Basa Jawa

According to this report, people in Blora Regency in Central Java will be obliged to speak Javanese on Thursdays (Kemis) from January 2010. This applies to civil servants, officials in state-owned enterprises, teachers and students, and the students should use the kromo inggil (formal) forms with their teachers. The aim is to preserve the Javanese language in all its forms.

A related report mentions that no sanctions will be imposed on those who do not speak Javanese in Blora on Thursdays.

Earlier this year the Surabaya Education Department in East Java apparently made it compulsory for students and teachers to speak Javanese on Mondays and Tuesdays in city schools. Not all students were happy with this as they don’t speak Javanese.

Even though Javanese is spoken by about 80 million people (45% of the population of Indonesia), it seems that there are worries about the future of the language, and of Indonesian taking its place.

This entry was posted in Javanese, Language.

17 Responses to Basa Jawa

  1. d.m.falk says:

    This is understandable, given Suharto’s active suppression of all other languages in favour of bahasa Indonesia, and that, even a decade after Suharto, almost all media is in bahasa Indonesia for domestic consumption– Including pop music.

    (I really miss my penpal correspondence I had with a Bugis girl some years ago….)


  2. Christopher Miller says:

    Maybe commercial distribution of music is overwhelmingly in Indonesian, but I know I have come across a fair variety of online stuff in Batak and Bugis on Youtube…

  3. Macsen says:

    Could you just quickly explain. I’d always thought that Bahasa Indonesia was another name for Javanese – a bit like Castillian being called Spanish so is to make it more officially the language of the new state of Spain.

    Are they two totally unrelated languages? Is Bahasa Indonesia, like Bahasa Malaysia ‘invented’ languages amalgamated from others like Swahili?

  4. Simon says:

    Indonesian is a form of Malay that was standardised in the 1930s as a part of the independence movement. It became the official language of Indonesia in 1945.

    Javanese is a separate language with written records dating back to the 4th century AD and could be considered a classical language. It is the second most widely-spoken language in Indonesia after Indonesian, and there are 16 other languages with a million or more speakers, and hundreds of others with fewer speakers.

    Indonesian and Javanese both belong to the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family.

  5. GeoffB says:

    The other day, I ran across a guide to basic Javanese for travelers. The guide explained that in Java, there was an informal language you used for everyday communication and a formal one for official matters. It went on that while the grammars were almost identical, the vocabulary could be very different.

    To my inexpert eye, it appeared that the “formal” language was not in fact Javanese in a different register… It was Indonesian. Or at least there wasn’t a word of it that differed from the couple dozen Indonesian words and phrases I know. So it may be that making it clear that Javanese, not Indonesian, is the language of Java is a useful thing to do.

  6. Christopher Miller says:

    For Geoff:

    I have noticed that in quite a few cases I have come across, the synonyms in krama (formal) and ngoko (informal) registers often correspond to words from different Austronesian languages. There seems to be a parallel here with formal versus informal language in English: formal English makes much more use of French and Latinate vocabulary where informal (and especially very informal) English tends to use comparatively more Germanic vocabulary (even though some 60% of everyday vocabulary now is in fact from French). For English, we know this situation derives from the Conquest of 1066; I can’t help but wonder if the origin of the krama-ngoko distinction might come from rulers speaking one language gaining power over a people speaking another language. In time, the two languages would have intermingled to some extent (being closely related), but each morphing into a distinct social register of what came to be seen otherwise as a single speech continuum used by a single speech community.

  7. Petréa Mitchell says:

    I have an Indonesian co-worker who regards Bahasa Indonesia as having been invented rather than standardized from anything.

    I’ll have to ask him what he thinks of these language laws when he gets back from vacation; he’s currently visiting family in Java…

  8. Petréa Mitchell says:

    On the subject of legally enforced formality: I know someone who took German in high school in the 1980s, and the German teacher warned the class that he knew someone who had been fined DM25,000 for calling a policeman du.

    This anecdote was prompted by this article in The Economist on the changing usage of Sie and du.

  9. Christopher Miller says:

    For Petréa:

    Invented? I thought it was pretty well established that BI is just an institutionalised set of standards for Malay as it has developed in the archipelago over the past few centuries… There’s a pretty solid body of evidence for the historical continuity of the language’s development from Old Malay in the 8th century through middle Malay, then early modern Malay during the era of western religious and colonial influence, through the 20th century when it was officially renamed the Indonesian language (Bahasa Indonesia) rather than the Malay language (Bahasa Melayu).

  10. TJ says:

    80 million = 45% ?

    hehe sorry in Kuwait we can’t count passing 2 millions, and that is 100% for us! (:

  11. Petréa Mitchell says:

    Mr. Miller:

    “Invented” in the sense that no one used precisely that set of words and grammar before the standards were set down, as opposed to a language that developed organically.

  12. d.m.falk says:

    It should be noted that Malay, as used in the then-Dutch East Indies, was a minor language. Bahasa Indonesia is an enhancement and standardisation of the Malay spoken in Indonesia, with a more Indonesia-centric vocabulary and phonology, and unlike Malay, BI was always written in the Roman alphabet. It was chosen, with a simplified pronumciation, by Sukarno, Suharto’s predecessor, as not only a Lingua Franca for the island nation, but as a unifying force in tandem with establishing an “Indonesian” identity, instead of the culturally- and religiously-fractured nation it was.

    Amazingly, yes, Batak music- sung in the Batak languages, rather than BI- thrive and are widely admired throughout Indonesia. I’ve been horribly unlucky about hearing Bugis music, though I may have missed where I can find it. Balinese music is also in Balinese, rather than BI. Hoswever, I haven’t heard Javanese, Sundanese or Acehnese music sung in anything but BI, if sung at all… (I love Sundanese gamelan… 🙂 )

    Indonesians have been trying as hard as they can to preserve their languages, music and culture, particularly “under the table”, even long before Suharto’s regime ending, but resurfaced strongly after his hall. Ironically, some of these efforts seem to be faltering under the weight of Indonesian homogeny, particularly when so many young Indonesians grew up already indoctrinated into the use of BI and an Indonesian identity before their own ethnicity.

    Ny Bugis email penpal explained that she, her family and friends all wrote to each other in the traditional script, but apparently even this practice is falling out of favour, and that was only just earlier this decade when I last had contact with her.


  13. Christopher Miller says:

    For d. m. falk:

    Thanks for your reply. I was going to write one myself but I’ll just give links in a second response after this one.

    If you want music from different Indonesian languages, just enter “musik (language name in Indonesian)” in the YouTube search field. That works very well for me. For Bugis, “lagu Bugis” also brings up lots of clips.

    I find it quite surprising that Bugis has been written in the old script even this recently! I thought it had become more or less defunct a fair while ago. Interestingly enough, there is a lot of interest among young Filipinos in the closely related Baybayin script of the Philippines, even if it is mostly for getting tattoos rather than for writing their languages in the old script.

    I have been doing research on the non-Kawi/non-Java scripts of Indonesia and the Philippines over the past couple of months; the research confirms the close relation between Bugis and Philippine scripts (with data from variation in the oldest avaiable attestations for each) and shows quite overwhelmingly that they are probably derived from Gujarati script (a rather unexpected conclusion, but not surprising if you know the region’s history). If you’re interested, I can send you a draft of the first paper (of two) once I have it completed.

  14. peter j. franke says:

    Recently I came across some albums with songs in Sundanese. And on Dutch radio and (local) t.v. there are a few programmes in Javanese including songs. Thy are ment to serve the Javanese who immigrated from Surinam.

  15. michael farris says:

    There is popular music in a number of local languages in Indonesia (as well as education and publishing etc)

    On the other hand, Sundanese (the one I’m a little familiar with and the second largest local language after Javanese) seems to be slowly relexifying, and to a lesser extent regrammaticalizing itself as Indonesian. Also, the number of annual publications in Sundanese has declined dramatically in recent decades.

    Go to youtube and look for sunda lagu to find lots of music videos in Sundanese (often with lyrics helpfully printed on the screen).

  16. Malik diNata says:

    Aww… too bad I miss ‘the party’. Well, I’m Javanese and what I can tell you is:
    – I’m convinced that most Indonesians think that Bahasa Indonesia is an invented language, pretty much like Esperanto. We’re very proud of our own heritage so unless we’re dirty rich kids born in big cities, we still speak with our own local languages daily. I speak Bahasa only when I talk to Indonesians who can’t speak English or local languages. At home, I speak either English or Javanese. Almost no Indonesians speak ‘perfect’ Bahasa. They always mix it up with other languages.
    – Bataks, Javanese, Sundanese, etc do sing in their local languages AS WELL AS in Bahasa. However, FYI, many indonesians think that singing in local languages is considered to be unsophisticated. They’re general comment would be something like, ‘Eww, buddy! You like that songs? That’s gross!’
    – True, Krama (higher Javanese) borrows words from Sanskrit, whilst Ngoko (lower Javanese) borrows words from austronesian languages.

  17. Malik diNata says:

    Talking about the news, though, I think it’s unfair for the government (or whoever in charge) to force people talking only in a certain language even though it’s only for a day, especially in Indonesia. Here, everyone literally has their own language. I think it happens due to the fact that everyone loves to mix up their mother tongue with other languages to sound cool and smart. In big cities, people come from EVERYWHERE, and even in Surabaya or Blora, or even in Jogjakarta which is considered to be the Capital of the Javanese Culture, not everyone speaks Javanese!
    Some TV stations have got programs such as news, talk shows, or dubbed Latin American soap operas in local languages, and even though people tend to regard them as a joke and never takes them seriously, I think it’s good enough. Nobody is worried that major local languages will be extinct, at least not in a century.
    ps. You have to see the dubbed version of ‘Pretty Woman’… I tell you what, it just doesn’t sound right. Julia Roberts speaking in Surabayan Javanese… ouch!

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