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The standardisation of the Indonesian language and its consequences for Islamic communities

  • Kevin W. Fogg

In the 1940s and 1950s, several organs of the newly independent Indonesian state oversaw the standardisation of the Indonesian national language. In this process, Western-oriented bureaucrats pushed the language towards European normativity, significantly decreasing the influence of Arabic. While this reform carried symbolic meaning, the practical ramifications on Indonesian orthography, spelling, and word selection also carried real, non-symbolic effects on the accessibility of this language to Indonesian Islamic leaders. Standardising orthography to use the Roman alphabet rendered many Muslims illiterate in a language they had been using for decades. Choices in word selection and spelling limited the Islamic meanings that the new language could carry, thus impacting how Muslims could use the national language for religious and other purposes. Indonesian linguistic reform carried serious social and political consequences in addition to the symbolic meanings often studied.

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1 Smith-Hefner, Nancy J., ‘A social history of language change in highland East Java’, Journal of Asian Studies 48, 2 (1989): 257–71; Steedly, Mary Margaret, ‘The importance of proper names: Language and “national” identity in colonial Karoland’, American Ethnologist 23, 3 (1993): 447–75.

2 Errington, J. Joseph, ‘Continuity and change in Indonesian language development’, Journal of Asian Studies 45, 2 (1986): 329–53; Landau, Jacob M., ‘The First Turkish Language Congress’, in The earliest stage of language planning: The ‘First Congress’ phenomenon, ed. Fishman, Joshua A. (New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 1993), pp. 271–92; Gottlieb, Nanette, ‘Language and politics: The reversal of postwar script reform policy in Japan’, Journal of Asian Studies 53, 4 (1994): 1175–98; Thomas, Megan C., ‘K is for De-Kolonization: Anti-colonial nationalism and orthographic reform’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 49, 4 (2007): 938–67; Anderson, Benedict R. O'G., ‘The languages of Indonesian politics’, in Language and power: Exploring political cultures in Indonesia (Jakarta: Equinox, 2009), pp. 123–51. The exception to this general trend may be the literature on Chinese languages, which takes into consideration very real implications for education and expanding literacy. See, for example, Zhou, Minglang, ed., Language policy in the People's Republic of China: Theory and practice since 1949 (Boston: Kluwer Academic, 2004).

3 Moeliono, Anton M., ‘The first efforts to promote and develop Indonesian’, in The earliest stage of language planning, pp. 129–42. Indonesia does have a strong plurality ethnicity in the Javanese; for thoughts on why Javanese was not adopted as a national language, see Anderson, Benedict R. O'G., ‘Sembah-sumpah: The politics of language and Javanese culture’, in Language and power, pp. 194237.

4 Suryadinata, Leo, ed., Sastra Peranakan Tionghoa Indonesia (Jakarta: Gramedia Widiasarana Indonesia, 1996); Harper, Martin, One nation, one people, one language: The story of Indonesia and Bahasa Indonesia (Macerata: Edizioni Università di Macerata, 2013), pp. 186ff. I am thankful to Jérôme Samuel for this insight.

5 Contrast the case of China: Kipnis, Andrew, ‘Constructing commonality: Standardization and modernization in Chinese nation-building’, Journal of Asian Studies 71, 3 (2012): 731–55.

6 Foulcher, Keith, ‘Sumpah Pemuda: The making and meaning of a symbol of Indonesian nationhood’, Asian Studies Review 24, 3 (2000): 377410, very ably unpacks how the Sumpah Pemuda (Youth Pledge) of 1928, especially its language component, came to be constructed as a national moment later, rather than being a language watershed at the time.

7 Laffan, Michael Francis, Islamic nationhood and colonial Indonesia: The Umma below the winds (New York: Routledge, 2003), p. 236.

8 Redaksi Pembina Bahasa Indonesia, ‘Kata pengantar’, Pembina Bahasa Indonesia 1, 1 (1948): 1.

9 Redaksi Pembina Bahasa Indonesia, ‘Masuk tahun 1951’, Pembina Bahasa Indonesia 3, 7 (1951): 194.

10 Redaksi Pembina Bahasa Indonesia, ‘Soal menjempurnakan Bahasa Indonesia’, Pembina Bahasa Indonesia 2, 7 (1950): 196.

11 Laffan, Islamic nationhood, p. 13. In common usage, many Indonesians today also use the term huruf arab melayu (Malay Arabic letters) for Indonesian written in the Arabic script.

12 Hijjas, Mulaika, ‘Not just fryers of bananas and sweet potatoes: Literate and literary women in the nineteenth-century Malay world’, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 41, 1 (2010): 153–72.

13 See their entries in Klinkert, H.C., Nieuw Maleisch–Nederlandsch woordenboek met Arabisch karakter, 2nd ed. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1902), p. 197.

14 Jeffrey Hadler, ‘Anti-Semitism, syncretism, and the definition of “Indonesia”’, paper presented at the Yale Indonesia Forum spring workshop ‘Inter-religious relations in Indonesia’, 4 April 2009.

15 Mohamad Roem, oral history with A. Rahman Zainuddin, Arsip Nasional Republik Indonesia, Collection SL1 1981, #6.

16 Hamka, Kenang-kenanganku di Malaya (Singapore: Setia Darma, 1957); Jamiluddin Azhar, interview with the author, 27 July 2010, Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara.

17 Za'im Rais, ‘The Minangkabau traditionalists' response to the modernist movement’ (M.A. thesis, McGill University, 1994), p. 39.

18 Hamka, ‘Pengaruh huruf atas bahasa dan bangsa’, Hikmah, 107, 16 Feb. 1952, pp. 18–20.

19 Hadler, Jeffrey, Muslims and matriarchs: Cultural resilience in Indonesia through jihad and colonialism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008), p. 70 n. 30; p. 90.

20 H. Sjarifuddin, interview with the author, 21 Sept. 2010, Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan; Muhammad Ideham Suriansyah, interview with the author, 20 Sept. 2010, Banjarmasin.

21 Federspiel, Howard M., Islam and ideology in the emerging Indonesian state: The Persatuan Islam (PERSIS), 1923 to 1957 (Leiden: Brill, 2001), p. 69.

22 Personal communication, Jérôme Samuel, 10 Jan. 2014.

23 Kratz, E.U., ‘Running a lending library in Palembang in 1886 AD’, Indonesia Circle: School of Oriental & African Studies Newsletter 5, 14 (1977): 312.

24 Feener, R. Michael, ‘Muslim legal thought in modern Indonesia: Introduction and overview’, in Islamic law in contemporary Indonesia: Ideas and institutions, ed. Feener, R. Michael and Cammack, Mark E. (Cambridge, MA: Islamic Legal Studies Program, Harvard Law School, 2007), p. 15.

25 Kevin William Fogg, ‘The fate of Muslim nationalism in independent Indonesia’ (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 2012), p. 253ff.

26 Steenbrink, Karel A., Pesantren, madrasah, sekolah: Pendidikan Islam dalam kurun moderen (Jakarta: LP3ES, 1986), pp. 7071.

27 Burhanuddin Harahap, oral history with J.R. Caniago, Arsip Nasional Republik Indonesia, Collection SL1 1980, #1. The account by Harahap contradicts the statement by Ethan Mark that ‘While no Java-wide order to the effect appears to have been issued, use of Dutch and English languages were strongly discouraged.’ Ethan Mark, ‘Appealing to Asia: Nation, culture, and the problem of imperial modernity in Japanese-occupied Java, 1942–1945’ (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 2003), p. 251. Both agree that Indonesian took a place of pride as an ‘official’ language, alongside Japanese.

28 Benda, Harry J., The crescent and the rising sun: Indonesian Islam under the Japanese occupation, 1942–1945 (The Hague: W. van Hoeve, 1958), p. 161.

29 Fogg, ‘Fate of Muslim nationalism’, pp. 161–2.

30 Mulder, J.A., Het Indonesisch–Arabische schrift (Groningen/Batavia: J.B. Wolters' Uitgeversmaatschappij, 1949); Usman, Z., Kitab lembaga untuk beladjar huruf Arab Melaju (Batavia: J.B. Wolters, 1950).

31 Poerbatjaraka, R.M. Ng., ‘Tentang edjaan Bahasa Indonesia’, Bahasa dan Budaja 2, 1 (1953): 1823.

32 Banknotes and coins from Indonesia, 1945–1990 (Jakarta: Yayasan Serangan Umum 1 Maret 1949 & Perum Peruri, 1991).

33 Lewis, Geoffrey, The Turkish language reform: A catastrophic success (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

34 See further Zhou, Qingsheng, ‘The creation of writing systems and nation establishment: The case of China in the 1950s’, in Language policy, ed. Zhou, Minglang, pp. 5570; Gottlieb, ‘Language and politics’.

35 See further Errington, ‘Continuity and change’; Smith-Hefner, ‘Social history of language change’.

36 Muhammad Iqbal, ‘Menyulut api di Padang Ilalang: Pidato politik Soekarno di Amuntai 27 January 1953’ (Skripsi S1, Universitas Negeri-Yogyakarta, 2009), p. 23.

37 Hamka, Rusydi, Pribadi dan martabat Buya Hamka (Jakarta: Pustaka Panjimas, 1981), pp. 207–10.

38 Masnun, , Tuan Guru KH Muhammad Zainuddin Abdul Madjid: Gagasan dan gerakan pembaharuan Islam di Nusa Tenggara Barat (Jakarta: Pustaka al-Miqdad, 2007); Abdul Hayyi Nu'man, interview with the author, 23 July 2010, Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara.

39 Interviews with Saggaf Aljufrie and Abdul Salam Thahir, 11 Oct. 2010, Palu, Central Sulawesi.

40 Bosra, Mustari, Tuang guru, anrong guru dan daeng guru: Gerakan Islam di Sulawesi Selatan 1914–1942 (Makassar: La Galigo Press, 2008), pp. 164–5.

41 The forwarding letter from the governor's office makes it clear that the letter was disregarded by the governor, and that the local Ministry of Religious Affairs office should deal with any necessary follow-up. Arsip Provinsi Sulawesi Selatan, Collection 11 — Kantor Wilayah Kementerian Agama, #184.

42 The most famous study on this topic is Burhan Djabier Magenda, ‘The surviving aristocracy in Indonesia: Politics in three provinces of the Outer Islands’ (Ph.D. diss., Cornell University, 1989).

43 Stephen Titus Hosmer, ‘The 1955 Indonesian general elections in Java’ (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1961), p. 10.

44 Feith, Herbert, The decline of constitutional democracy in Indonesia (Jakarta: Equinox Publishing, 2007), p. 567.

45 Hamka, ‘Pengaruh huruf’, p. 18.

46 Laffan, Islamic nationhood, p. 257.

47 Maksum, M. Nur et al. , Musyawaratuththalibin: Historis, perjuangan dan pergulatan pemikiran (Banjarmasin: Antasari Press, 2007), p. 38.

48 Koto, Alaiddin, Pemikiran politik PERTI, Persatuan Tarbiyah Islamiyah (1945–1970) (Jakarta: Nimas Multima, 1997), p. 46 n. 50.

49 Hosmer, ‘General elections’, p. 31.

50 Alisjahbana, Sutan Takdir, ‘Pendahoeloean’, in Kamoes istilah, vol. I, Asing–Indonesia (Jakarta: Poestaka Rakjat, 1945), p. 4.

51 Alisjahbana, Sutan Takdir, ‘Pendahuluan’, in Kamoes istilah, vol. II, Indonesia–Asing (Jakarta: Poestaka Rakjat, 1947).

52 Redaksi Pembina Bahasa Indonesia, ‘Soal menjempurnakan Bahasa Indonesia’, Pembina Bahasa Indonesia 2, 7 (1950): 196.

53 Prijana, , ‘Kata Pengantar’, Bahasa dan Budaja 1, 1 (1952): 3.

54 Boyd R. Compton, ‘Indonesia's national language’, letter from the archives of the Institute on Current World Affairs, 18 Oct. 1952, p. 3; (last accessed 18 Nov. 2014).

55 Ibid.

56 Ibid.

57 Anderson, ‘Languages of Indonesian politics’, pp. 145–6.

58 Hamka, ‘Pengaruh huruf’, p. 18.

59 Prijana, , ‘Beberapa tjatatan berhubung dengan edjaan Bahasa Indonesia’, Bahasa dan Budaja 2, 1 (1953): 54–5.

60 Ma'ruf, Anas, ‘Sekadar pandangan sekitar persoalan edjaan Bahasa Indonesia’, Bahasa dan Budaja 2, 1 (1953): 16; Purnomo, Abd. C., ‘Masalah edjaan Bahasa Indonesia’, Bahasa dan Budaja 2, 5 (1954): 41.

61 Redaksi Pembina Bahasa Indonesia, ‘Komisi Bahasa dan Komisi Istilah’, Pembina Bahasa Indonesia 3, 6 (1950): 67.

62 Junus, Umar, Sedjarah dan perkembangan kearah Bahasa Indonesia dan Bahasa Indonesia (Malang: Lembaga Penerbitan IKIP Malang, 1965), p. 6. This publication is based on lectures Junus gave starting in 1959, in which Junus singles out Arabic as a point of ridicule, not just Dutch. His conflation of Arabic and Dutch as foreign influences is not well explained in this book. All the same, this attitude can be taken as characteristic of ultra-nationalist politics of the late 1950s.

63 Pane, Armijn, ‘Hubungan bahasa dan berpikir’, in Perkembangan Bahasa Indonesia: Beberapa tjatatan (Jakarta: Lukisan Suasana, 1953), p. 31.

64 It restarted to some extent from the 1980s, however, and has again been in full swing in places like Aceh since the province achieved Special Territory status. I thank Jérôme Samuel for this insight and an anonymous reviewer for developing it.

65 Lubis, M. Arsjad Th., Toentoenan perang sabil ([Medan]: Aboe Hanifah dan Ibnoe Moehammad, 1946), p. 4.

66 Kongres Bahasa Indonesia di Medan ([Jakarta]: Kementerian Penerangan, Bagian Dokumentasi, 1954), p. 40.

67 Koto, Pemikiran politik PERTI, p. 196.

68 Others include غ ظ ط ض ص ش ذ ح ث. Notably, jawi also added a few letters to the common Arabic script to transcribe common sounds in Indonesian languages, such as for /p/, for /ŋ/ (‘ng' in English), for /ɳ/ (‘ny’ in English), چ for /tʃ/ (‘ch’ in English) and for /g/.

69 In jawi, the transcription was also various. These words could be written with a final hamza (common especially if the word was an Arabic loanword originally employing a hamza, but also as with or bapa' for father), with a final ‘qaf’ (ق) to symbolise the glottal stop (thus, or bapaq for father) or without any final letter after the vowel (thus, or bapa for father). All three appear in Klinkert, Nieuw Maleisch–Nederlandsch woordenboek, p. 111, although a final ‘k’ (ك) does not. When an Arabic loanword included a glottal stop, only the spelling with ء was common. The romanised spelling with ‘k’ at the end was not new in the 1950s, but ‘k’ as the only acceptable alternative was new.

70 Naskah/Madjalah, Bagian, Pendidikan, Kementerian, Pengajaran, , dan Kebudajaan, , ‘Pendapat tentang “Edjaan Bahasa Indonesia”’, Bahasa dan Budaya 2, 1 (1953): 33.

71 Vikør, Lars, Perfecting spelling: Spelling discussions and reforms in Indonesia and Malaysia, 1900–1972 (Providence, RI: Foris, 1988), p. 66.

72 Satjadibrata, R., ‘Edjaan Bahasa Indonesia dengan huruf Latin’, Bahasa dan Budaja 2, 1 (1953): 810. Although an apostrophe was still commonly used in the word sja'ir in the 1950s, after the 1972 standardisation of Indonesian spelling, the apostrophe was dropped once and for all, and readers were expected to know that the vowels did not collapse into a diphthong.

73 There are six variants of this word still in Stevens, Alan M. and Smidgall-Tellings, A. Ed., A comprehensive Indonesian–English dictionary (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2004), p. 429: jumaah, jumaat, jumahah, jumahat, jumat and jum'at.

74 On this point, I thank Jérôme Samuel for his cautions, and many Indonesians from across the archipelago for reading these words aloud for me, often repeatedly.

75 For example, Klinkert, Nieuw Maleisch–Nederlandsch woordenboek.

76 Tupanno, A.W.J., ‘Surat’, Bahasa dan Budaya 2, 1 (1953): 1113.

77 Kongres Bahasa Indonesia, p. 16.

78 Thomas, ‘K is for De-Kolonization’.

79 Ghazali Hasan, ‘Sanggupkah Kongres Bahasa Indonesia?’, Tangkas, 27 Oct. 1954, reprinted in Kongres Bahasa Indonesia, p. 30.

80 Vikør, Perfecting spelling, p. 52.

81 Ibid., p. 56.

82 Noer, Deliar, Partai Islam di pentas nasional, 1945–1965 (Jakarta: Grafiti Pers, 1987), p. 83.

83 Ibid.

84 My thanks to James T. Collins for this insight.

85 Kipnis, ‘Constructing commonality’.

86 See further Errington, ‘Continuity and change’; Anderson, ‘Languages of Indonesian politics’.

The author would like to thank James T. Collins, Jérôme Samuel, and audiences at Cornell University and the School of Oriental and African Studies for their input on this paper. Of course, any remaining faults are entirely my own.

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