Indonesian language fears as English continues to spread

Related to a recent post about the Chinese government’s somewhat unpopular phasing out of local Cantonese dialects to be replaced by Mandarin, recently the older Indonesian generations have voiced their concerns that the native Indonesian tongue – Bahasa Indonesia – is being sidelined by youths in favor of a more fluent grasp of English.

As the world’s unofficial lingua franca (and certainly the international language of business), English has permeated into countless cultures worldwide, but it is the prospering Indonesian middle and upper classes who are responsible for the sharp increase in English fluency over Bahasa Indonesia. As families make more money, they are able to forego state-funded education and send their children to the growing number of Indonesian private schools, where a greater focus is given to the English language, and Bahasa Indonesia is often overlooked.

English fluency has, in fact, become somewhat tied to wealth – it has been reported that many people even take a certain amount of pride in having only a basic grasp of the local Indonesian tongue, as their command of English is seen as something of a linguistic badge of a private education. This has given rise to a certain level of bitterness – last year’s Miss Indonesia, born to an Indonesian mother and an American father, was widely criticized (along with the judges who granted her the title) for her scant knowledge of the Indonesian language and preference for speaking in English.

Older generations fear that English overtaking native Indonesian could be potentially ruinous not only for Indonesian tradition, but even cause a divide amongst the people, slowly corroding Indonesia’s national identity.

This goes to highlight just how important language can be to a nation’s culture. Is Indonesian on the way out? Probably not. But it certainly seems that the spread of English around the world has great repercussions than you would think.