Dying Languages

Jun 17th, 2007, in Society, by

From Tanatoraja to Javanese, the dying languages of Indonesia.

Prof. Dr. Zainuddin Taha of the Universitas Negeri Makassar (UNM) in South Sulawesi says 50% of the world's 5000 languages are threatened with extinction in the 21st century, and that currently two languages die out every week.

Taha, who is an expert on the Soppeng dialect of Buginese in South Sulawesi, says the situation in Indonesia is becoming critical, with now not only minor native languages with few speakers such as the various Dayak languages under threat but also the major regional tongues such as Javanese, Sundanese, Balinese, Banjarese, and so forth.

As people move to the cities, and as they see that their economic and social advancement is tied to the use of Indonesian, and even English, in everyday life, they become much less likely to continue using their ancestral mother tongues, he said.

Speaking on 29th May to the National Congress of Regional Languages he recommended as a solution that more meetings of experts from around the world be held to discuss things, probably taxpayer funded ones including air and hotel fares. republika

Meanwhile Lambertus L Hurek reports from Sidoarjo, East Java, scene of the famous mudflow, that most school students in the city can no longer speak Javanese, not only the high and polite forms of Javanese but also the colloquial forms.

A Javanese language teacher, Sukrisno, complains:

How can I teach? The students can't even speak Javanese.

Sukrisno says that within 10 or 20 years the sound of Javanese being spoken in Sidoarjo will be a rarely heard thing.

One of Sukrisno's students, Darmaji, says that whenever he goes home to Solo in Central Java he is unable to speak to his family, because it is necessary to use High Javanese - therefore he just keeps silent.

Aming Aminoedin, another teacher, says that it is not only in Sidoarjo and nearby Surabaya that Javanese is dying, but in every city of Java. Children in villages are still able to speak Javanese but the townfolk are leaving the old language behind. hurek


14 Comments on “Dying Languages”

  1. avatar Syonan says:

    I don’t believe in this outlook because from where I come from in Kecamatan Bandungan (Semarang), everyone speaks Javanese and does not use Bahasa Indonesia in everyday life including at home.

  2. avatar Tomaculum says:

    It will take hundreds of years till Javanese or Sundanese are “dead”, but the subtleties of these languages are sickening.
    Many of the young javanese people nowadays don’t even know many words in Kromo Inggil, not to mention how to use them correctly. And: how much of them can write and read Honocoroko?

  3. avatar Bas says:

    Believe it or not. That facts.

  4. avatar Rockstar says:

    one thing i know the sundanese ruls 🙂

  5. avatar Sputjam says:

    The dying language phenomena is a world wide trend.
    The celts in britain are trying to revive their ancient language, but very few young people are interested.
    In africa, very few speaks their local language, prefering the language of their former colonial masters, such as english and french.
    English is the unofficial world language, hence many are embracing it.
    In indoneisa, malay is the official language, hence similar effect.

  6. avatar Arema says:

    It’s due to practical reasons. Bahasa Daerah is left behind because of its “area of coverage/usage”. If you have the choice to learn Mexican or English, which one you’d choose? Why? I bet it’s English because it’s widely used and very useful. If you moved to an area where people are mixed and you can’t use your mother tongue, slowly you’ll be more accustomed to using your “second language” (Indonesian or English). Without continuous practice, language slowly fades from our brain. Those who stayed abroad, have you ever experienced trying to recall this one Indonesian word, but can’t? I did, I bet you all did too.

    People who master Bahasa Daerah is aging fast. People who partially know it are slowly replacing it with a more common language. People who don’t know it have no practical reason to learn it because they can only practice it to a “small group” of people only, even worse if that “small group” can also be reached using a more general language. Dying is a good choice of word to describe this situation, but unfortunately nothing can be done.

    TV is setting the language standards fast, and new jargons are created almost every week, some of them by our beloved Tukul (No, I don’t blame him at all). The casual Indonesian on TV is so infectious because it is easy to use without too much restrictions (like Krama Inggil, Krama Madya, and Ngoko in Bahasa Jawa), and can be used to communicate with more than 200 million people!

    Language is a tool of communication by default. Language that has “lost its purpose as a tool of communication” will be naturally fading and gone as time goes by. It is a great pity that a rich heritage called language would become extinct. It is a great blow to the world of art, but inconsequential to the practical world. Actually, the lesser the languages used, the better the communications in general will be. We are all heading toward that direction, thanks to the media and internet. It’s inevitable.

    Maybe hundreds of years from now, Indonesian Language will be in the same position too? Maybe, with the advancement of globalization and stuff. For my case, I’ve been trying to use Indonesian whenever possible, trying to use my mother tongue (Indonesian mixed with Javanese Ngoko, lol) whenever possible, because I love those languages! Well, maybe because I’m just so used to it. Bahasa Daerah could have been saved if our parents used that and used it regularly to communicate with us. Its extinction could have been prevented, but now it’s too late.

  7. avatar Janma says:

    Arema, Mexican’s speak spanish, which is probably more widely spoken than english. but yeah…. I mean your point is valid, just wanted to nit pick. my husband says that mandarin will soon overtake english as an international language.
    languages die all the time…. latin, celtic, tribal languages…. is it a natural process of change in our world? or is it something we should fight? Are regional languages useful? That’s the main question. usefulness is what makes a language stay… not sentiment.

  8. avatar Tomaculum says:

    Janma,
    off course are regional languages usefull for people living in this area.
    For example Javanese. There are many (many elderly, but also a view young people) javanese cannot even speak Indonesian very well and in the rural areas most of the people use javanese for daily affairs. In Africa I think you will find similar situation.
    Besides: they are cultural heritages should be protected.

  9. avatar Arema says:

    Arema, Mexican’s speak spanish, which is probably more widely spoken than english. but yeah”¦. I mean your point is valid, just wanted to nit pick. my husband says that mandarin will soon overtake english as an international language.
    languages die all the time”¦. latin, celtic, tribal languages”¦. is it a natural process of change in our world? or is it something we should fight? Are regional languages useful? That’s the main question. usefulness is what makes a language stay”¦ not sentiment.

    Thanks for the Mexican info, but I do think they speak something like a mix of Spanish and their own Mexican, I’m not sure. 😛

    Chinese taking over English as #1 International Language? Not in the near future imho. It’s true that Chinese become more and more and more important these days, but its drastic difference from other languages, complicated pictograph letters, mastering word tones, mastering various Chinese phrases, etc, prove to be a huge stumbling block for people to learn Chinese. Maybe slowly it will become easier for people to learn Chinese, but English has rooted very strongly as International Language, and relatively easy to learn too, so it will not happen in the near future.

    There are many (many elderly, but also a view young people) javanese cannot even speak Indonesian very well and in the rural areas most of the people use javanese for daily affairs. In Africa I think you will find similar situation.
    Besides: they are cultural heritages should be protected.

    Yeah, I know such people still exist, and that’s why the word is “dying” and not “dead”. The way to keep these languages alive is by building a “Jurassic Park” for these people, isolating them from the globalized world. A pretty cruel thing to do, if you ask me…

  10. avatar Dimp says:

    Thanks for the Mexican info, but I do think they speak something like a mix of Spanish and their own Mexican, I’m not sure.

    The Mexicans do have their own Spanish, as do the South Americans (except Brazil who uses Portuguese).

    Chinese taking over English as #1 International Language? Not in the near future imho.

    As more and more country wanted to penetrate the Chinese market, or would like to do business with the Chinese, the language has been studied by more and more people, my next door neighbour is a foreigners who speak perfect Mandarin.

    English is definitely an international language, actually there are more English speaking people in China than in the US.

    The way to keep these languages alive is by building a “Jurassic Park” for these people, isolating them from the globalized world.

    I think the government need to keep these languages alive, by teaching them at school, much better than teaching them religious studies.

  11. avatar Arema says:

    I think the government need to keep these languages alive, by teaching them at school, much better than teaching them religious studies.

    Dimp, teaching these languages at school definitely helps, but sadly not much. True, the language will be kept alive, but just barely alive, not alive and kickin’, you know what I mean. If not used regularly, students will be just made aware that this language exists, and know the meaning of some commonly used words, that’s about it. The language is still dying as long as it is no longer used regularly in daily conversation and not passed down to future generations. And what I mean by passing down is making such an environment where the language is used in actual conversations and not only studied in school. Our English would not have improved that much had we not travelled and stay overseas to study or work, don’t you agree?

  12. avatar Dimp says:

    Hi Arema,

    I agree, if they don’t use them, these languages will die. But we need to start somewhere and teaching them at school is a start, and maybe some students will actually use them in a daily basis.

  13. avatar Ihaknt says:

    Dimp, but many kids get embarassed when they speak their own dialect. For example, many ethnic kids here in Oz feel that they are uncool when they use their mother tongue. What can we do to fix this so-called embarassment?

  14. avatar Handayani says:

    I’m a Maduranese and I was born on Surabaya and from my childhood until now I live in Sidoarjo and a city placed on JaTim but poor I am, I can’t speak both langs (Javanese+Maduranese) even the colloquials.
    But, I have a schedule to hone my langs, and I never get embarassed when my dialect comes in the middle of conversations, cos I know native langs are assets to do language exchange.
    I’m looking for courses of those native langs, but I have to spend much money and I don’t have any. How can I master it? Please teach me for free. Hahaha…

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