Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Indonesia 101: lesson 1

Ok, look… I’m sorry. You may have learnt Indonesian in high school, maybe even in university, maybe even had an immersion course in Jogja. Heck, maybe you’ve had all three. The fact remains, chances are there is little to no correlation between what they teach you, and what people speak day to day. Fortunately, many locals are very willing to sit and chat at a warung and are unlikely to be terribly offended if you use the wrong word, but it’s still nice to try to avoid potential social faux-pas.

One of the more common mistakes people make, that makes people uncomfortable is incorrect usage of personal pronouns. No one is going to bite your head off, but referring to a taxi driver as kamu just isn’t cool. So to assist my loyal readers in their daily travels throughout the archipelago, I present the following as a practical guide for pronoun usage in contemporary Indonesia.

Please note: All of these, if they err at all, err on the side of politeness. So once you get a feel for them strike out on your own and forget about these rules; but until then, try and stick with these.

Rule 1: First Person Pronouns

Just use Saya… Simple as that. The only time that’s even slightly inappropriate is if you are talking to close friends, in which case they’ll tell you when it’s appropriate to switch to Aku or Gue.

Rule 2: Second Person Pronouns

Never use Anda. No one uses it except for in bad sinetrons, in formal speeches, or in advertising. Back in the days of the VOC, they decided not to teach the colonials Dutch, for fear that they might start reading about human rights and such pesky botherations, so instead figured they’d pick a random local language and impose that on this random assortment of islands they had conquered. They settled on Malay, which was a sort of lingua franca, spoken by a large percentage of people anyway. Problem was, as the version that people spoke was a trading language, it wasn’t really developed enough for legal documents, newspapers, literature, and so on. They appointed a couple of Dutch linguists with overseeing the development of the language from the lingua franca it was, into the fully functioning modern language it is today. They imported a whole bunch of loan-words from Dutch, and invented a whole bunch of abstract nouns, adjectives, and whatnot, among which, if I’m not mistaken (and I very well could be) was Anda.


Originally envisioned as a status-neutral second person pronoun (rather like You in English), the Indonesians (as they were yet to be called) couldn’t quite get their minds around this and instead the word has now become the most formal second person pronoun.


Um, yeah… So… Don’t use it, it sounds weird. Use the below:

Case 1: In professional situations

This could be anyone from a taxi driver, to a bank teller or a President Director of a large company. With anyone over the age of 20 or so, stick with Bapak/Ibu for the second person pronoun. e.g. Bapak sudah berapa lama kerja disini? - How long have you (Mr) worked here?, Ini pena Ibu Yati - This is your (Mrs. Yati’s) pen.

If the person is under the age of 20, you should be fine using the person’s name. e.g. Seperti Ika katakan tadi - Like you (Ika) said, Hadi mau minum apa? - What would you (Hadi) like to drink?

Case 2: In social situations

In social situations, people tend to be a lot more relaxed, and so unless the person is on the order of 5 or so years older than you, you can stick with the person’s given name. If not, go back to Bapak/Ibu. Once you get more confident you can throw in a couple of Mas/Mbak to shake things up if the person is around your age or younger, but keep it simple for the time being.

When to ignore this advice

When a person corrects you and suggests you use something else, then do it. When enough people have corrected you, and you’ve kept your ears open enough to hear the way Indonesians use terms of address, then go for it baby.

For more information on Indonesian pronouns, check out this lesson in the Indonesian Wikibook that some thoughtful soul has put together.

6 comments:

ohminous_t said...

You know John if it weren't for this blog I would have been most of the way to forgetting you even existed.

mr_john said...

Um... That's comforting.

Did you say that for any particular reason or it just struck you?

Ok, let me try... If it weren't for your blog I never would have been reminded how much the Chilli Peppers have sucked for the last 8 years or so.

ohminous_t said...

It is comforting that such a tall man just can't vanish. Why Shaquille O'Neal is still in the playoffs and he was cool when I was 12.

kopisusu2 said...

"You" is a constant problem for me (not you, personally, of course). Mostly I feel silly addressing a fresh-faced cab driver half my age as "Bapak." But I don't really have a handle on "Mas/Mbak."

Sometimes I just avoid the pronoun, or mumble, but my bahasa Indonesia doesn't really need any further obfuscation. Sigh.

morley said...

Hahaha. Fags.

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