Language Death pt. 1

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I thought only linguists care about the local, indigenous language’s existence, but I was wrong. About a week ago, I registered an account on Kompasiana, thinking that I might want to make another blog there. I know I am a blog junkie, I always want more and more blog although I know I wouldn’t be able to maintain all.

While bloghopping, I came across this blog entry from a user named: Bude Binda, with a very interesting title: “Senja Kala Bahasa Jawa” (translate: “The Dawn of Javanese Language”). As the title was vaguely explanatory, the whole text which was written in a proper Bahasa reminded me to one subject I learned last term. The Language Death.

Bude Binda was worried, just like us -linguists, that one day, Javanese language will be extinguished. She saw the symptoms of dying language: the fewer young generations learn the language, the lack of willingness from older generations to pass this cultural inheritance to their predecessors. If you happened to come from Central Java, how many of you actually aware of the usage (let alone speak) of each level of Javanese language?

I was raised in a bilingual family, or multilingual – depends on how you see it. My father was born and raised in West Java and instead of conversing in Javanese, he spoke Sundanese and Mandarin fluently. My mother however, born and raised in Central Java, and very fluent in various level of Javanese language because she worked as a salesperson to the locals when she was young. My siblings and I were in the middle, and to be utterly honest, we lost our root.

We don’t speak either Sundanese nor Javanese very fluently, and because of the anti Chinese policy for decades in Indonenesia, none of us speak Chinese either. I’m good at Bahasa Indonesia, and always score better than my peers at English. And after awhile, I started to realise that my parents were more excited, and happy, if I scored better grade at foreign language and speak a formal Bahasa like scholars then conversing in Ngoko (Javanese lower class language- usually used between peers), or talk with broken Indonesian with thick heavy accent.

Then I understand why Bude Binda was worried.

Not only in Indonesia, but the Language Death happened all over the world. Some indigenous aboriginal language was declared dead not so long time ago when the last speaker of language died with no one had the chance to learn and pass that language. In middle east, the Kurdish language is dying and now people are trying to save it from death. In England there Cornish language, which was dead, and now the locals and government tried to resurrect the language from death.

There are questions why we should save languages from dying. As a linguist, of course my answer is: so that we can keep our job. But as someone who cares about culture, would I want to see my culture die?

Would you?

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6 responses

  1. It’s not always easy to talk about the future of regional languages, isn’t it? I was born in Malang, East Java n spent most of teen years in Pekalongan, a north coast city … so my ngoko is superb … but I can’t converse in the higher style Javanese since people in both cities mostly use the lower level of Javanese. I don’t think that Javanese language will extinct (it’s too rich to perish) … it is just changing. I think people have to accept losing the non-democratic style a.ka higher style of Javanese language (I hate this style the most… especially when I have to address my seniors in a more sophisticated style while they are not sophisticated at all… ;p…). Ngoko (in combination with bahasa) definitely will survive. My Scottish friend who learned Bahasa came to Semarang and told me later on that it was a waste to study Bahasa if someone planned to stay in Semarang because most people spoke Javanese anyway… I also heard my son talked to his friends in ngoko while we were ‘home’ in Semarang (peer group can be harsh… you have to speak their “language” to be part of the group, right?). :p …

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    • Yes, mam. However we’re not talking abou the next 10 or 15 years, we’re talking about the continuity of the language itself. And as you said the language is actually “modified”. Well, you didn’t explain how it changed, but I assume it’s the changing of the vocabulary used in the conversation. The Javanese language now adapted so many bahasa that’s why it seemed like it could survive, but it is a symptoms that it’s losing little by little. CMIIW.
      The death of language is not fast and painless (unless it happened under certain circumstances) but slow and painful.

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  2. My Sundanese is also getting worse day by day, because I rarely use it… >_<

    However here in Jogja, people still use Javanese in daily conversation. Even once in a karaoke session a friend of mine sang Javanese songs (campur sarii?) excitedly… ^^

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    • I’m glad that the language is still alive now, but at the same time I’m skeptical. Are they school children or older generation? Are we talking about the transaction on the malls or just between peers? What kind of Javanese?

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      • I heard Javanese spoken a lot around my kos-kosan, a neighborhood consist of both older generation and children. So yeah it’s pretty much in daily conversation of local people. In campus, my friends also speak Javanese in informal conversation. Even in some classes my lectures slip Javanese phrases in it.
        Can’t really figure out different level of Javanese, but I think what I often heard is the casual Javanese? Because I still can catch up the meaning although I don’t have deep knowledge about Javanese…

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      • Hmm it makes me think… Maybe the phenomena isn’t yet widespread and there’s a hope that the language will survive. I am glad that there’s a support system for this language, at least in the smallest community like family, but hey it’s always better than nothing 🙂

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