Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Language Represents Country

Picture: https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnnysiahaan/3204442763

By Yohanes Manhitu

Every year, in October, the Indonesian people hold what is called "bulan bahasa" (the language month), during which a number of language-related activities are carried out to appreciate bahasa Indonesia, the national and official language. The month of October has been chosen because it was in October 28, 1928 that the Youth Pledge was proclaimed. And one of its points was to have a unifying language, the Indonesian languagea language expected to unify the whole nation and meant to be a national identity.

Language is a means of communication and symbol of a nation or community group. Every country in the world needs a language, usually a national, or an official language, with which it forms its national unity through communication. Therefore, language plays crucial roles in all aspects of life. One can imagine a country without an official language. Many countries in the world have politically chosen a language to transfer all their policies and to gain national pride. Usually, standardizing a language that was previously a trade language or a regional lingua franca is common. In this case, language functions as a bridge amongst people speaking different vernaculars.

Indonesian language
the main focus of this piece of writingwas previously a language of High Malay that later borrowed many words from many different languages introduced to the archipelago: Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, Portuguese, Dutch, English, and Javanese, before and after its “baptism” as a national and official language of the Republic of Indonesia. Having this position, the language becomes the “single-fighting” language in almost all aspects of the country’s political and social lives. It is true that there are thousands of vernaculars spreading all over the archipelago, but their role is relatively limitedthey are mainly used in the cultural domains. Many of them are still used in traditional ceremonies. However, many ceremonies are now carried out in the national language due to a very practical reason: it is much easier to understand and use compared to the ethnic tongues.

The national language has undergone a long process of standardization since its acknowledgment as the country’s sole national and official language in 1945. The Indonesian Center for Language Research and Development has been doing its best to make the language easy to use. Many dictionaries and books have been published and republished to introduce the language to the society and the world. Besides, many language seminars and TV programs (on TVRI- Television of the Republic of Indonesia) have been carried out to disseminate much information about the language. This can be regarded as a massive language campaign. Of course, much budget has been needed to make this campaign successful in achieving its aims. This is a very impressive work and should be paid much appreciation.

Nowadays, with many visual media available, the language spreads very quickly to almost all parts of the country, traversing regional boundaries. But does this always mean the spread of the good and correct Indonesian language? The answer is “no!”. Only some news, especially the formal TV and radio news, broadcast with good and correct Indonesian. Many TV programs are broadcast with colloquial Indonesian that is easily imitated by a large number of people as a trendy or city language.

To be honest, many Indonesian people tend to use the Indonesian language with “virgin” foreign words whose equivalents have long been available in the language. This may be a frightening precedent for the survival and rapid development of the growing language. I am not to tell the reasons for which they have made such a choice. Everybody has his own rights to utter a word. Nevertheless, it is indeed wise to think about any consequences the utterance might bring to the society and the development of the unifying language.

There is a strong assumption that a country’s failure to build a strong unity and single perception is due to the failure to use a good and correct means of communication. One can imagine how a low educated person residing in a remote region can understand a speech decorated by too many phonetically original foreign words. Even the well-educated ones having no knowledge of foreign tongue, in this case English, will think twice to claim that they comprehend what has or have been uttered. Therefore, it is suggested that we had better use the standard language when speaking publicly in order to avoid any misunderstandings that might lead to fatal manifestation. This might seem easy but, in fact, it is a time bomb for the country’s development and policy spreading.

It is important to know that the survival and successful development of a country’s language does not necessarily depend on any government institutions having been assigned to work in the field of language development. Actually, the people of a country are also responsible for the development of their own language, their own vehicle of communication. The more they love their language, the more they are willing to defend and care about its survival. So, in brief, both the government and the people are responsible for their language.

In regards to efforts to preserve a country’s language, the history has proved that many years ago many grammar schools had been established in Europe to teach the best and most correct language. Many language academies, for example L’Académie française (later succeeded by L’Institute de France), Academia de la lengua española, etc., were established to teach and keep the languages. It is undeniable that many times, a powerful national language becomes a killer of the indigenous tongues. However, it is indeed important to shape national unity and a single mind.

In the context of Indonesia, the Indonesian language is very strong. And, as we all know, it is the sole language in the country with around 13.700 islands. Due to wide range of language variety, the language is still used in many places as a second language only. Only at schools and offices it is used formally as official language. However, many times, the informal or colloquial language is used mainly in the office days. The use of standardized language is mainly found in books and published literatures.

All Indonesians or anybody having learned Indonesian proverbs must have known one of them that indicates the function of a language: "bahasa menunjukkan bangsa", which literally reads “language indicates the nation”. Based on this, we might doubt that using our national language without any attention to the situation and the language rules reflects the mentality of our beloved country
not willing to obey social rules and lack national dignity.

A country that maintains a strong national bond with its people is the one that respects a tongue through which it keeps easy and transparent transfers of ideas. Misunderstandings occurred between the government and its people are a set of time bombs waiting for its precious time to explode. In order to anticipate it, we had better respect our language, the Indonesian language, by obeying the rules of the language and avoid using crude foreign words in any public media, both electronic and printed. Since our people in general tend to imitate the language style of any respected people in our community, it is suggested that the respected people or public figures should be careful with their public language. However, it is not the government alone that should be concerned about the language. We, language users, should also build in ourselves a strong desire to respect our own national vehicle of communication. Viva Indonesian language!

Yogyakarta, October 2004

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