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'Language is my ultimate weapon': Ivan Lanin

Ni Nyoman Wira
Ni Nyoman Wira

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, July 13, 2018  /  03:57 pm

Meeting Ivan Lanin, who has been dubbed an Indonesian language evangelist, was a whole lot of fun. The Jakarta-born linguist is indeed an insightful person regarding the Indonesian language, especially its vocabulary.

“Do you know what terjun lenting is?” Ivan suddenly asked during an interview with The Jakarta Post. After no one was able to provide him with an answer, he smiled, “It means bungee jumping.”

Through his social media accounts, especially Twitter, Ivan has enlightened many netizens on how to properly use Indonesian, such as how to write their birth date on a cover letter, write an email address in Indonesian and the equivalent word for an English term.

Despite his passion for Indonesian, Ivan’s daily job is actually not at all related to it.

“I used to be a computer programmer in my early career and then became a management consultant,” Ivan said, adding that his interest in Indonesian grew when he wrote for Wikipedia Bahasa Indonesia (WBI), which often uses formal Indonesian.

He later mastered his skills through practice. Between 2006 and 2008, he spent around 12 hours writing hundreds of Wikipedia articles. In 2009, he was named editor of Indonesian Google, which helped him sharpen his skills, as 20,000 words had been submitted to the editor.

Ivan, who is also fluent in English, says his particular interest in Indonesian has brought him many advantages.

“Working as a consultant, language is my ultimate weapon. I have to be able to convey advice or recommendations, either verbally or on paper,” he said. “It’s really helpful, especially when I’m writing or making a report. It’s more structured and systematic. In terms of verbal language, I can be more confident in communicating my thoughts and delivering messages. People also understand my message easily.”

Ivan said Indonesian was still necessary despite the fact English had become widely used around the world.  

“English has its own function to be the bridge between us and the world, but on the other side, we still have Indonesian, which has been acknowledged as the official and national language,” Ivan said.

Read also: Ministry to bring back Indonesian language requirement for foreign workers

The man of Minangkabau descent said that normally, Indonesians were born with three languages: native language, mother tongue and Indonesian language. Since he learned Indonesian, Ivan said his skills would not be complete if he did not learn his mother tongue, the Minangkabau language. This is in accordance with the slogan of Indonesia's language agency Badan Bahasa: emphasizing Indonesian language, preserving the native language and mastering a foreign language.

For foreigners who are interested in learning Indonesian, Ivan suggested that they visit the country and practice verbal communications first, since learning from a book is not enough.

When asked whether he consistently used formal language in daily life, he said that he only did so when writing a report. "During a meeting, I often combine the words ngga [informal for “no”), suffix –in and prefix me-. It’s necessary to lighten up the atmosphere,” he said. “When we’re talking in a highly formal language, usually the atmosphere is tenser. That’s what I’m trying to avoid. However, I use formal language under two conditions: when I’m angry or trying to keep my distance from someone.”

Unlike what most people believe, Ivan does not carry around the thick Great Dictionary of the Indonesian Language of the Language Center everywhere -- he simply downloaded the app instead. “It’s a savior. Sometimes I get confused between nekad [reckless] and nekat or tekat and tekad [intention],” Ivan said.

Ivan has been partnered with Badan Bahasa since 2010 and unofficially helping the agency ever since. He is also a permanent member of the agency’s Terms Meeting Commission, which annually releases new terms to the public. In October, Ivan also served as a member of the steering committee at the 11th Indonesian Language Congress. (kes)

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