28 July 2010
Bahasa Indonesia under threat
By ASSOCIATED PRESS/THE STRAITS TIMES, July 26, 2010
Paulina Sugiarto's three children played together at a mall here the other day, chattering not in Indonesia's national language, but English. Their fluency often draws admiring questions from other Indonesian parents Mrs Sugiarto encounters in this city's upscale malls.
But the children's ability in English obscured the fact that, though born and raised in Indonesia, they were struggling with the Indonesian language, known as Bahasa Indonesia. Their parents, who grew up speaking the Indonesian language but went to college in the United States and Australia, talk to their children in English. And the children attend a private school where English is the main language of instruction.
'They know they're Indonesian,' Mrs Sugiarto, 34, said. 'They love Indonesia. They just can't speak Bahasa Indonesia. It's tragic.' Indonesia's linguistic legacy is increasingly under threat as growing numbers of wealthy and upper-middle-class families shun public schools where Indonesian remains the main language, but English is often taught poorly. They are turning, instead, to private schools that focus on English and devote little time, if any, to Indonesian.
For some Indonesians, as mastery of English has become increasingly tied to social standing, Indonesian has been relegated to second-class status. In extreme cases, people take pride in speaking Indonesian poorly.
The global spread of English, with its sometimes corrosive effects on local languages, has caused much hand-wringing in many non-English-speaking corners of the world. But the implications may be more far-reaching in Indonesia, where generations of political leaders promoted Indonesian to unite the nation and forge a national identity out of countless ethnic groups, ancient cultures and disparate dialects.
The government recently announced that it would require all private schools to teach the nation's official language to Indonesian students by 2013. Details remain sketchy, though.