Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Bahasa Rojak & Gado-Gado

Bahasa Rojak & Gado-Gado

The Malaysian Arts Culture and Heritage Minister, Datuk Dr Rais Yatim is worried that we are polluting the national language by our habit of using "sekerat belut, sekerat ular"--mixing Malay and English--in our daily usage. This bahasa rojak thing has been a hot issue recently with the banning of songs like Seksis and Diva by Anita Sarawak from our national airwaves.

I am certainly guilty of using bahasa rojak myself. It is a common Malaysian habit and I think some of our cabinet ministers are the biggest culprits. For as far as I can remember, we've always used the word "belanjawan" for budget, why in the world would we want to use the extremely ugly and unintuitive "bajet"?

To be fair, Dr M did give a reason for switching from "belanjawan" to "bajet" in his 2003 Budget speech. But I suspect that there is a fear that the word "belanjawan" might bring connotations of "over-spending" or a "spending spree". Indeed the word "belanja" is used in Indonesia to mean "shopping". If you want to give your Indonesian friends a treat, they'll be quite confused if you say "belanja makan". "Traktir" is the word for it.

One can say that this mixing of languages is inevitable in this age of globalization. In Indonesia, it is common to find books with English titles and Bahasa Indonesia contents. The runaway bestseller here last year, "Jakarta Undercover"--an expose on the sex industry in Jakarta--despite its inviting English title, is completely in Bahasa. On the local channel Metro TV, the primetime news-slot is called "Headline News" but if you're expecting to at least see the headlines flashed in English, you'll be quite disappointed.

Perhaps many consider it hip to sprinkle a few words of English here and there. "Busway" is definitely more catchy than "Jalur Bis". Go to any Indonesian foodstall, the menu will most likely contain items such as "nasi goreng spesial" (with extras such as fried egg and friend chicken) and "nasi goreng komplit" ("complete" with everything thrown in -- fried chicken, satay,slices of bakso (meat balls) buried under a mountain of krupuk crackers).

We Malaysians would cringe if someone uses "pasar" words like "gua" and "lu". In Jakarta it is considered casual and even cool to use them (usually pronounced and spelt "gue" and "lho"). The Chinese influence in the Betawi dialect is especially strong. Not many locals who eat bakso (sometimes spelt baso) realise that it is Hokkien for meatballs. You will also frequently hear people say "gopek" for 500 (or 500K) rupiah. Well, if ours have become a rojak language, theirs, with their Dutch, Chinese and Javanese influences have certainly become gado-gado.

What is more worrying to me is the growing divergence between the flavours of Bahasa Melayu spoken in Malaysia and Indonesia, and to a lesser extent Singapore and Brunei. Only yesterday I was reading a Bernama report about UKM don Dr Ding Choo Ming lamenting the fact that Indonesian students coming to study in UKM are forced to take courses in Bahasa Malaysia!

Since the Anwar incident, every Malaysian knows the word "liwat". Go to any Javanese restaurant, you'll see "nasi liwet"--a specialty of Solo--on most menus. I don't blame a Malaysian if he thinks "nasi liwet" goes together with "sop buntut" (thank God we call it "sup ekor" in Malaysia).

I studied at a local university at a time when they were trying to push Bahasa Malaysia as the main medium for education. In exams, we were often forced to answer "at least two questions in Bahasa Malaysia". So I ended up learning strange words like "perisian" for software and "tetikus" for mouse. In Indonesia, the word for software is "perangkat lunak". If you read computer section of Berita Harian in Singapore, they have a preference for the word "sofwe". I think the top prize goes to the word our lecturer used for "debugging"--NYAHPEPIJAT.

I suppose the emergence local variants and dialects is a natural development for any language; but If Malay is to be championed by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka as one of the official languages in United Nations by 2020, then we'd better start doing something to prevent this lingua franca of the Nusantara from splintering. Actually I'm not sure if this is even possible.

I won't be surprised if one day the Indonesian language would sound no different from Tagalog to Malaysian ears--one could still trace a smattering of similiarities but on the whole, quite imcomprehensible. That will be sad indeed.

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