Bahasa Indonesia is not merely ‘bahasa’

November 5, 2011

Qusthan Abqary*

Most foreigners tend to say ‘bahasa‘ than Bahasa Indonesia and most Indonesians ignore such mistake. Exploring the reasons behind this fact might less interesting than exploring how to respond it well, but identifying correct causes would help how to solve the problem.

At least, there are two reasons behind this act. First of all, it is about laziness. Many languages have slang words – especially abbreviations – which refer to people’s laziness to say in complete or correct ways. For instance, some people like to say ‘Oz’ than Australia. However, they do not say ‘Oz’ for referring to Australian-English. In addition, one foreigner ever said, “I know you learn English but I speak Australian (not Oz).”

Secondly, the official name Bahasa Indonesia might be too long for most foreigners. If it was true, should we change it? No, we should not because our national language has been declared since Sumpah Pemuda (Youth Oath) 28 October 1928, long before national declaration of independence at 17 August 1945. Everything declares in an oath ought to be accomplished.

However, previous social contract might not be accepted by all current people since the situations are different. Even though current citizens accept and re-declare the oath every 28 October, they do not really implement it especially correcting foreigners’ ‘bahasa.’ So, all Indonesians should give clear and distinct advices to foreigners who always merely say ‘bahasa.’

In contrast, most Indonesians think that it is not serious problem. Slipping other countries’ symbols could be judge as insulting act to the state. Moreover, Bahasa Indonesia is not less important than Sang Saka Merah Putih (the Indonesia’s national flag). Both of them are national symbols which cannot simplify or to be shortened.

Beside those two possible causes, Indonesians should do elegant responses. Reminding foreigners who misuse our national symbols is an obligation as well as they would do it in their home countries whenever we did mistake. The main barrier to do such attitude is many kind of ‘inlander mentaliteit‘ such as inferiority complex or unnecessary pretension to be polite.

Here are some tips. First of all, we could explain that ‘bahasa‘ means ‘language’ and most foreigners might understand it. Try to say, “are you okay if I – as Indonesian – tell you that I do not speak language – in order to say that I cannot speak in English?!” Then, tell him or her that that is the same feeling when Indonesians hear foreigners say ‘bahasa.’

If those foreigners still insisted to say – like in one recent film – “sorry, I don’t speak ‘bahasa‘”; we could say “if you did not speak ‘bahasa‘, do you speak in symbols or signs?!” Do not forget to show ‘the best’ mocking face that you have and show them while you are asking such question. Most of them would frown even though symbols and signs – in very wide apprehension – are also part of language. In addition, do not forget to clarify why you did such weird conversation.

Bahasa Indonesia’s instructures or teachers are the most responsible people for this case. They should warn foreign people whom learn Bahasa Indonesia from the very beginning of their lessons. Ignoring such inappropriate habits, in a sense, are letting foreigners harm Indonesia’s national language which also is one of national symbols. For instance, some foreigners could not understand why most Indonesians will mad when foreigners step on Merah Putih. They might not tolerate with such sense of nationalism since they come from different context of culture, especially if and only if they admit that there is imaginary line between nationalism and culture.

The more careless Bahasa Indonesia’s instructures or teachers, the more often lazy foreigners say ‘bahasa‘ instead of Bahasa Indonesia. Yet, ever Indonesian has responsibility to does corrections. I cannot imagine if most Indonesians are lazy or scare or feel guilty to correct it and start to say Bahasa Indonesia in the same lazy way with foreigners or just tolerate it in the wrong way. For example, one of my friend told me that her teacher had say that we – as Indonesians – have to say Bahasa Indonesia than just bahasa. Yet she did not warn us to remind foreigners not to mention ‘bahasa.’ She might think that correcting foreigners’ speaking as rude attitude. However, ignoring mistakes might cause to unintended consequences such as misunderstandings or showing contempt.

In short, we do not want to be lazy or over simplifying national symbols. We – human being – speak in language or ‘bahasa’ and not in symbols. So, never say “I do not speak bahasa or language” since Bahasa Indonesia is not merely ‘bahasa‘ as well as English is not merely language. Saying bahasa rather than Bahasa Indonesia is not cool at all.


* Tulisan ini telah dimuat di RimaNews.com pada 4 November 2011.

Tentang Penulis

Qusthan Abqary - I am a lecturer and teach some subjects such as Ethics and Social Awareness, Corporate Governance and Ethics, Business Ethics, Critical and Creative Thinking and others. My research interests are political philosophy, ethics, peace, and war.

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