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Indonesian Diglossia

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  • Indonesian Diglossia

    Diglossia is a situation where two dialects are used by a single community. Typically there is the everyday informal dialect along with the formal / educational / legal one. This describes Indonesia perfectly.

    The paper is talking about the difficulty of subtitling Indonesian movies that utilize both dialects (and the many shades between them) into English, a non-diglossic language. It's pretty much impossible to capture the nuances behind the choice of pronouns without extensive footnotes, which can't happen for movies.

    This enjoyable paper makes me think that teaching the "other" Indonesian language could be just as important as teaching the official one. A student that learns nothing but formal Indonesian would be like a Malaysian; having almost perfect understanding of public / academic material in Indonesia yet unable to converse casually.

  • #2
    Interesting paper. Thanks.

    I think if you choose to live in Indonesia the lower form (informal) of Indonesian is far more important for everyday communication. I learnt this one first then the official version after. In fact I'm still working on improving my formal speaking and writing.
    Last edited by travellingchez; 25-02-12, 19:30.
    The challenge is to be yourself in a world that is trying to make you like everyone else.


    • #3
      Originally posted by travellingchez View Post
      Interesting paper. Thanks.I think if you choose to live in Indonesia the lower form (informal) of Indonesian is far more important for everyday communication. I learnt this one first then the official version after. In fact I'm still working on improving my formal speaking and writing.
      I agree. It is useful to learn the basics in formal form to talk with strangers and government officials (otherwise you'll sound kampungan or disrespectful), but for the most part you will interact with people around you informally.

      Despite the importance of the L (low) Indonesian for daily conversation, it is not taught anywhere. The H (high) Indonesian is the language of education and literature, so learning material is only available for that dialect. Any Indonesian will tell you the H is the correct and proper form, yet we talk incorrectly and improperly in the L most of the time. Maybe I should write a vocabulary book for the most common (Jakartan) lingo.

      The paper correctly points out that in romantic situations we tend to revert back to the H, although not completely. The lowest expressions in L feel too boorish for romance. The H is still the language for poetry after all.


      • #4

        Also called Rundskop. A movie in Flemish dialects which had an Oscar nomination for Foreign language drama. Wonder how the English version is (guess it's subtitled) and if they can ever put in the nuances you mentioned before. Hopefully on the plane.

        [COLOR=#000000][FONT=georgia]Forget Brad Pitt's baseball drama or dapper Frenchman Jean Dujardin; Bullhead is the Oscar nominee you should be obsessing over. This Belgian dark horse with bite is tucked away in the Best Foreign Film category, but it might be one of the best films of the year.[/FONT][/COLOR][COLOR=#000000][FONT=georgia]So what is it? Bullhead is a tightly wound tale of the bovine hormone mafia—yes, the bovine hormone mafia—centered around Jacky (Matthias Schoenaerts), a farmer who pumps himself full of what might be the same juice he injects in his cattle. Though ostensibly a crime flick, it quickly becomes clear that the mobsters who want a lock on his deliciously fattened-up cattle are the least of Jacky's worries. As Bullhead uncoils, we find out just why he has the bleak outlook on life he describes in the Bullhead's searing opening monologue. While the camera pans over the beautiful, misty Belgian fields, a voice warns us, "Because no matter what you do or think, one thing is for sure: You're always fucked. Now, tomorrow, next week or next year, until the end of time, fucked."[/FONT][/COLOR]

        The diglossia you mention is a common phenomenon in most European countries too. But it is not really high or low level, just related to the region where you're from.

        Always interesting to see those people interact at work etc. They need a common language otherwise people who live / were born 50 miles apart would not understand each other. In some areas it's like: every 10 miles a different dialect.
        Last edited by jstar; 26-02-12, 03:31.
        [FONT=arial black]


        • #5
          I agree that it is vital for students of the language to learn the informal style. I learned Indonesian under John Wolff at Cornell and he was adamant that we had to learn casual Indonesian. Oh, how we students hated that! If there is anyone here who studied Indonesian with his books, you may recall that the brown book is the one with the everyday speech in it. It's funny to me now, because the dialogues in the brown book seem very simple to me - I have no idea why they seemed so hard then. But one problem with trying to codify and teach informal language is that it changes so fast. Just knowing "gue", "lu", "nggak" and the "-in" prefix won't get you far at all. So despite having studied informal speech, I still don't understand much of what a bunch of giggling teenagers I encounter at the mall are saying.

          The article was fascinating. While I agree that subtitlers should take their job very seriously and try to capture as many nuances as possible, they seem to be overthinking the problem a bit, or maybe just refusing to accept reality. Of course stuff will get "lost in translation" - there is a reason that term of art exists. Non-native moviegoers are not limited to the subtitles in the film; they can also take note of the tone of voice, facial expression, body language, and the plot context. I doubt that the inability of English to convey the difference between "gue" and "saya" will ruin a film. A viewer from a very different culture will be somewhat limited in their understanding no matter what.

          Also, the extent to which English has elements of diglossia is usually underappreciated. Just because pronouns are extremely limited doesn't mean we don't vary our language usage depending on who we are talking to. Pronunciation also comes into play.

          Me, telling my child I want to depart: Hey kiddo, c'mon, we're outta here.
          Me, telling my husband I want to depart: I wanna get goin', you mind?
          Me, telling my mother I want to depart: Would it be okay if I left now?
          Me, telling a highly esteemed official I want to depart: May I go now?

          At least in American English, dropped "g" on gerunds and slurred pronunciation like "gonna", "wanna", "sorta" etc. are important markers of formality, as is word choice: "get outta here" versus "leave". I know that this is less extreme than Indonesian, but still, I think there is more distinction between L and H speech than people give the language credit for.
          Last edited by Puspawarna; 26-02-12, 10:23.