Protecting Heritage Languages amid Globalisation in Indonesia (Part 1)

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Written by Linda Koswara, interfaith activist

Indonesia is a large country with hundreds of heritage languages. According to a research that is conducted by The Language and Book Development Agency, Ministry of Education and Culture in Indonesia from 1991 to 2019, languages (not including dialects and sub-dialects) in the country have been identified and validated by 718 languages from 2,560 observation areas. Suwarno (2017) quoted Valdez (2005) define the meaning of heritage languages.

It is stated that “heritage language [is] non-societal and non-majority languages that are spoken by groups that constitute linguistic minorities”. Suwarno later gives an example in Indonesia context that Javanese language is the largest heritage language in the country with 84.368.500 speakers, quoting Ethnologue (2017).

Sindonews (2017) also quoted Ethnologue summarises ten most spoken heritage language in Indonesia; the first is Javanese language, followed by Sundanese language (34.000.000 speakers), Madurese language (13.600.000 speakers), Minangkabaunese speakers (5.530.000 speakers), Musinese language (3.930.000 speakers), Buginese language (3.500.000 speakers), Banjarese language (3.500.000 speakers), Acehnese language (3.500.000 speakers), Balinese language (3.330.000 speakers), and Betawinese language (2.700.000 speakers).

Among these ten most spoken languages above and hundreds of another available heritage languages, there are only five languages that are included in Indonesian education curricula; Javanese, Sundanese, Balinese, Bataknese, and Buginese. Even one of the five is not included in the ten most spoken heritage languages. And from these five languages, only the first three are available in textbooks (Zein, 2018). The number is minimal if compared to the total number of heritage languages in the country.

Looking at this condition, it is possible that fewer people would have the will to learn the languages in the next few years, even the most spoken one. It can be predicted that in the era of globalisation, foreign languages, such as English, are more desirable to be learnt as that could facilitate people to have access to the world and to communicate internationally.

It is widely recognised that people use English as a medium in international communication. It is a language that could accelerate knowledge exchange, business transaction, political dialogue, and many other advantages.

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The demand to use English is getting higher as Indonesia often involved in many international affairs and memberships, such as ASEAN, G20, APEC, and bilateral relations with countries across the world. It also becomes more favourable for a person nowadays to master English as it is socially believed that English could lead one to have a better life; in terms of education, job, income, and opportunity. The private education sphere is also more enthusiast to conduct the learning in English language as the public demands for it (Zein, 2018).

As mastering English language is increasingly desired due to the impact of globalisation, the heritage languages are arguably seen the other way around. Learning the languages is not have a good impact on having a better life. Darmayanti et al. (2018) argue that globalisation and the development in science and technology are slowly eroding the mindset of people.

They only choose to learn languages that are considered to provide economics benefit for them. Based on her argumentation and the language choice trend nowadays, could that mean heritage languages symbolised a decline in civilisation instead of modernisation?

Language is always connected to identity, either personal or social. Edwards (2009: 19) refer personal identity to traits, characteristics, and dispositions of an individual self. While social identity is a connection between self and a group that is brought through history and tradition.

To link both self and group identification, he argues that both personal and social identity are entwined together as the way we identify ourselves are obtained from how we socialise with our groups where we belong. He quoted Joseph (2004: 13) about language-identity relationship that both terminologies are ‘ultimately inseparable’.

“It may be that no strongly logical dividing line can be drawn between the individual and the social, but the most cursory attention reveals that the course of human history, and its implications for every individual, is by and large fuelled by perceptions of groups,” he states.

Later he gives an example of this connection; every individual uses the same accent, dialect, variations that define their memberships in a community, classes, ethnic, and national groups. In the long run, all of these will be expanded to shared jargons, registers and styles, and even shared occupation, political and religious view.

From this, it is brought to the idea of globalisation and the English language trend in Indonesia. If the impacts of this globalisation make one individual has to share the same identity with the global community, then what is the point of having Indonesian identity?

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