Mon, 23 Oct 2000

Sundanese speakers choose 'bahasa' over native tongue

By Matdon

BANDUNG (JP): The Sundanese language is becoming endangered as more Sundanese are no longer proud to speak their native tongue.

Sundanese, second only to Javanese in terms of the number of speakers, is losing popularity to the official language, Bahasa Indonesia, which is spoken more by younger Sundanese as the main language in everyday communication.

The alarm was sounded by prominent Sundanese figures who are worried that the local dialect could eventually become extinct.

On one occasion, Aboeng Kusman, a Sundanese elder and former governor of West Java, said, "The Sundanese have been carried away by deungeun (foreign) culture, and Sundanese people feel shy to speak it. Today, many parents feel too shy to teach Sundanese to their children. They speak Sundanese in their daily lives only on a few occasions as most of the time they speak Indonesian in a Sundanese accent. This is both ridiculous and embarrassing."

He said the influence of information dissemination and the media, all exposing foreign culture, "forced" the indigenous Sundanese to speak Indonesian with a Sundanese accent.

It could well be that the worry for this prominent figure of Paguyuban Pasundan (the Sundanese association) has been a long drawn-out phenomenon as, apart from leaving behind the Sundanese language, young people in West Java have also begun to abandon the Sundanese standard of politeness.

Yus Rusyana, professor of Sundanese at the Indonesian Education University (UPI) Bandung, Rd. Hidayat Suryalaga, chairman of the Atikan Sunda Foundation, Iman Sudirman, rector of Pasundan University, Rd. Ading Afandi and other prominent Sundanese figures have all expressed worry over the developments concerning the survival of Sundanese.

Prominent Sundanese figures have tried hard to rekindle passion for the Sundanese language. In 1999, for example, a seminar on "The Future of Sundanese and its Challenges" was held in Lembang.

Last June, a Sundanese workshop was held in Garut in conjunction with the anniversary of Paguyuban Pasundan. The most recent was a discussion on the Sundanese identity, held by the Art Window Foundation in September and also participated in by ethnic Chinese born in Bandung with a great interest in Sundanese.

All these efforts have been but a momentary "injection" of enthusiasm, which has only fleetingly removed the concern, only to remain as mere attempts as the Sundanese language does not budge from its lower rank.

The Bandung Arts Center once introduced a number of Sundanese art attractions to motivate elementary school pupils to speak Sundanese. These pupils were required to see these attractions twice a month. Unfortunately, the program lasted only two months and since then it has not been heard of again.

Look to Javanese

Hidayat Suryalaga has felt envious of Javanese and Batak people and also locals from other regions across Indonesia because while they speak the national language, they have not forgotten their native tongue. They speak among themselves in their language of Javanese, Batak or another regional dialect.

All prominent Sundanese figures concerned over the fate of their language agreed that the main culprit was "cultural contamination" and that parents, unprepared to face this situation, did not realize the importance of a regional language as part of Indonesia's wealth.

Yus Rusyana said, "As a matter of fact, a Sundanese can only speak Indonesian well and correctly if they have been accustomed to speaking in their native tongue early in life. This also applies to other regional languages: Javanese, Batak, etc. This is not a mere theory but the result of my own research."

Presently, the Sundanese language is not taught adequately at school. What is sadder to learn is the fact that many teachers of Sundanese cannot speak the language properly. Understandably, their pupils find it difficult to speak Sundanese properly.