @ ELTI – First Day

old pic - friend taken photograph

Today will be my first day of teaching demo at ELTI, as a part of the whole recruitment process. I have prepared three lesson plans for my successive three days of teaching demo on Saturday and Sunday (I literally used those two full days to prepare the lesson plans). Today, I will be teaching General English class for High School Students.

So, wish me luck guys (and girls)… This might as well the path to make my position firm in language and linguistics.

My Journey: Will I Stand Out as an English Teacher?

This is my first time interacting with english teachers in ELTI. I can’t believe that I’m here right now, looking at them interacting each other, making jokes and laughing. Well… I need to get acquainted with the whole environment before I can really be part of this place.

Being an english teacher is actually one of my baby steps to have a firm position in language and linguistics. Besides, this is also my passion, and I’ve survived most processes so I guess I just need to bear this one last stage.

I’m wishing myself luck 🙂