The Invention of ‘Lingua Franca’, Language and Indonesian Nationalist Movement

Abdul ‘dubbun’ Hakim, Director of Center for Islam and State Studies Indonesia

In the colonial period, Indonesian founding fathers faced the problem in communicatingrevolutionary ideas to reach wider audience in such highly diverse ethnics and cultures likeIndonesia. During the colonial period, they found that Dutch was a language of small minoritiesof educated elites as an impact of discrimination of education policy toward Indonesianindigenous people. This politics of segregation resulting in privileged indigenous elites whichcommunicate each other through colonial language as well as the official language in educationsystem under colonial rule. Moreover, Javanese is the language of the largest ethnic group in Indonesia which represented 47% of Indonesia‟s population. However, Javanese is inhibited by the hierarchy which reflected the social status within the society. The hierarchy of Javanese in communication according to social status and age will makes language difficult for the peoplewho live in the outer island to learn. Eventually, Indonesian founding fathers chose Malay language as a lingua franca in the archipelago that was effective as the unifying force which hasgreat impact to the nationalist movement in fighting against the colonial rule and the formationof a new national identity (Alisjahbana 1949; Anderson 1966; Leng 1980).

First, this essay will examine the reason behind the successful story of Indonesian language or Bahasa as the lingua franca of nationalist movement in the colonial period and post colonial period which contributed to the effort of national integration and nation building. Italso will examines the socio-political factors as well as the historical factors in the development of Bahasa Indonesia as lingua franca in Indonesia since the colonial period. Second, this paper will examine the role of national language policy in the process of the nation building in the post colonial period. After the independence, Bahasa become the official language in the field of education, politics, culture, economics, and religion. The successful policy of national language was mainly supported by increasing of proficiency among Indonesian people through the open access of education both in Java and outer islands, media, and urbanisation.

In this essay, I argue that Indonesian founding fathers chose Malay as the medium incommunicating the revolutionary ideas during the colonial period as it is well known became the lingua franca of the archipelago which characterized by flexibility, simplicity, possible as inter-ethnic language, and free from hierarchy of social status. It also reflected the aspiration of nationalism advocated by Indonesian founding fathers which has strong appeal to modernity,democratic order and egalitarianism.

Nationalist Movement and Colonialism
National movement involved multidimensional and complexity process including economics, politics, and cultural factors. In this respect, like many South east Asian countries, Indonesian nationalism had rooted in the anti-colonialism as its primary historical basis and main ingredient. Thus, national movement has strong relation with the collective consciousness of colonized people which concentrated “its collective activity on self -defence and efforts to change this situation… resulted in national consciousness, national feeling as well as national will which expressed in various ways” (Kartodirdjo 1962: 70).

However, in early nineteenth century Indonesia, the idea of nationalism always understood as an adjective to the particular-regional movement such as Javanese nationalism, Ambonese nationalism, and Sumatranese nationalism.The beginning of Indonesian national movement usually refers to the period from 1908s up to1942s.

The early history of Indonesian national movement characterized by particular aspirations which rooted in the various ethnics and local political movements such as Sarekat Ambon (Ambon Union), Rukun Minahasa (Minahasa Family), Pasoendan, and Sarekat Sumatra (Sumatra Union). Thus, the regional and ethnocentric aspiration was main feature of early Indonesian nationalism including Boedi Oetomo which established in 1908s expressed the aspiration of Javanese nationalism. Although Boedi Oteomo expressed the cultural aspiration of Javanese its main character was inclusive and opens for the cooperation with other organizationsin fighting against the colonial domination. In this stage, each group within national movement remains expressed its own cultural interest as the counter-culture of the West. In this respect, it commonly understood that since early stage of national movement most groups and local organizations expressed their movement as the cultural struggle (Kartodirdjo 1962: 77).

However, although the early stage of Indonesian national movement has its root in the vernacular aspirations such as ethnic and regional organizations, Indonesian nationalism is not ethnic nationalism. These ethnic organizations characterized by the greater enthusiasm toward civic nationalism which unifying ethnic diversities and recognized “that all within the borders are equally members of nation. Island states like Indonesia….congenial to this type of territorial nationalism by reason of having boundaries seemingly demarcated by nature, not by the ambivalent destiny of a people” (Reid 2001: 296).

In contrast, Indonesian nationalist movement did not supported by the ethnic core to survive. The cultural struggle in establishing set of central symbols such historical myth, national dress and style, name, and language became central around the imagination of nationalists movement rather than inventing a dominant ethnic as thecore of nationalism. This nationalism defined by the shared collective memory of colonisation, territory, and common identity.In this respect, Indonesian founding fathers were successfully transformed the central dilemma between ethnic nationalism and „core culture‟ nationalism which integrated highly ethnic diversities into equal citizenship inside a new nation. The civic idea of Indonesian nationalism which transgresses the local and ethnic boundaries supported by the fact that “core culture defined nationalism seemed to be inherently plural in religion, culture, and ethnicity, in way analogous to that India, if not Western Europe” (Reid 2001: 311).

In this respect, the core culture of Indonesian nationalism is deeply rooted in „Malayness‟ which signify a set of cultural complex centered in language called Melayu. „Malayness‟ is source of diverse Indonesian modern identities. „Malayness‟ also contributed significantly to the creation of Indonesian a new national identity and core of national project. It was unavoidable that Malay adopted as the unifying language among the youth nationalist movement in the early twentieth centuryIndonesia.

Malay language was well known as the lingua franca among the traders in the archipelago for more than a thousand years. This language also associated with the maritime trade in the straits of Malacca priot to the period of colonialism. The people who lived inextensive areas from Aceh to Patani in Southern Thailand need single common language as the vehicle of communication which functioned not only among the natives in the archipelago butalso the foreign traders who come to these island in celebrating the commerce in Southeast Asia(Lowenberg 1985; Paauw 2009).

The establishment of Malay as official language during Sriwijaya empire had great impactin spreading Malay as solely lingua franca which conquered including Malay peninsula, all Sumatra, West and Central Java. Sriwijaya also had strong diplomatic relation with both Chinaand India for hundred years which reflected in many ancient inscriptions in widespread locationsin form of stone monument which found in Sumatra, Malay Peninsula, and Java. In the aftermath, the decline of Sriwijaya continued by the rise of Muslim sultanate in straits of Malacca. Then, Malay used as means of Islamic expansion across the archipelago who traced the trade routesand influenced the establishment of Malay as a vehicle for the propagation of Islamic religion(Paauw 2009: 2).

In the early twentieth century, Dutch introduced a new policy on education which permitted numerous Indonesians to study in the Dutch schools. This policy enhanced many Indonesians to reach proficiency in Dutch language which understood as the direct way in increasing their skill, knowledge and social status. On the other hand, the increasing number of Indonesians in attaining the Dutch proficiency perceived as threat to the colonial rule. The colonial government released the policy that limited the use of Dutch language among Indonesian. This limitation recommended by the Hollandsch Inlandsch Onderwijscommissie (Dutch Indonesian Educational Commission) which established to control the use of Dutchlanguage by Indonesian (Alisjahbana 1949).

Although Dutch restricted the spread of Dutch language among indigenous people, the Dutch remained the official language during the colonial period. More over, Dutch sought that Malay also useful for the language of administration and commerce as it is used by various ethnic in the archipelago. By the end of nineteenth century, Dutch reformed their language policyby introducing Malay as second official language which functioned as the language of local administration, commerce and communication. Dutch changed their policy by the end of  nineteenth century which “..attempting to produce a standardized “high” variety of the language for administrative purposes to replace what they called the „babble-Malay‟ of many officials” (Keane 2003: 513). Dutch also perceived Malay is not complex language, flexible and ease to communication. Since then, Malay practiced in the non-European schools particularly schools that provided for indigenous people (Lowenberg 1985).

On the other hand, the Dutch contributed to the process of standardisation and modernization of Malay through the registration of Malay which used in many areas such as the standard Latin-alphabet spelling system. Dutch also established a Malaya-language publishing house which provided the materials on many topics for learning standard Malay in the schools and supported the publication of Malay press in the beginning of the twentieth century. This policy results in the emergence of a group of intellectual who educated in Dutch school but without real function within the colonial structure. Their proficiency in Dutch language opened their intellectual journey and intellectual encounter with the foreign literature which contained the critical concept of society and a vision on the ideal society after the disappearance of colonialism. This new group of intellectual reached the necessary means of communication in exploring the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist literature of West European, Russian Marxism,and the revolutionary vocabularies among those potential elite (Anderson 1966; Maier 2005).

The emergence of nationalist movement increased the need for unifying language inorder to mobilize the people against the colonial rule within this pluralistic society. They soughtthat Malay is the most effective language of communication in revitalizing the idea of independence and organizing the program of political education which almost impossible if relied on the regional languages. Malay language had been sought as the sole effective lingua  franca among the hundreds of ethnic languages which for ages used as the language of trade andcommerce in Southeast Asia (Emerson 1960). Then it was not surprising that big political partiesin the early twentieth century both Partai Komunis Indonesia (Indonesia Communist Party) and Serikat Islam (Muslim League) adopted Malay as the official language for their communication within respective organization. The adoption of Malay language by nationalist movement driven by, “ the government policy of limiting their opportunities to study Dutch had the effect of deflecting them to the use of Malay instead”. (Alisjahbana 1949:389)

In term of ethnic language, Javanese is an ethnic language which practiced by vast majority of population. However, the hierarchy of social status inhibited the Javanese language which makes it impossible to reach the status of lingua franca among nationalists movement who appeal for the equality and political emancipation. More over, the adoption of Javanese could be “associated with the largest and most powerful ethnic group and its use could therefore lead to dissension and mistrust from non-Javanese” (Lowenberg 1985:8). Thus Javanese had been sought not at all suited in articulating the ideas of equality, democratic rights, and independence as expressed in the revolutionary rhetoric among the nationalists movement. In contrast, Malay expressed what Anderson stated as “ simple and flexible enough to be rapidly developed into a modern political language..had ipso facto an almost statusless character, like Esperanto..It has thus free, almost „democratic‟ character from the outset” (Anderson 1966: 104).

Thus in the early twentieth century, the nationalist movement tried to promote Malay asthe official national language which culminated in the Second Congress of youth on October 28,1928. The Second Congress declared that Malay as the official language which later became „Bahasa Indonesia”. The choice of Malay as bahasa Indonesia mostly accepted and had not anyrival although the members of Congress consisted of many ethnic association such as Jong Java(1915), Jong Sumatranen Bond (1917), Jong Ambon (1920), and Jong Celebes (1920). The Congress proclaimed that they,”belong to one nation Indonesia; belong to one people, ..uphold the nation‟s language of unity, Indonesian” (Dardjowijojo 1998: 3). In addition, the agreement among ethnic associations to put Malay as official national language reflected the spirits of their nationalism which sought that national interest was above each particular interest (Wong 1971; Dardjowijojo 1998).

In the aftermath, the declaration of Malay as national language also supported by thepublication of cultural and literary magazine Pudjangga Baru (The New Poet), which had contributed significantly to the development of Indonesian literary tradition. The exponents of  Pudjangga Baru also held the congress in Solo 1938 which focused on the development of Indonesian language (Alisjahbana 1949).

This development suggested by Lowenberg as the beginning of the development of a genre anti-colonialist writing practiced by a new generation of young educated writer from Central and Northern Sumatra. This a new educated-generation also expressed, “…varieties of Malay spoken on the west coast of Malay Peninsula, became the standard literary language for Indonesia and is still considered the standard model for education and formal occasions”. (Lowenberg 1985: 10).

The occupation of German over the Netherlands in the 1939s dramatically changed the Dutch policy in the Indies, they felt cut of from their own country and sought that their relationship with Indonesia and Indonesians were very artificial. Thus, Dutch endorsed the policy in using the Indonesian language among themselves. However, Dutch suffered from the coming of Japanese soldier into the region which results in the end of their new policy and Dutch rapidly moved from Indonesia. The coming of Japanese who replaced the Dutch occupation in Indonesia was the decisive moment in the development of Indonesian language particularly as it is spread widely among the mass.

Unlike Dutch, Japanese encouraged the use of Indonesian language as means of communication although their long term goal imposed the Japanese language as the main official language. Unfortunately, they considered that it hard to apply a new policy in short time, Japanese had to take the pragmatic decision that Indonesian language much more effectivethan using Japanese one (Alisjahbana 1949; Anderson 1966).The Japanese policy brought about significant progress to the development of Indonesian language. Japanese prohibited the use of Dutch as means of communication. Indonesian language was the compulsory in the public laws and official pronouncements, correspondence between the department of government, between government and people as well as in all level of educational institution from the primary schools up to the university. On the other hand, Japanese mobilized the mass in supporting the war effort which reached the people in remote areas of the islands. Inevitably, political mobilization over the mass in the villages to support the Japanese war effort in the region involved the Indonesian language as the main instrument of  communication (Alisjahbana 1949: Anderson 1966).

Under the Japanese occupation, the Indonesian language developed across the archipelago which enhanced the people to learn and speak it in public sphere freely. In this respect, the Indonesian language reached it peak during the colonial time as the symbol of national identity and increased the common bond among the people. In this period, Japanese established join commission with both Japanese and Indonesian members in order to standardized Indonesian language, developed its lexicon, released a new grammar text, and registered new developed vocabularies. This commission had registered around 7000 new terms which had been adopted into Indonesian language. Thus, Japanese language policy had beenestablished the dramatic changed in modernization and standardization of language to function asthe official language in the government, law, all level of education and technology as well(Lowenberg 1985).

The Policy of National Language
After the independence and the surrender of Japanese, Indonesian government had been established the status of Indonesian language as solely official language in a new nation. On the other hand, its status will not threaten the existence of vernacular languages which had beenprotected by the constitution. In addition, vernacular languages have been contributed to the development of Indonesian language. Thus, mutual-enrichment processes took place between vernacular languages and national language supported by fact that most the nationalist writers and poets came from the particular region in Sumatra such as Riau and Minangkabau. In the aftermath, other vernacular languages such Sundanese, Javanese, and the dialect of Jakarta havesignificant influence in the development of Indonesian language (Anderson 1966; Paauw 2009).

After independence, Indonesian language mostly has dual function in society both as thenational identity which constituted Indonesia as a new nation and also as the official language ineducational institution in all level, literacy, modernization, and social mobility. In the 1948,Indonesian government had established Balai Bahasa (Language Center) in order to develop the national language and vernacular languages throughout the nation. Then, later, it had beenchanged and well known as the Lembaga Bahasa dan Budaya (Institute of Language and Culture)in 1952. Under Sultan Takdir Alisjahbana, the Komisi Istilah (Committee on Terminology) of the institute documented 321, 710 new terms which had been adopted officially into Indonesianlanguages (Djardjowijojo 1998; Paauw 2009).

The numbers of people who speak bahasa increased rapidly along with its widespread asthe official language across the nation. The census data showed it has been increased rapidly particularly after the independence. The data showed that in the 1971 census, around 40 million Indonesians, or estimated 40% of population had reported could practice Indonesian language. Adecade later, it increased over around 90 million people or estimated 60% of the population. Thesuccessful of Indonesian language as the official language mostly credited to the role of Indonesian language in the educational institution, particularly when Indonesian language became compulsory language in all primary schools in the country (Lowenberg 1985;Djardjowijojo 1998; Paauw 2009).

In contrast, the role of highest education particularly university level remains lower compare to the role of primary and secondary school in developing Indonesian language aslingua franca in academic world. This weakness primarily rooted in the fact that almost the textsused in the university level remain in the foreign languages especially English language. The lack of academic references in Indonesian language could deteriorate the quality of research andacademic life in Indonesia which also handicap for the progress of Indonesian people in facingthe modern world (Montalu & Suryadinata 2007; Paauw 2009).

In addition, lack of academic material reading in bahasa will influence the future development of Indonesian language. After independence, the lexicon of intellectual life inIndonesia remains foreign languages. The availability of reading materials in Indonesian language perceived as the necessary requirement in developing the intellectual life of modern Indonesia. In this respect, Alisjahbana supported the effort of translation academic reading materials into Indonesian as the way in fulfilling, “its functions as the unifying and official language, it is essential that great many important books be translated into Indonesian” (Alisjahbana 1949: 392). On the other hand, this process must be supported by the increasing consciousness of Indonesian people to learn how to express and think fluently in their national language so that the development of Indonesian intellectual life relied on their own language rather than foreign language as it happen in the present day Indonesian universities (Alisjahbana 1949).

Moreover, urbanization is the second factor in the increasing use of Indonesian language. The economic development brought about the migration of millions people from villages to many cities. The number of inhabitants in the big cities grew rapidly which consist of different cultural backgrounds. Inevitably, it has great impact in the increasing proficiency of Indonesian language as it is the means of inter-ethnic communication in new neighborhood, at work and in the market place. The third factor that contributed to the proficiency of Indonesian language is media; broadcast, television, and printed media. Most national radio, national televisions and national newspapers are using national language in transmitting the information throughout the country. The booming of visual media particularly television which most of people across country can access the program on national television contributed to the increasedproficiency of Indonesian language even in the remotest backwaters villages in outer island of Java (Lowenberg 1985; Paauw 2009).

However, Indonesia faced the pressure from the English. The rise of new middle classin many big cities as the impact of economic development under New Order state (1968-1998) also empowered them to access the outside world through globalization. One of main problem inthe face of global pressure which affected the development of Indonesian language is the lack of  vocabulary. Inevitably, this handicap caused by, “..fact that the Indonesian language is an extension or adaptation of Malay language inasmuch as it has been modified regional languagesand dialect as well as by modern foreign languages” (Alisjahbana 1949: 340).

Indonesian language suffered from the lack of vocabulary particularly in adapting new technical terms along with the consumption of modern technology such as multimedia. In thisrespect, Indonesian now has many foreign words which borrowed and adapted from English such as komputer, handpone, telepon, listrik, indeks, which directly adapted from English language. Inaddition, government released the policy in the 1990s that allowed the teaching bilingual language in the private schools. This policy created the new educated class which haveproficiency in English and have advantage in the market (Djardjowijojo 1998; Paauw 2009). Pusat Bahasa produced weekly television series lectures and courses in order toconsolidate the status of Indonesian as the national language. It also provides information through online service to the people and supported the research on both Indonesian and regionallanguages. Moreover, Pusat Bahasa also have been established close cooperation with international agencies such as Ford Foundation, Multinational companies, The National LawCouncil, and Language Development Project in promoting the status of Indonesian as thenational language. It also involved the regional cooperation with Malaysia, and Brunei Darussalam, “where members of joint committee meet regularly to discuss language matters of common interest”. (Djardjowijojo 1998: 43; Montalu & Suryadinata 2007).

The development of Indonesian language which began from early twentieth centuryexpressed the aspiration of nationalist movement and their struggle in achieving the freedom andequality against the colonial rule. In addition, the basic idea of Indonesian nationalism has its root in the „core culture‟ model which transgresses the boundaries of ethnicities within new independent nation. The „Malayness‟ was salient core culture as well as the source of Indonesian modern identity. Thus, the nationalist movement also articulated the struggle of culture to create new national symbol, myth, and identity in particular the invention of „lingua franca‟ which unite varieties of ethnicities and driving force in articulating the ideas of nationalism.

The Dutch policy on language which limited the proficiency of Dutch language in verysmall group of Indonesian elites during the colonial rule has contributed to the flourishing Indonesian language as the national language as well as the language of literature. Moreover, Dutch also established the commission that results in the modernization and standardization of Malay as official language in educational institution which provided for the indigenous people.After independence, the widespread acceptance of Indonesian language as national language supported by national policy that „bahasa‟ is the official language in the educational institution, government, law, economics, culture and politics. Moreover, promotion of Indonesian language mostly credited to the role of „bahasa‟ in education system, printed media, broadcast, televisions and urbanization. However, the main handicap of Indonesian language islack of vocabulary as it is intermixture of Malay, vernacular languages, and foreign languages.The pressure of foreign language particularly the global English confirmed the argument that Indonesian language need an adjustment and adapting the new term along with the coming industrial technology and revolution of multimedia. This adjustment will enrich the development of Indonesian language as a proper medium expression of modern life.

Alisjahbana, Takdir, „The Indonesian Language-By-Product of Nationalism‟, Journal of Pacific Affair, 22, 4, 1949. pp. 388-392

Anderson, Ben, „The Language of Indonesian Politics‟, Journal of Indonesia,  1 ,  1966. pp. 89 -116

Dardjowijojo, Soenjono, „Strategies for a Successful National language Policy: the Indonesian Case‟, International Journal of the Sociology of language, 130, 1998, pp. 35-47.

Emerson, Rupert, „Nationalism and Political Development‟, Journal of Politics, 22, 1 February1960. pp. 3-28.

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