‘Slang’ Terms: Cowok, Cewek and Bokap, Nyokap

The term ‘slang’ is frequently applied to Colloquial Jakartan Indonesian words which do not occur in Formal Indonesian. However, many such terms are so frequent in the everyday speech of educated Jakartans that they can justly be regarded as the colloquial standard words. Two pairs of words which are perhapsmore deserving of being called slang are cowok, cewek and bokap, nyokap.

Cowok and Cewek
The words cowok ‘male, man; guy; boyfriend’ and cewek ‘female, woman; girl;girlfriend’ are so common in the speech of educated youths that it can be argued the label‘slang’ is not justified. They are, however, highly marked as L variants. They do not occur in the meetings nor frequently in the speech of most older people. Examples:

Kakak saya cowok, adik saya cowok.
older.sib my male younger.sib my male
My older sibling is male, my younger sibling is male.

Gua nggak suka cewek yang obsesif dan posesif.
I not like girl who obsessive and possessive
I don’t like obsessive and possessive girls

The H variables laki-laki,pria ‘man, male’ and perempuan, wanita ‘female, woman’ do not occur at all in most younger conversations as they are for formality.

The words cowok, cewek can also refer to animals. Examples:

Anjing elu cewek apa cowok, sih?
dog your female or male dp
Is your dog male or female?

Cowok and cewek can also mean ‘boyfriend’and ‘girlfriend’ respectively. Examples:

Aku belum pengen punya cowok.
I not.yet want have boyfriend
I don’t want to have a boyfriend yet.

Bokap and Nyokap

The words bokap ‘father’ and nyokap ‘mother’ are used to refer to one’s own or someone else’s parents. They are from Prokem, the argot common among Jakarta’s youth.

They are rare in the speech of older people and do not occur in FI. They are therefore highly informal. Overwhelmingly they are the favoured forms among young people for reference to parents in conversations. Examples:

Gua sama bokap gua enggak akur.
I and dad my not accord
My dad and I don’t get along.

These words are not used, as are ibu/bu ‘mother’ and bapak/pak ‘father’, as terms of address or as pronoun substitutes or before personal names. They can occur in combination, as nyokap-bokap or bokap-nyokap, for ‘parents’. Examples:

Dulu tuh nyokap-bokap gua tuh kan mampulah, gitu loh.
previous that mum-dad my that dp well.off -lah thus dp
Well, previously my parents were well-off, you know.

Bokap-nyokap gua tuh nggak pernah nelfon dia.
dad-mum my that not ever telephone him
My parents never telephone him.

Like cewek and cowok it can be argued that these words are too common in the speech of educated youths to justify the label ‘slang’, although they would not be used by them in formal settings.

*Notes
CJI Colloquial Jakartan Indonesian
dim diminutive
dp discourse particle
exc exclamation
FI Formal Indonesian
High style; forms associated with FI
Low style; forms associated with CJI
lit literally
prep preposition

Reference: Colloquial Jakartan Indonesian (Pacific Linguistics, 581) by James Neil Sneddon (2006)

About author
James Neil Sneddon PhD was Associate Professor in the School of Languages and Linguistics at Griffith University. He has many years' experience in the teaching of Indonesian language and linguistics. He obtained his PhD in Linguistics in 1974 at the Australian National University. His thesis topic was "Tondano Phonology and Grammar".

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