Wed, 12 Sep 2001

'Indonesian' style in English usage

It is interesting to note that the letters column of The Jakarta Post of Sept. 7, 2001 carried opinions from two readers commenting, respectively, on Indian English and Australian English. If the name of the country relative to the English language can identify the distinctive nomenclature corresponding to the particular native style of the English used, as in the above two examples, then, by the same token, mention of "Indonesian" English may be in order.

Although I admit that objections will arise should I venture to use the term "Indonesian" English, nevertheless from my observation of the particular trend of usage, as I will explain later, I am inclined to dub it as "Indonesian" English by way of local or native style of English.

Michael Swan in his book Practical English usage of ELBS (English Language Book Society, Oxford) publications remarked that Arab or Chinese students may find it difficult to use English conjunctions correctly. Among the typical mistakes cited, he gave as an example the expression, "As you know that I work very hard". In such construction, it is wrong to use the relative pronoun "that".

But the use of "that" after the conjunction "as" is very commonly used by Indonesians, its counterpart in Indonesian being the expression, "Seperti ... bahwa".

Also, the use of "conducive" has commonly started to emerge in its independent or detached form in the Indonesian usage. So it is common for Indonesians to say, "The situation is not conducive." The use of "conducive" should be attached to the preposition "to", so that the correct use should read, "conducive to", as for instance, "Fresh air is conducive to health".

Further, in my observations I found another feature of "Indonesian" English, in the way the conjunction "whereas" is used to correspond to the Indonesian bahwa, commonly used by lawyers in opening their written pleadings and court submissions.

In an official notice published by a law office in a newspaper, it was found that the recitals represented statements of facts being expounded in a set of paragraphs, each of which began with the conjunction, "whereas".

When "whereas" is used in the context of a preamble, the original form in its proper usage should be followed by provisions of the operative part.

So it is the function of the operative part, preceded by the concluding phrase "Now, therefore,...", to expound the ending conclusions.

But in "Indonesian" English, as typified by the published notice issued by the law firm, the use of the conjunction "whereas" was irrelevant to both a preamble and an operative part of the legal announcement. So "whereas" here was just a translation of the Indonesian conjunction Bahwa, commonly used by lawyers in phrases when opening their written pleadings, submitted to the court.

As for the pertinent requirements needed to qualify for the native style of English, if so recognized at all in the cited circumstances, it is not so much the typical accent characterizing the speaking of English that matters. It is rather the typical use of native expressions derived or originating from the native language and then conveyed or transmitted in English, as I cited in the above examples, that will account for the typology of the so-termed native style of English.

Although people will object to the idea, the very facts of the typical "Indonesian styles" of English nonetheless are there in usage.