Paradox of Language

Few days ago a friend of mine sent two multi-receiver emails respectively, the first email dropped by in inbox titled As English Spreads, Indonesians Fear for Their Language published on New York Times on July 25, 2010. The last ones came up as an article that appears on The Jakarta Globe selected entry that of Tiza Mafira's Confession of a Lingo-Mixaholic published on October, 31 2013. Those two are worth reading though the first article is 3-year-old distant.

The matter of language is a hot talk that develops recently. As a couple week ago Indonesian celebrated "Hari Sumpah Muda" that takes occasion every October, 28. One of three foundations conceived over 85 years ago by eager young Indonesian is about pride and committed act in upholding Bahasa as national language, symbol of identity.

Language is an identity. Language could define ones' pride. Language could refer to prestige identifying ones' social class. But, one tiny thing sometimes we ignore that fundamentally language is tool of communication to meet understanding. Language is attitude.

Lingo-mixaholic, I have to admit it is rampant. It clearly can be heard and seen here on TV that many programs hosted by public figures showing many inconsistencies in using  mono-language for at least one sentence. It has turned into habit. The using of Bahasa is transforming.

The first article is an upbeat. My friend cited a note above his attachment "We don't want to lose Bahasa as it is now Dutch is about losing, do we?". Well, I have no idea whether Dutch language is experiencing declining number of speaker or not.  The only fact I know that another friend of mine who is working in multinational company once told me that his co-worker from the Netherlands is unable to speak his mother language. He was living in Amsterdam and using English everyday.

Parenting has become crucial and more challenging like never before. In Indonesia, perception of social status and prestige reflected by choice of language, however is bothering. As it seems we don't be honest to our identity. But it may be not as simple as leaning against the wall with sigh for those whose problem.

I admit those parents who successfully made their newborn growing with language of their ancestry are amazing. They don't give up with the situation of being certain minority language speaker instead they are working on it, mentioning Santi D, Anggun, and other great moms/dads. I know it is not an easy task. I join them believe this practice will help their children reaping the advantage sooner or later because language is an investment, and an identity as well.

The issue has endorsed me to share a little bit my own experience dealing with language.

Dating back few years ago when I was a toddler, the time when normally everyone tries to learn word by word from scratch then speak it in their own language. I'm one of those who grew up in society where local language still exists. I should have thanked to this fact. In my surrounding everyone speaks Sumbawanese (Basa Samawa), one of more than 700 local languages in this country. Sumbawanese is only spoken by no more than 100,000 that makes it a minority among other languages. Even at my university, based on my raw calculation, there are no more than 20 students mastering this language. To me, being minority in terms of what you are speaking in is a unique fact. Though I don't use it frequently recently since my move to Bogor.

I still remember, the time when I tried to speak Bahasa when entering school, was surprisingly challenging. I was not confident with my ability in Bahasa in oral way. Even though I got used with many books in Bahasa before I started my day as a student. For I was schooling in a small village of our own, Bahasa is not language that is spoken on daily basis though everyone understands it, except in written way at school. The teachers taught the pupils by mixing local language and Bahasa. And even  my family didn't speak in Bahasa to any members on our daily basis. We are very accustomed and more than comfortable using our local language.

I became to be fully bilingual, I guess, when I moved to another school (better school) in a town when I was 6th grader and started new life living with my uncle and his family. Since then I have been away from home, until now. At the new school, I felt like I was pushed to improve my Bahasa in oral, I had no problem in writing. Every student chatted in Bahasa with Sumbawa accent. Yeah, everyone there doesn't have that kind of accent as that of people I regularly talk with here in Bogor or other big cities. Unfortunately many students had no sufficient knowledge of their local language at that time. There were only very few students at my school who spoke Sumbawanese perfectly. It benefited me however so that I became more accustomed to speak fully Bahasa at school. Meanwhile at the new home I still retained the local language.  Everyday I always switched my tongue to adapt the language. The first time I found it was difficult and of course confusing. The latter it is so lucrative.

Time went by very fast in a year. The new day at junior high school came up with new challenge. I had to adapt with one more language, called "English". I was totally having no idea and indeed it sounded strange to me. And I had to admit I was so down for having no proficiency in this international language, some of classmates at least had started learning English even younger. Well, I felt like I was bullied in this subject. The teacher didn't much help me to improve my proficiency. I started to have my own practice at home with a lousy dictionary. I tried to understand its grammar. Later I had found my own method helping me a lot, at least in writing.

Though English was subject I struggled the most, mastering local language had boosted my confident in other subject otherwise, "Language, Literature and History of Sumbawa". It's my crème de la crème. I put respect on it for language is one of greatest human's inventions.

Few years later I became interested in Japanese, so I learnt it.. Now I'm on the way to learn French and still considering to put some languages on my list, mentioning Mandarin, Spanish, and Italian.

What does language really mean?

After long process in understanding few languages, it gave me chance to reap advantage for at least being trilingual, though the proficiency in each language is not at the same stage. But above all those things, I have accomplished a mission of being myself as Sumbawanese with my Basa Samawa, being Indonesian with my Bahasa, and being global citizen with my English. 

However it's never been enough,  there are still many ways of people speak in outside there. Mastering all of them is not necessary (and seems impossible) though, conquering few is enough lucrative. We're never late, folks :-)

2 Response to Paradox of Language

November 15, 2013 at 3:18 PM

Interesting article. The issue really is an old one and world wide.

Yet I don't think anybody should worry about the sustainability of his/her native language. Neither Bahasa Indonesia nor Dutch.

As for the latter I can say Dutch is thriving. Literature is booming. It's utter nonsense to assume the language is declining. On the contrary it a dynamic language. What's happening is that after centuries of 'some French influence, since WWII a number of English words have been incorporated in my native language. And that, because of globalization, some international University courses are in English. As for a Dutchman- born and bred in the Netherlands- who claims he after a career in international business forgot his native Dutch, I think he is a conspicuous poser, just trying to show off his presumed cosmopolitan personality.

November 17, 2013 at 11:45 PM

Thanks Colson for sharing your view :)

I do agree, literature is booming. Thanks to rapid technology development and its remarkable invention nowadays that enables everyone to learn language and literature much easier and borderless. It would has attracted many to keep up with every single option/kind of language that exists or even with the extinct ones. So, nothing to get lost yet even more developing.

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