Indonesia Versus Malaysia, Contest for the Influence of the National Language

By: Fairul Zabadi

ENMITY two allied countries, Indonesia and Malaysia, seems to be never ending. This time we are faced with the struggle for territory regarding the use of the official language in Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

The Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dato Sri Ismail Sabri Yaacob, proposed that Malay be made the official language of ASEAN, in addition to English; while the Indonesian Minister of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology (Mendikbudristek); Nadiem Anwar Makarim; rejected the proposal and said it needed further study and discussion. In fact, in a press release No.178/Isipers/A6/IV/2022 the Minister of Education and Technology said that Indonesian as the official language of Asean was put forward.

Read also: Rejecting the proposal of Malay to become the official language of ASEAN, Nadiem: Indonesian is more appropriate

Linguistic situation in Asean

One of the elements of sociocultural and sociolinguistic integration in the Asean work context is the functioning of the Asean language as the official language of the organization. Although each country has an official language (Brunei Darussalam has an official language, Malay; the Philippines is Filipino and English; Indonesian is Indonesian; Cambodian is Khmer; Lao is Lao; Malaysia is Malay; Singaporean is Chinese Mandarin, Malay, Tamil, English; Thai, Thai; Vietnamese, Vietnamese; and Portuguese Timor Leste (Sugono, 2017)), Indonesian and Malay have a greater influence. Collins (2005) said that both languages ​​have the potential to become world languages.

Conducive linguistic conditions like Indonesia are very difficult to find in Asean. Singapore, which is inhabited by ethnic Chinese, Malays, Indians, and a group of foreign expatriates, cannot determine one language as a common communication vehicle, thus establishing English as the official language.

Likewise, the Philippines has experienced political tensions in determining its national language, although in the end chose English as the official language.

International language

Conceptually, international language means ‘all languages ​​that are created or proposed to be adopted as a vehicle for international communication that functions as a foreign language or a second language’. Based on the typological scale of political position and level of language development, international languages ​​have three indicators, namely (1) a long history of use in written variety, (2) its status as a national language or official language in several countries, and (3) its use as a means of business, education, science, and diplomacy as languages ​​in international communication (see Lewis and Simon, 2010; Cristal, 2003).

In the written variety, the use of English almost pervades all domains, including the realm of education through English-language books that are used as references in scientific articles. The status of English as the national language has also spread to other countries to become the main language, such as in Singapore, the Philippines, Scotland, Nigeria.

Also read: Indonesia and Malaysia Strive for Malay to Become the Official Language of ASEAN

The expansion of the status of the English language occurred because England had many colonies in the past and a strong influence in the present. Such indicators and situations are closely attached to English as an international language.

Can Indonesian become the official language of Asean?

The question that has been stuck in our minds for a long time requires a comprehensive and academic answer base. Historically, Indonesian was not only used in the archipelago, but also in Malay-speaking countries, such as Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei Darussalam.

Along with that, the increasing interest of foreigners in learning Indonesian for various purposes, such as politics, economy, trade, arts and culture, and tourism has resulted in an increase in the number of Indonesian speakers. Indonesian is declared as the language with the fifth largest speakers in the world (Muliastuti 2017). In fact, now the Indonesian language has spread to 47 countries and is taught at 428 Indonesian language institutions for foreign speakers, as stated by the Minister of Education and Technology in a press release.

The state’s support for the Indonesian language began with the Youth Pledge, October 28, 1928. The third pledge which reads “We sons and daughters of Indonesia uphold the language of the unity of the Indonesian language” proves that Indonesian is not only capable of uniting the nation, but also capable of becoming a democratic language that does not reflect the status and level of the nation. user social.

Then, in the 1945 Constitution it is stated that the position of Indonesian as a national language functions as (1) a symbol of national pride, (2) a symbol of national identity, (3) a unifying tool for various ethnic groups with different socio-cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and (4 ) means of intercultural and interregional communication.

Meanwhile, the state’s support for internationalizing the Indonesian language is evident in Law no. 24 of 2009, namely in Chapter III concerning State Languages ​​and Part Four concerning Improving the Function of Indonesian to Become an International Language (Article 44). This support provides a legal and constitutional basis for Indonesian to develop into an international language.

Nevertheless, the challenges and obstacles faced by the Indonesian language are also many. For example, from Malaysia, which always strives to make Malay the official language of Asean; while the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar, still want to carry out the contents of the Asean Charter, one of which is “respect for territorial principles, sovereignty, integrity, non-interference and the national identity of Asean members.

From within the country, the challenge can be seen through the attitude of the community, including state officials, who still do not prioritize the use of the Indonesian language, both in official forums and during show) in the media. They are engrossed in using English terms, even though the equivalent already exists in Indonesian. In terms of naming, the use of English still looks conspicuous. The airport names “Kualanamu International Airport” in North Sumatra and “Yogyakarta International Airport” in DIY are considered more classy and selling than the names “Kualanamu International Airport” and “Yogyakarta International Airport”.

The excessive emphasis on English also occurs at universities that require a TOEFL or TOEIC certificate for students before entering or graduating and in companies that also require English proficiency when applying for jobs. The existing linguistic conditions show that Indonesian speakers have (started) marginalized so that its authority is fading.

It is right what Baugh (1935), an expert in language history said, that the importance of a language in the eyes of the world, is closely related to the people who own and speak that language and its influence in the global world.

If native Indonesian speakers have subordinated their country’s language, the world’s citizens will of course also consider Indonesian to be unimportant. Therefore, it is time for the Ministry of Education and Culture through the Language Development and Development Agency to further strengthen the positive attitude of the community towards the Indonesian language.

In the end, the statement by the Minister of Education and Culture regarding the need for further study and discussion to determine the official language of Asean became a necessity to be followed up. Through in-depth and comprehensive research, the opportunities and challenges faced will be mapped, as well as what strategies must be carried out so that the mandate in Law NO. 24 Year 2009 which is almost 13 years old is moving forward.

Don’t let our loud screams only echo after the Malayan Tiger roars in uncertainty.

* Fairul Zabadi is a researcher at the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN)

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