By Golly, that Ain’t Correct Indonesian!

Amy Chavez

For The Bali Times

Some linguists in Bali are apparently upset about some new trends in the Indonesian language, mainly the increased use of bahasa gaul, or slang Indonesian which is a mixture of Jakarta Malay and Indonesian. Some examples of bahasa gaul are okedeh (alright) or gakpapa (tidak apa apa – no problem) and kasihan deh lu (pity you).

I don’t see anything wrong with bahasa gaul myself. As a matter of fact, I have a hunch that those who started bahasa gaul are Indonesians who have spent a few years living abroad, in the United Kingdom or the United States. These Indonesians said, “Hey Ya! English slang is totally awesome! We wanna have some too.”

On my planet, the US, we have something called Ebonics (sometimes referred to as African American Vernacular English), the language used by some African Americans that has now been recognized as a dialect of English. Rap and Hip Hop music further import new vocabulary and slang into the American English lexicon.

But “Hey Ya!” it doesn’t stop there. There are all kinds dialects as well as slang used around the US. Where I am from in the Mid-West, commonly referred to as “redneck” country, we have our special language as well. In red neck language every noun must be qualified by two adjectives, one always being “frick’n” as in the sentence: “It’s a frick’n nice day” or, “We had a frick’n great time.” When the sentence is negative in tone, either “frick’n” or “darn blasted,” can be used as in: “This darn blasted rainy weather is upset’n my arthritis.” Furthermore, in proper redneck dialect, all answers to questions should be prefaced with “By golly,” as in:

“Have you seen that frick’n scuzball Johnson?”

“By golly, I ain’t seen hide nor hair of him since he crashed my tractor.”

“He frick’n took off with my wife,” he says, banging the front door so hard that it knocks off the “Beware of Dog” sign into his lawn full of plastic deer, gnomes and plastic daisies twirling in the wind.

Dude, like, remember the Valley Girl talk of the 80’s (stop laughing – see how entertaining language can be?), further popularized in Frank Zappa’s Valley Girl song and through the movie Valley Girl? So what if everyone was talking like a Valley Girl for a while there? Don’t have a cow about it!

Or how about the Sloanies in London? Soz darls, but language is sooooooooo constantly changing and evolving. Anyhu, language should be fun, and if Indonesian language can’t be fun then kasihan deh lu! If you can’t see bahasa gaul as a form of embracing the Indonesian language, a way of making it our own, then go ahead and be a geek; I can dig that, but take a chill pill.

The linguists cite interviews with celebrities as one of the culprits of spreading bahasa gaul, in addition to the use of bahasa gaul by TV and movie characters. Oh, whatever! Aren’t actors merely being true to their culture by using the local lingo.

The linguists further worry that people will no longer speak proper Indonesian and that they will not respect it. If bahasa gaul is truly “slang” then it will, like Valspeak and Sloanglish, come in and out of vogue on its own. If it hangs around long enough to become a true dialect, then it will be exactly that — a dialect widely used by many, or maybe even most, Indonesians. But that doesn’t mean it is going to degrade standard Indonesian. There is no reason why bahasa gaul and standard Indonesian can’t exist side by side. Despite the media spread of bahasa gaul through pop culture and even radio (which, after all is a spoken form of entertainment, so should reflect the language and culture of the day), standard Indonesian will still be taught in schools and will be used as a the written form of the language.

Which is why I’m not so sure why some people are so frick’n upset ‘bout bahasa gaul. Gakpapa! It ain’t like it’s taken over the world. Jus like there gonna be English slang, there gonna be Indo slang. What’s the diff? Dialects and slang are certainly not unique to Indonesian.

But what surprises me most is that the linguists have acknowledged that it is the young people who are the ones changing the language. They cite a “crisis of youth” in which the youth – mostly teenyboppers – have the power to change the Indonesian language, apparently indefinitely. Yet young people are never the ones to change the world — not until they get older, that is, and that is when most people grow out of slang. Slang is the hallmark of young people, whom older people really don’t want to be like!

So natural is it, apparently, to want to talk outside of your standard native tongue that recently the word “conlang” has sprung up to describe constructed languages people have invented. There are almost 2,000 made up languages available on the internet now and you can even make up your own at

Okedeh. Now, if you don’t mind, evict yourself.


Filed under: The Island

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