The End of Indonesian Language (?)

ist1_5291007-hd-loopable-typing-on-keyboardI am delighted that lately I have been collecting college friends in Facebook. Everyday each one pops up and says hi. While some of them I recognize immediately as they were in my assignment or student body groups, I need more time on others as we weren’t that close in uni (excuse me, my class had 150 students, I couldn’t be friends with everybody even though being in the same room for 4 years!) or because they have changed quite a lot it’s difficult to recognize them (which apparently is my case. Everybody says I look totally different. More… sinful…).  Usually the first time we realise we have a history, either s/he or I would leave a comment on each other wall’s, gushing how long it has been and what we have been doing since more than 10 years a go.

What struck me during the process is that most of my friends usually leave their first comments in English rather in Indonesian, or a mix between English-Indonesian. Which is quite interesting, because this is something that we do unintentionally, and it indicates that we think in both languages! At least I do: I count in Indonesian and think in English.  I dream in both and speak in both as well. Confusing? Not really…

But again, I live in UK and am forced to be engaged in English almost 24/7. Usually after haven’t met Indonesians for a while, it takes me a wee bit of time to switch my gear from English to Indonesian. Not long, usually about a few minutes. A friend who has lived in UK for 13 years needs longer time. However, my schoolmates live in Indonesia, and  yet it seems they speak and write English really fluently, and are more comfortable to do the communication in English rather than Indonesia.

ist1_4518328_indonesia_boyOf course we immediately would blame MTV, Hollywood movies and soaps, and International Schools, as the force of English domination. But let’s face it: we are facing the new era. The era where Indonesians realise how important English is and everyone rushes to take extra course and learn extra hard to understand the language. One time when Tamara and I were waiting at Singapore Air office in Kuningan, we heard to toddlers speaking in perfect English in thick American accent, and we both thought they were Americans until we heard the mother replied in Indonesian. When we turned our heads, well well well, they are true Indonesians indeed (they are not even mixed Indonesian-Westerner!). With such perfect English!

Does it mean it is the end of bahasa Indonesia? Think about how many English words we absorb and turn into Indonesian. Think about us, or our kids, who could fluently fire anything in English but find it difficult to do the same in proper Indonesian (there are more than one occasions that I actually have to look up dictionary because I couldn’t remember the word in Indonesian). Think about the international companies in Indonesia which force their staffs to engage the business in English, from emails to reports (have you tried to write a report in Indonesian? I have once for a client, and it took me twice longer than write it in English, with lots of peeking at dictionary and asking the proper Indonesian word to my colleagues. Embarrassing!).

Do you think Indonesian language will vanish from our country, let’s say, in 20-30 years? Or we will reach the state where it is like in Malaysia where people can fluently speak both, or even more?

Note: image on the teaser is taken from here.






  1. Mungkin gak menghilang, tapi berubah karena Bahasa Indonesia adalah bahasa yang paling banyak menyerap bahasa asing. Bahasa Indonesia sendiri masih termasuk “muda” dibandingkan dengan bahasa Inggris.

    boys last blog post..Nortel Bankruptcy

  2. Remember, most of your friends are educated people and English is one of the ‘must have’ skill for educated people. Outside your circle of friend? I doubt you will find those who speak English…

    But I believe Indonesian language will not vanish, I don’t know why but somehow it will survive (Like German, Dutch and Portuguese). After all, it’s the language for more than 200 million people, right?

    aviantos last blog post..New Yorker

  3. I don’t think it’ll disappear. Secara ada 250 juta gitu loh native speakernya, bhs Danish yang cuman 5 juta aja ga hilang. My best bet is that people will soon be bilingual, which is only a good thing!

  4. Hopefully bilingual like Malaysians. Well, my older cousin (who happens to marry a local-but-millionaire man) demands international or national-plus school for their cute 3 children ever since the playgroup time! Gosh.

    Of course they’re eyecatching in every family gathering cos they always speak in English one another and even the babysitters are required to speak in English too! FYI not everyone in the immediate family know how to speak in English.

    Ok maybe my cousin believes that the earlier her kids learn English, the better. Unfortunately she forgets that most of my immediate family tends to stay away from them cos dunno what to say or greet her kids? Crazy.

    Devi Girsangs last blog post..Question of The Day

  5. Not to forget me and you writing our blog in English. (well to me, it’s mostly English LOL)

    Devi Girsangs last blog post..Question of The Day

  6. I don’t think it’ll disappear – in fact it’s such an accessible language, I think the whole world should use it!

    Chris Taylors last blog post..Obama inauguration looms

  7. hmm.. I believe it’d (it = Bahasa) be diminishing, slowly. But what is interesting: here in Aussie, me and friends of mine – who can speak Javanese: use Javanese more frequently than Bahasa.

    This had amazed some of my friends and members of my family back home, commenting w/ something like: “You can still speak Javanese quite fluently – despite living there for years. How did you manage to do this ?”

    On the other hand, I find it increasingly difficult to find the right term in Bahasa to describe something that I know in English / Javanese. Take, for example – what is the Bahasa equivalent for the word: ‘However’ ? You may be able to help me – but I doubt it’s going to be easy to substitute it with just 1 Bahasa word.

    Another example – how do you properly translate the following statement to Bahasa (using more or less the same amount of words whilst maintaining simplicity and clarity):
    * “A copy of this document can be acquired from the receptionist.”
    * “Instead of going to Mary’s party, he went to Jane’s.”

    For me personally – Bahasa is clunky: too formal to be used with fellow Indons – yet in many cases it’s easier to post in English even in Indon blogs like this, simply because English, IMHO: is richer when it comes to technical terms.

    • i learnt walaupun = however at school in melbourne. Is this right?

      • Yes, you’re absolutely right man. Sometimes we use ‘namun’ instead of ‘walaupun’ for ‘however’. Don’t listen that guy (John Doe). He is brainless.

    • Anda susah mencari padanan kata dari bahasa Jawa ke bahasa Indonesia karena pengetahuan bahasa Indonesia Anda miskin. Dalam bahasa Inggris ada ‘They’ yang artinya ‘Mereka’. Coba cari apa padanannya dalam bahasa Jawa? wong-wong kae. Plis deh, menjijikkan kedengarannya. Di dalam bahasa Inggris ada ‘We’ yang artinya ‘Kami/Kita’. Dalam bahasa Jawa apa? Awake dhewe? hahahahahahahahaha.

      However = Namun/walaupun, tergantung konteksnya. Kamu ngerti kan?

      A copy of this document can be acquired from the receptionist = Salinan dokumen ini dapat diperoleh dari resepsionis.

      Instead of going to Mary’s party, he went to Jane’s = Dia lebih memilih pesta jane daripada Mary.

      Apa susahnya bro? Loe sih bego bahasa Indonesia bilang bahasa Indonesia miskin. Dasat Jawa!

      Bahasa inggris pun banyak menyerap kata dari bahasa Asing, terutama bahasa Latin dan Prancis. Gak percaya. ni linknya

  8. all: I’m glad most of you are having positive hopes towards bahasa Indonesia. I agree it’s the language of 200 million people. Talking is a different thing, we have lots of dialects and we hardly use proper grammar. But how sad and frustrating it is (at least it happened to me), to be unable to form a proper sentence in Indonesian and have to look up to the dictionary.

    John Doe: however = bagaimanapun. But you’re right, it is rather difficult to form a simple sentence as the original English one. Even we don’t have the Indonesian word for “copy” – and this reminds me of one day when I was in uni and my dad visited and I left message to the maid that I was going to “ngopi” (a classic example of absorbing English word to Javanese verb, every verb is added with “ng” so ng-opi, nge-del, ng-enter!). He assumed I was going to have coffee and went ballistic as he thought I was being disrespectful, knowing he was visiting yet having fun with friends, whilst what I meant was I went to the copy place to have some documents copied because I had exams in a few days!

  9. evi yuniarti says:

    hahaha… bless her (the maid..)

    hi Anita,

    Menurut aku, Bahasa Indonesia will never be extinct. Malah akan semakin berkembang, karena merupakan satu-satunya bahasa official sekaligus bahasa nasional (baca: pemersatu) di Indonesia setelah kemerdekaan. Ribuan suku di Indonesia MEMBUTUHKAN satu bahasa untuk berkomunikasi satu dengan yang lain. Merupakan pelajaran WAJIB lulus di sekolah-sekolah menengah. Belum lagi dengan banyaknya orang asing yang memang sengaja belajar Bahasa Indonesia.

    English is English, universal, lingua franca. Sudah menyebar sejak jaman world exploration di abad ke-16. Dan sudah barang tentu lebih kaya vocabulary-nya dibanding Bahasa Indonesia yang baru thn 1928 di ‘official’kan.

    Dan tidak akan menjadi seperti di Malaysia, karena bahasa Inggris di Malaysia adalah a Second Language, kalau bukan official. Sedangkan di Indonesia English adalah sebagai Foreign Language.

    I personally don’t take pride for being able to communicate in english. Everyone can and will, eventually, when there’re enough reasons to.

  10. As far away from Indonesia as you are, as soon as you return for a visit, you will realise that Bahasa is still there and you actually miss using it. Our mother tongue is what makes us who we are now, despite all the bad reputation that the country’s been getting these days, it is still the language that brings us closer to home.

    Besides, wouldn’t it be fun to be able to speak 2 languages (english and bahasa) instead of just english?

    therrys last blog post..The World is a Beautiful Place

  11. Evi: I’d drink to that. I particularly think it’s important to be able to speak and write properly in Indonesian. I have got Indonesian relatives who live outside Indonesia and although the parents can still communicate in Indonesian, the children cannot, and I think it’s a shame. It’s in our blood, we should preserve it. There’s no reason why we or our next generation cannot master Indonesian.

    Therry: I don’t miss using Indonesian, I use it almost everyday, at least in writing. It is indeed fun to be able to master many languages!

  12. I’ve known children of Indonesian parents who, being grown up overseas, actually refuse to speak Bahasa and even though their parents teach – as well as sending them for private lessons – for Bahasa, they are actually embarassed to speak it!

    I’ve also known a friend who actually spoke 3 languages properly: Vietnamese, Chinese and English, because his mother was Viet and father was Chinese, and none of them could speak English, and they all migrated to Australia when he was very little, so he was forced to converse using Viet and Chinese with his parents, and English at school with his friends. Having disadvantages in languages, might in fact give advantages after all!

    therrys last blog post..In Spirit of the Upcoming Election

  13. Hi mba, long time no visit..

    to extinct Indo language will need more time than you thought. here in deep part of Indo, people understand almost nothing when i speak english. not just that, i must be very careful in using english term as it could lead to an opinion that i am such a westernized person by the villagers.

    as far as i concern, most people who live outside Jakarta or main cities in Indonesia speak their traditional language in their daily life. but indonesian language is important to communicate with the rest of indonesian.

    indo language, however is a weakly rooted language. if only we choose bahasa melayu kuno as our national language, it would be easier to speak the language propperly and to make different expressions with the language. indo language is a very young language thus it is poor, absorbing lots of external influences and dynamic.


  14. I don’t think so Anita. I still miss speaking in Indonesian, and everytime I and my friends who live in USA or Europe talk on the phone, we always speak in Indonesian perfectly.

    Have great day.

    Fida Abbotts last blog post..Are You A Success Person???

  15. I don’t think so either. I agree with Avianto “Remember, most of your friends are educated people and English is one of the ‘must have’ skill for educated people. Outside your circle of friend? I doubt you will find those who speak English…” Something big should happen to make our Lingua Franca vanish. Bahasa Indonesia is here to stay.

    English is a very universal language. The phenomenon of (highly) educated people being bilingual (their native language and English) is very common nowadays. My Dutch friends, co workers and co students are also bilingual. It is more a need to be able mastering English. People in West Europe are mostly bilingual, some are trilingual , they don’t see that as a skill but a need to survive.

  16. Agree with the rest.
    I think we like to speak in English here in Indonesia because it’s an asset too, you know how many if not most of companies here prefer to have English speaking employees.
    Also, Indonesia is a vast developing country and it’s riding a fast lane now, Indonesia is also like a pretty girl to many foreign investors.
    So smart Indonesian people are just preparing themselves and their future (means kids) with English ;))

    Once when I happened visiting Kinokuniya I saw two kids at the craft section were talking to each other in fluent English with American accent, their Mom was with them but didn’t really talk at first. When one of the kids asked their Mom “Mom what are you actually looking for?”
    the Mom answered “I am looking…apa ya..itu loh benang itu apa ya? eh…” :)))

    Yg agak bingungin, kenapa juga cari benang di toko buku ya? 😀
    Bahasa Indonesia banyak fans-nya kok, jadi tidak bakal hilang dong 😀 tapi mungkin lebih berkembang aja dengan istilah2 baru.

    Oris last blog post..Lay across my big br****

  17. Menurut saya, bahasa Indonesia tidak akan punah. Sepertinya penggunaan bahasa inggris dalam pembicaraan sehari2 hanya di jakarta saja, saya perhatikan di kota2 lain kok enggak yah, bahkan di bali pun mereka rata2 hanya berbicara bahasa inggris dengan turis.
    Menurut saya juga agak berlebihan di Jakarta anak2 kecil hanya berbicara bahasa inggris dan tidak bisa bahasa indonesia, kayaknya aneh banget. Seolah lebih bangga dengan bahasa inggris drpd bahasa indonesia. Bukankah bisa berbicara banyak bahasa itu bagus, merupakan aset tambahan?

    Kenapa menulis laporan memakai bahasa indonesia lebih susah? karena sehari2 kita jarang berbicara dengan bahasa indonesia yg baku, terutama di daerah2 yg memiliki bahasa daerah sendiri seperti misalnya bali atau di jawa tengah/timur/barat…kalau bicara ya campur kan. Jadi begitu mau nulis surat resmi ya agak pusing sedikit jadinya :)

    Mengenai banyak kata2 bahasa inggris yg tidak bisa diterjemahkan ke dalam bahasa indonesia, ya itu wajar karena banyak kosa kata bahasa inggris yg tidak ada di indonesia misalnya seperti fotocopy… dan itu bukan hanya di bahasa indonesia, bahasa jerman pun banyak menyadur istilah2 baru dari bahasa inggris seperti internet, e-mail, dll.

    dan satu lagi ta perhatikan di jakarta kayaknya keren kalo ngomong pake bhs inggris….walopun logatnya medok hehehe
    saya lebih suka dan berusaha kalau pas berbicara bahasa indonesia tidak dicampur terutama kalau pas sedang di indonesia. walopun seringan juga dicampur dengan bahasa jawa atau malah bahasa bali hehehehe

    ok deh sekian dulu opini saya…kok jadi panjang…

    salam kenal dari budapest :)

    Ayus last blog post..Dogs and Budapest

  18. Bahas Inggri memang penting tapi tidak sepenting Bahasa Indonesia. Bravo Indonesia…!!!

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  19. Hi Nit,

    nice topic. Tu kan udah pake English lagi. Because like you said, we think in English. Haha.
    But for me English has richer vocabs than Indonesia. More like Javanese. Kaya dan beragam.
    Jadi mungkin lebih mudah untuk mengungkapkan kata-kata dalam bahasa Inggris daripada bahasa Indonesia.

    Tapi, bahasa Indonesia, insyaallah, tidak akan hilang. Yang perlu dilakukan sekarang adalah membantu generasi berikutnya buat bicara dan menulis dengan bahasa Indonesia yang benar, karena banyak sekali istilah yang sudah rancu, atau digunakan tidak pada tempatnya seperti begini : “Secara gue lahir di Bandung gitu lo…”
    nggak banget.. :(

    But, kalau kita sedikit berkeliling ke teman-teman sastrawan, yang suka menulis puisi, cerita pendek, kita bisa terpaku lo sama penggunaan bahasa Indonesia yang luar biasa. Personifikasinya, permainan kata-katanya.
    Tidak kok. Bahasa Indonesia tidak akan punah. Banyak penulis baru sekarang yang luar biasa.

    Bangga dengan Bahasa,

    windys last blog post..CONTINUING LIFE

    • coba cari nih bahasa Jawanya apa?
      1. Mereka
      2. Kami/Kita
      3. Kalian
      4. Sapi melenguh
      5. Kuda meringkik
      6. Anjing menggonggong
      7. Kucing mengeong
      8. Ayam berkokok/berkotek
      9. Baratlaut
      10. Timurlaut
      11. Baratdaya
      12. Tenggara
      13. Haluan
      14. Buritan
      15. Dermaga
      16. Sauh/Jangkar
      17. Sekoci
      18. Teluk
      19. Semenanjung
      20. Selat

  20. I think Indonesian a perfect langage for literature art (karya sastra). There are many best seller book write in Indonesian. Hmm, indonesian doesen’t disapper but it evoluted in other form. It will be better if indonesian people expert on bilingual. Being global, but still keep their tradition.

  21. ohh?nice post but really?/? 😛

  22. Well…
    Its not the bahasa that I’m afraid of but the tribe language went extinct..

  23. Yes, it is the problem of Indonesia. We use Malay language from Riau as ‘lingua franca’ of Indonesia. It is acceptable in Sumatra but unacceptable for many Javanese. But, the thing that makes me angry is some idiot Javanese said bahasa Indonesia is poor of words. They don’t understand what to say in Bahasa and judge Bahasa is poor. We have monolingual dictionary of Bahasa which call ‘Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia’. It consists of 1281 pages and I don’t know how many words there. Of course there is some loanwords, but still Indonesian original words dominated.

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