[Lgpolicy-list] [lg policy] The hegemonic force of Indonesian

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Wed Oct 29 14:30:46 UTC 2014

The hegemonic force of

In commemorating the Youth Pledge, which falls on Oct. 28, we first need to
contemplate the role of Indonesian as a unifying language, promulgated in
the historic event of 1928.

Since then, the language has achieved its status as both the national and
official language of Indonesia. Also, it has become the lingua franca of
peoples in diverse regions in the archipelago.

This tremendous development, due to conflicts initiated by Indonesian
scholars affiliating themselves in diverse language ideologies and schools
of thought, Indonesian has the added functions of being a lingua academica
(a medium of instruction in schools), lingua cultura (as a medium of
promoting cultural products) and lingua emotiva (as a medium of
self-expression in works of arts like popular music).

To be fair, this development cannot be separated from the past language
cultivation program feverishly carried out by the Indonesian Language
Center and from language contacts that contributed to the modernization of
Indonesian.  Yet, the use of the language has been abused by the elites,
being imposed on language users from diverse regions through legislation or
formal language policy.

A recent case in point is the formulation of 30 recommendations on the
status and functions of the Indonesian language declared in the Congress of
Bahasa Indonesia in 2013.

Of these recommendations, none touched on the current status and functions
of heritage languages.

Given that the country is blessed with a wealth of living heritage
languages, the elevation of the national language to a national level of
importance in the name of unity in diversity reflects the hegemony of a
common language (the national language).

In the context of a multilingual and multicultural nation-state like
Indonesia, the slogan “unity in diversity” does more harm than good, as it
may lead to the destruction of the rich linguistic and cultural ecologies
that the country possesses.

With this in mind, the promotion of the Indonesian language as the language
of unity among people is motivated by the ideology of political
nationalism, rather than by the spirit of multilingualism that is vibrant
among the grass roots in many regions across the archipelago.

More pluralist-oriented scholars have warned against the hegemony of the
national language over hundreds of heritage languages, the majority of
which are on the brink of extinction.

Ascribing the disappearance of the latter to the increased use of the
former, they advise that language policy and planning activities be more
inclusive, to embrace the interests of those who are still ardently
preserving their heritage languages through either formal documentation
practices or informal everyday linguistic practices.

The pressure of safeguarding heritage languages emanates from both internal
and external factors; that is, it is due to the effects of globalization
where English becomes the dominant lingua franca trans-nationally, as well
as due to the imposition of using the Indonesian language in almost all
domains of life.

In the context of globalization, external pressure has often masked
internal pressure, thus giving the impression that the use of English as a
language of wider communication is the sole factor that causes language
shifts to occur.

It is English that is seen as having an imperialistic force, gobbling up
the world’s living languages and language varieties.  Yet, Indonesian also
carries a powerful hegemonic force always sustained through the feverish
campaign of the politics of nationalism — Indonesian as the language of

In hindsight, as Indonesian language planning became the exclusive activity
of the elites with no spaces given to language users to participate,
language policy was and now is created within the framework of the politics
of prescriptivism known popularly through the slogan “Bahasa Indonesia yang
baik dan benar” (correct and good use of Indonesian).

It is important to highlight here that intellectual endeavors to revitalize
(as the 2013 Indonesian Language Congress did) the slogan may no longer be
germane in the emerging context of language as an urban phenomenon known as
“metrolingualism”, where people perform mixed linguistic practices or do
trans-languaging without being limited by legal or formal regulation of
language practices.

In such a context, people show their resistance to prescriptivism and do
trans-languaging instead, crossing from one language or language varieties
to other languages.

A clear case in point is the use of non-standard or low variety (e.g.
Jakartan colloquial varieties) of Indonesian, a variety deemed improper in
certain contexts of use, with a mixed flavor of English and even heritage

While the standard variety is considered too stilted and archaic, the
non-standard one prevails among young people living in urban spaces. It is
the widespread use of the non-standard variety that causes people either to
shift from their heritage languages or switch languages, with the latter
being the vibrant practice hitherto.


*The use of the language has been abused by the elites, being imposed on
language users from diverse regions through legislation.*


*The writer is an associate professor of applied linguistics at Atma Jaya
Catholic University, Jakarta.*


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