Despite the decreasing use of the Balinese language in daily life, two university professors say they are convinced that it will not disappear.
The growing membership of the Balinese diaspora is believed to play an important role in the survival of the language, they say.
“The Balinese language will never die, unless all Balinese have met their demise,” I Gusti Made Sutjaja, a linguistics expert from Udayana University, said during a recent seminar on the Balinese language and globalization.
The Bali Cultural Agency estimates that the number of people still using Balinese in their daily lives on the island does not exceed 1 million.
Sutjaja, however, said that the number of Balinese-speakers on the island was not the only measure of how the language could survive.
“The Balinese language will not die even if this whole island sinks beneath the ocean,” said Sutjaja, who has published many books and dictionaries on the language. “I have carried out extensive research in some areas in Sumatra and Sulawesi and I found that the Balinese living there still use the Balinese language in their daily lives.”
In the aftermath of Mt. Agung’s eruption in 1963, a large number of Balinese sought new lives in the forested areas in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi, and transformed them into fertile rice fields.
This trend continued up until the peak of the New Order administration. By that time, the Balinese diaspora appeared in various regions across the archipelago.
Prof. Hara Mayuko from Osaka University agreed with Sutjaja. Mayuko, who studied Balinese for many years, said that the language still exists in the island.
However, she warned that the language was facing real threats to its existence.
“We have to think about Balinese children in urban areas. Most of them do not understand the Balinese language anymore because their parents only introduce Bahasa Indonesia or even English,” she said.
She said that although Balinese was still used in daily conversations, it has disappeared from institutions like schools, offices, government administrations and the mass media.
“This has made Balinese increasingly unfamiliar with the written form of Balinese language. They use the language only as a spoken tool,” she said, adding that many were mixing Balinese with Bahasa Indonesia in their daily conversations.
As the language is not being used formally, its vocabulary has gotten smaller as words were being forgotten, she said.
“We have to increase the use of Balinese language in formal activities.”