Thursday, December 31, 2009

So You Think Indonesians Speak English?

(Source: here)

This conversation took place during a dinner with a group of foreigners at a restaurant.

Foreigner #1: Oh, you're from Indonesia. English is like the second language in Indonesia, isn't it?
Me: Er. No. For most Indonesians, Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesia's national language, or usually called as Bahasa) is actually the second language. The first language would be the local one spoken by parents.

When you think of it, Indonesians are a bit odd. Unlike the former British colonies (Singapore and Malaysia) that now use English as national language (or the second language), Indonesia doesn't use Dutch although we were colonized by the Netherlands. Instead, we invented our own language.

Before the independence, Indonesians learned Dutch through schools. Since there was racial segregation between Dutch and inlanders (the term for Indonesians at that time), only the well-heeled Indonesians could enroll in Dutch schools and learned to speak, read and write Dutch.

I guess our forefathers found it difficult to communicate with other independence activists in other islands as Indonesia has more than 17,000 islands. So they got the idea to make a language that could unite the whole nation. Long stories short, they held meetings, demonstrations, guerrillas and other activities that led to our independence on August 17, 1945.

Bahasa can be considered as an open language as it is influenced and expanded by other languages, including Melayu, Portuguese, Dutch, Sanskrit, English, Arabic, Chinese and Farsi.
Perhaps I'll make some post on Bahasa. Being an Indonesian does not mean we, the Indonesians, can speak good Bahasa. After all, it is relatively a new language and it's still developing. Recently, the younger generation have been using a slang language, which does not follow the correct grammatical order of Bahasa but is still understandable and quite funny, I assure you.  

A friend once wondered why I wrote the blog in English. At that time, I didn't want people to understand what I wrote. But now, I can say that I write this blog in English because I want to tell those who can't speak Bahasa about Indonesia.

The conversation at the dinner continued like this:
Foreigner #2: Ah yes. Although Indonesia was colonized by the Netherlands, you came up using your own language. It's quite amazing, isn't it?
Me: I'd say it is.

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