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Jakarta Post

Lauren Zentz: In support of local languages

  • Setiono Sugiharto

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, July 11, 2013   /  11:41 am
Lauren Zentz: In support of local languages (JP/ Setiono Sugiharto) (JP/ Setiono Sugiharto)

(JP/ Setiono Sugiharto)

Amid the fervent promotion of the English language in the Indonesian context, Lauren Zentz revives memories of preserving the wealth of Indonesia'€™s local languages spoken throughout the country.

She seems to convey the message that it is a must to learn English in this globalized world, but learning this language shouldn'€™t necessarily be at the cost of one'€™s native languages.

Citing the long-established national language policy, Zentz reminds Indonesians to love their local languages, use their national language (Indonesian), and study foreign languages, including English.

An anthropologist and professor of lingustics from the University of Houston in the US, Zent first came to Indonesia in 2008 and learnt Indonesian through the Consortium for the Teaching of Indonesian and Malay (COTIM), which was later renamed the Consortium for the Teaching of Indonesian (COTI).

In the same year, piqued by the uniqueness of Indonesian cultures and indigenous languages, she accepted an offer from UNESCO to help develop functional literacy in Kampung Cibago, West Java.

'€œWithout thinking further, I accepted the program, which was orgnaized by the SIL [Summer Institute of Linguistics] to assist children in developing functional literacy both in Sundanese and in Indonesian,'€ Zentz said in an interview.

Out of the large number of Indonesia'€™s ethnic languages, Zentz devotes her attention mostly to Javanese, which she finds fascinating in terms of its level of formalities (Ngoko and Kromo). To study this local language, Zentz often visits cities in Central Java such as Surakarta (Solo), Salatiga and Yogyakarta, where she stays and engages with native Javanese families.

Her passion in researching the condition of language ecologies in Indonesia is reflected through her doctoral project Global Language Identities and Ideologies in an Indonesian University Context, which explores identity and motivation among undergraduate English majors in Central Java and emphasizes the impacts of global language policy trends and state language policies, specifically on Indonesia'€™s public education system.

Zentz'€™s other published work includes The porous borders of language and nation: English in Indonesia, which she published in International Journal of the Sociology of Language.

Despite being unable to converse in Javanese, Zentz says she knows a few words of ngoko and kromo, and makes the use of these dialects a topic of her research.

'€œIn the course of my time in Central Java, it became apparent that the label indicating the Javanese language '€” bahasa Jawa '€” either did not represent a '€˜language'€™ but bahasa sehari-hari, perhaps best translated as '€˜daily talk'€™, that everyone spoke with each other every day, or it was a very sophisticated language that was too difficult for even local residents to learn'€.

'€œWhen I asked young adults in the community if they could speak Javanese, the general answer was no. When I asked for clarification, pointing out that they spoke Javanese every day all the time, the answers I got back indicated that ngoko was not a language '€” it'€™s just daily talk '€” and Javanese, implicitly kromo, is a language that is more or less learnable '€” mostly less learnable '€” but it would be super cool if they could speak it'€.

As Zentz'€™s research has revealed, what concerns her most in the context of globalization is the shifting use of Javanese among youngsters, either to Indonesian and English. Yet, Zentz is unwilling to speculate that this shift is a sign of language disappearance.

'€œAlthough most of the respondents in my study prefer to use either Indonesian or English to kromo, it doesn'€™t mean that kromo is disappearing. I argue it is community interactions and spaces where kromo inggil is spoken and passed on to younger generations that are decreasing, rendering kromo forgettable,'€ she said.

While citizens were encouraged to love their local languages, their abilities to speak them were currently shifting as, in this instance, high registers move into the past along with their proto-modern cultural forms, and ngoko lives on in the present sometimes invisibly, sometimes unworthy of acknowledgement as a language per se, she went on.

To Zentz, researching Indonesia'€™s local languages along with the language policy that regulates these languages tells her not only of their unique characteristics as living languages, but also the identities and ideologies of their users. In so doing, she said we could capture the real ideas of what language ecologies were.

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