Logic, consequences of language borrowing

Setiono Sugiharto ,  Jakarta   |  Wed, 10/28/2009 1:29 PM  |  Opinion

A recent headline in a leading Indonesian newspaper read “Menteri loyal kepada bangsa” (Ministers are loyal to the nation). In the same newspaper in an op-ed piece, a writer wrote of “. tsunami yang masif dampaknya dan eskalasinya .” (a tsunami that has a massive impact and escalation).

Neither the headline nor the quote from the article really sound Indonesian. It is quite risky assuming that all readers are able to decipher the word loyal, masif and eskalasi. However, the words will be easily understood if sloppily rendered into setia, luar biasa besar and pertambahan.

If the (rough) equivalents of Indonesian do exist, one may wonder why the journalist and the writer insisted on using imported terminology rather than its local counterpart. The words above are only few instances of foreign terminology used in the mass media.

One can find numerous other examples of foreign language borrowing and what sociolinguists call code-switching in other life domains such as advertising, entertainment, commerce, science and technology, and education.

As one of the world’s living languages, Indonesian has both diachronically and synchronically shown its vitality and dynamic as a modern language.

Just as the English language has extensively enriched its terminology by borrowing from many of the world’s languages, so too has Indonesian modernized its lexical stocks through borrowing from other languages.

In the case of the modernization of the Indonesian language, it is important to distinguish two types of contesting schools of thoughts of language borrowing that took place in the past and continue to occur at the present time: borrowing from indigenous languages, and borrowing from Western languages.

A conservative school of thought tends to favor the use of Malay and other local languages on the grounds that it can promote a feeling of nationalism and preserve these languages from extinction. A more liberal one prefers to opt for terminology deriving from Western languages, motivated primarily by the international charm of these languages.

The modernization of Indonesian, especially its lexicon, owes a great deal to the contribution of these two schools of thoughts. The publication of the fourth edition of the Kamus Besar Besar Bahasa Indonesia Pusat Bahasa (Great Dictionary of the Indonesian Language of the Language Center) is a clear case in point.

With more than 90,000 entries from various languages – local and foreign – the dictionary is an obvious verification that the Indonesian language is not immune to a language contact that triggers language borrowing.

Language borrowing is a natural phenomenon imputed by several reasons. First, borrowing takes place if there is a lexical gap in the recipient language (Indonesian), particularly with respect to cultural phenomenon associated with the source or donor language (e.g. English, Dutch, Sanskrit). Words such as klakson (klaxon), sosis (sausage), piyama (pajamas), setrika (iron) are simply borrowed due to the absence of these words in the recipient language.

Second, borrowing occurs because of the dominance of different languages in specific domains of use at particular periods of time. This can be seen in words like kasasi (overturning of judgement), pleidoi (defence), koalisi (coalition) and kudeta (coup d’etat).

Third, semantic insufficiency in one language motivates the speakers of the language to borrow or even code-switch words from another language.

This is probably the reason why news reporters, journalists and the like keep saying and writing the word suspek in suspek flu burung (bird flu suspect) instead of using its Indonesian counterpart, tersangka or terduga, which connotes something unpleasant, criminal.

Fourth, Indonesian is a language that is highly receptive to the penetration of foreign languages. Foreign terminology is easily borrowed, if not nativized, by the Indonesian morphological affixation process. Instances of this phenomenon are quite numerous in almost all domains. Consider, for instance, such phrases as dieazy paykan (being made easy to pay), merilis album (to release an album), berkoalisi (to form a coalition) and dikonversi (to convert).

The prestige and international sounding of the donor language contributes, to a greater extent, to language borrowing. People will purportedly look educated and come from a higher social status if they use such phrases as “money changer”, “grand opening”, “price list” and “delivery service” rather than their respective Indonesian native equivalents of pedagang valuta asing, pembukaan perdana, daftar harga and jasa antar.

It is quite ironic, however, that while ontologically there is no such a thing as pure Indonesian (Malay) language, the massive borrowing of Western terminology in Indonesian is considered a threat rather than a lexical enrichment.

Apart from borrowing, the process of modernization and lexical development of the Indonesian language cannot be separated from the creative innovation of its speakers, which gives rise to so-called neologism, the most obvious if which is called blending.

Lexical formation via blending is not a new phenomenon, however. Both in the Sukarno and Soeharto eras, creating a new word by mixing two or more polysyllabic words was incredibly common. Such blending as berdikari (literally standing on one’s feet), tapol (political detainee), krismon (monetary crisis), sidak (sudden inspection) and sembako (the nine basic commodities) have now become established and widely used.

Because of its efficient use, blending is the most productive means of a word formation to help create neologism in the present time. The language of journalism and the argot prokem spoken among Jakarta’s youth are rich with instances of blending.

The writer is chief editor of the Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching, and a PhD candidate in applied linguistics at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta.

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