May 18, 2008

Bahasa Indonesia - The quirks

First of all, why do some people say "I can't speak Bahasa" instead of "I can't speak Indonesian"? Isn't the english word for Bahasa Indonesia = Indonesian?

Indonesia consists of around 300 different ethnic groups with their own language. Therefore, there are about 300 different languages in Indonesia. But of course we need to have a common ground, therefore we use Bahasa Indonesia as the official Indonesian language. The word "Bahasa" actually means "Language" when you translate it, Bahasa Indonesia = Indonesian Language. Another point why you shouldn't say "I can't speak Bahasa"'re then actually saying: "I can't speak Language"...which doesn't make sense...

I never thought much about the Indonesian language, but a Malaysian friend of mine actually thinks that it is an achievement to be proud of. He compared it to his own country, where although they have the Malaysian language as the official language, still many Chinese or Indian ethnicity cannot speak it. This is of course different compared to Indonesia where almost every where you go, everyone can speak the language, although maybe it is not the main language that they use in their daily lives.

Here are a few quirks of the Indonesian language that I have observed :

- Being an A+ Indonesian language student, doesn't necessarily make you fit to survive in Indonesia!

Grammatically, Indonesian has less rules than English. For example, we don't have tenses. If you want to state that something happened in the past, just add the word "yesterday" in the sentence. Simple, right? We also don't have gender distinctions for nouns, unlike European languages. However...eventhough you have passed the highest level of learning the formal Indonesian language, it doesn't mean that you will understand us once you arrive in this country. We actually speak a more informal Indonesian for our daily conversations. For example, you may have learned that "no" is "tidak" in Indonesian. But we hardly use that word in daily conversation, we actually say "gak" instead. prepared to re-learn the language!

- We LOVE our abbreviations ...

When writing something informally, we have lots of abbreviations. For example, the word "tidak" which I have mentioned in the above paragraph, can be shortened by just spelling "tdk". It is a common thing to do, everyone will understand. And there are lottttsssss of other words that we abbreviate. For example, yang = yg, dengan = dgn, etc.

Not just single words are abbreviated, but 2 words are often compounded into 1 word. When I first went to school here, I noticed that most of the subjects were abbreviated. People would say "Penjas" instead of "Pendidikan Jasmani", "Metlit" instead of "Metodologi Penelitian" etc. Even names of malls are shortened : Senayan City = SenCi, Plaza Semanggi = Plangi.

- ... and acronyms

And then you have the acronyms, for example : IPA = Ilmu Pengetahuan Alam, BEJ = Bursa Efek Jakarta, MA = Mahkamah Agung, RM = Rumah Makan etc. I wondered why this is. A friend of mine says that this all started when Soeharto (the military) reigned. Because they are used to acronyms in the military, this habit spilled over into the political arena and eventually into the rest of the system. I don't know whether this is true or not.

Sometimes I think that this love for abbreviations & acronyms is just attributed to the general laziness of Indonesians, always wanting to take the shortcut out :P

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