Sat, 11 Nov 2000

RI warned of losing local languages

JAKARTA (JP): Regional autonomy, which will take effect in January, should provide a base for efforts to foster the use of the country's surviving 706 local languages, a linguist said on Friday.

In his address to scholars and students attending his inauguration as a professor at Atma Jaya University, Bambang Kaswanti Purwo suggested that the country learn from the world, which has lost some 4,000 out of 7,000 languages in the past decade alone.

He said Indonesia was the world's second richest country for diverse tribal languages after Papua New Guinea, which has 867 local languages.

Some 10 languages vanished every year in the world during the 20th century, most of which were due to a dwindling number of speakers, he said.

"We'll be doomed if we let that happen in Indonesia. Bahasa Indonesia has been the dominant language which supports the government policy to establish uniformity, putting aside the role of local languages," Bambang said after his oration titled "The Rise of Diversity: The Linguistic World and Education".

Indonesian children with elementary and secondary education, who come from various islands and cultural backgrounds, must have the chance to learn their mother language, said Bambang, who is the sixth professor to be inaugurated at the university this year.

"Why? Because the local language, as well as the mother language, is an effective device to heal emotional and psychological wounds. It is commonly far more emotionally relieving to scold people in their mother language," he said.

Local and mother tongues also help people improve their sensitivity and humanism, he said.

"We might get mad and want to express our anger, but do it with language instead of violence."

People easily resort to violence because all this time they were unable to gain their pride, identity and solidarity, which can effectively be done through local languages, Bambang said.

He revealed data on how quickly a local language would perish.

"Lampung's local dialect has a total of 1.5 million speakers, but only people over 50 years of age use it. If we don't do something about that, the language may die in 75 to 100 years from now," he said.

In the wake of regional autonomy in the education field, the Ministry of National Education has opened the opportunity for local authorities to fill the local curriculum, he said.

"Decisionmakers at the regional level must take this opportunity. They could develop optional classes in local languages for pupils in elementary and secondary schools and in this way they can be proud to be Indonesian with its multicultural heritage.

"Again, we cannot force people to learn something they don't want to, since cross-ethnic marriage, migration and urbanization also contribute to each person's ability to speak language(s)," he said. (edt)