Category Archives: Language

Among the Balinese

The Balinese in the late 19th century, their gentle priests; the fear they inspired; their bewildering language; eccentric foreigners among them.

“One of the rajas of Badung who once discussed Van der Tuuk with me said very peculiarly of him; “There is in the whole of Bali only one man who knows and understands Balinese and that man is Gusti Dertik”

from Dr. Julius Jacobs , “Eenigen tijd onder de Baliers”, 1883

So Van der Tuuk had to make preparations to go to Bali. These did not always go smoothly. He wrote on the 3rd of January 1870:

“I have great difficulties with the servants here because the Javanese and Malays of Batavia fear Bali. I have now a servant, a boy of 13 years old, who is honest but rather clumsy. I fear that he will desert me when I depart for Bali. There is a general fear of Bali here.”

But amidst these preparations he did not neglect the study of Balinese in which his knowledge of other Indonesian languages came him in good stead. On 5th May 1870 he wrote:

“I am very busy with Balinese and believe that I will soon master it since Javanese has had a great influence on it.

………

The Malay of Batavia facilitates for me the study of Balinese. It is remarkable how many Balinese words have remained in that particular dialect of Malay. The original population of Batavia, you know, consisted for the larger part of Balinese who served the VOC as slaves or soldiers. Even the housekeepers of the gentlemen of that pious company were female Balinese slaves. That is why even now the housekeeper of a European is called “njai”. In Bali this “njai” is the usual term with which one addresses, in a friendly way, a young woman of the lowest class; it means “younger sister”.”

Once again he was determined to put his house in an isolated spot where other Europeans would not bother him too much. This spot turned out to be the kampong Baratan, about 3 kms from Boeleleng, where he got himself a bamboo house.

The Balinese made a very favourable impression on him – even more so than the Bataks who had also generally received positive comments from him. He wrote on the 23rd of September 1870:

“Thus far the Balinese please me better than the Bataks. The Brahmins here are very civilized and very gentle. It is a pity that the government does not make more use of them and is here represented by an official who allows the Prince to get away with the most outrageous cruelties.”

On a later occasion he wrote:

“The caste of priests receives great honour here and that is nothing to be amazed about because those priests I know deserve great esteem. They do not know the intrigues of Malay spiritual leaders. I ascribe this phenomenon to their aversion from attempts to convert others to their religion.”

He soon noticed that the study of Balinese required some preliminary study. He wrote on 19th dec. 1870:

“The language here is so mixed with Old Javanese (the so-called Kawi) that one is necessitated to study Kawi literature and clear that up, all the more so because the Balinese does, when he speaks in a refined fashion, not hesitate to use words he only knows from manuscripts. This now requires serious study because we don’t have a Kawi dictionary yet.”

But that the Balinese used Old Javanese when they wanted to cut a fine figure did not mean that they had a real command of the language. Van der Tuuk soon found out that there was a considerable element of humbug here. He wrote:

“Though the Balinese understand more of Kawi than the Javanese do, reading it is with them a matter of faith. They imagine understanding a Kawi text but when you put a difficult bit in front of them they are as cheeky with it as a Jew with some Hebrew text. Their explanations are sometimes preposterous. One can get to know more of it than the most learned Brahmin by reading many manuscripts and reflecting repeatedly on a text and comparing words.”

Though the life there was very monotonous for him he found consolation in his studies and in his dogs, monkeys, chickens, ducks, and other “trifles which turn out to be the core of life”. “The conversation here” he wrote “is not very stimulating. I am generally waffling with the Balinese.”

Among the things that tied him to Bali and that would, as he said, cause him to leave the place with sadness he failed to mention his Balinese housekeeper.

In 1873 there was a big change in his life. The government had proposed that he would enter into its service and thus leave that of the Bible society. Van der Tuuk’s main reason for accepting this proposal seems to have been the requirement of that society that he would, here too, work on a translation of the bible. The linguist felt that with the then state of knowledge about Kawi and Balinese that would be entirely premature – and that from that point of view the Society was wasting its money on him. His reluctance to start on a translation of the Bible in Balinese was not entirely of a linguistic nature. Over time he had become more and more anti-Christian. So he left the Bible Society, acknowledging that, though he was not exactly known for his orthodoxy in religious matters, it had always treated him decently.

His workload did however not become any lighter.

At a late stage, in 1884, he wrote to his linguistic colleague, Brandes:

“It is true, I have gathered a lot here, but had to leave even more unexplained in my dictionary since the Balinese translations contradict each other, when difficult bits of text are involved, in a horrendous fashion. If I had known what a muddle we have here I would have preferred to stay in the Lampongs.”

About ten years earlier, in 1873, he had written:

“One has of the study of these languages the wrong idea in Europe … Not only that these languages are very rich they also have peculiarities that a European never gets to know. I merely draw your attention here to Malay in which no European can decently express himself, and yet we have practiced this language for centuries… the ignorant fiction that it can be easily learned still holds sway until today …”

I would like to comment here as an aside that, though Van der Tuuk is mainly known for his study of Batak, Kawi and Balinese, he has also contributed to the study of the Lampong language, Sundanese and Malay. About this latter contribution a fellow scholar of Malay (C. Grijns) wrote in 1996:

“I can only express my admiration for his remarkable contribution to the development of the study of Malay, besides his major work on Batak and Balinese, and much else besides. In particular the way he dealt with manuscript materials, his lexicographic acuteness, and his unrelenting struggle to come to terms with all varieties of written Malay that did not meet the standard he had set for the purity of Malay are worthy of our praise.”


What was his domestic life like amidst all this scholarly endeavour? Dr. Jacobs, a medical officer in the Dutch navy, who has been quoted above, visited him in 1881. He wrote:

“His furniture consists only of the strictly necessary. One looks in vain there for an easy chair, an impressive desk or couches. On the contrary, his whole house is, from the front to the back, occupied by his extensive library. On the floor, on chairs, tables, boxes and shelves are lying voluminous folios, old manuscripts and lontar leaves with script, in an ungainly chaos through each other and it is amazing that from this chaotic collection he can retrieve so quickly the desired item. …

You would believe that one is dealing here with a disagreeable person, not fitting in society, a real bookworm, but you would be wrong dear reader. He is busy from early morning until sometimes to the depth of night with his studies, only interrupted for a moment by people from all layers of Balinese society who want to consult him on a juridical matter or a sickness, and all of whom he helps very willingly. But when you visit him the scholar disappears as if by magic and he changes into a jolly student, whose acquaintance nobody who had the advantage of meeting him will regret.”

Europeans in Bali saw a visit to the ‘eccentric” Van der Tuuk as a bit of a lark, good to relieve the boredom of colonial society. They had to put up with chairs with layers of dust and glasses for drinks that they wiped surreptitiously but Van der Tuuk was a generous and entertaining host. Privately he had a dim view of these occasions but apparently he was good at hiding this.

Occasionally he got guests who stayed for longer periods. The linguist Brandes, who after his death would prepare his Kawi-Balinese-Dutch dictionary for publication was one of them.

Rouffaer wrote many years later, in 1909:

“Brandes stayed with Van der Tuuk for four weeks. He came back as only half a person … he needed a full three years … to bring Van der Tuuk’s dietary laws into harmony with both his phonetic laws.”

The master himself did not escape the consequences of his lack of hygiene and his peculiar diet. Throughout his stay in the Indies he suffered, off and on, of dysentery to which he finally succumbed in the military hospital in Surabaya in 1894.

After his death the government requested Brandes to prepare his dictionary for publication. The first volume appeared in 1897, the second in 1899, and the third in 1900, the fourth and last part was published, after Brandes death in 1905, by Dr.Rinkes in 1912.

The whole seems to be a source book rather than a regular dictionary and now has also literary-historical value because many bits of quoted text originate either in manuscripts that have disappeared or that have remained unpublished.

Finally a peculiar detail about his estate. Van der Tuuk had never made much money. When he worked with the Bible Society his salary was very modest. The government paid him more generously but gave him, after all, only a civil service salary. Yet such was his frugal lifestyle that his estate amounted to about 135.000 guilders which I guess to be the equivalent of three quarters of a million Euros today. The value of his bamboo house was estimated to be … ten guilders.

And signs of Van der Tuuk the eccentric could also be found in his estate. It counted two donkeys, the beginning of a planned large herd of these beasts that he deemed far more suitable to Balinese circumstances than horses. He desired to receive a subsidy for creating such a herd and annoyed the Director of the Department of Education and Religious Affairs no end by inserting his requests for this in his quarterly and annual reports. When it was pointed out to him that these donkey matters did not belong in a linguistic report he annoyed that Director some more by addressing him in writing as the Director of Popular Deception and Affairs of the Hereafter.


Sources:

I drew for this series on:

  • C.Grijns (1996), “Van der Tuuk and the study of Malay” in Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde. Vol. 152 Iss.3;
  • R. Nieuwenhuys (1959), “ Van der Tuuk, taalgeleerde en zonderling” in Tussen Twee Vaderlanden, Amsterdam;
  • R.Nieuwenhuys (1962), De pen in gal gedoopt: een keuze uit brieven en documenten van Herman Neubronner van der Tuuk, Amsterdam.

The translation of the letter fragments is mine.

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Gusti Dertik in Lampung

Van der Tuuk used the time in Holland (1857-1868) to work on the rich material he had brought from the Batak lands. But he had a combatative disposition and got involved in a lot of polemics. His main target was the orientalist Taco Roorda who enjoyed great, and according to Van der Tuuk undeserved, authority in Holland. The linguist thought, among other things, that Roorda’s idea of Javanese as a foundational language from which all other Indonesian languages were derived was nonsense, a judgment with which modern authorities agree.

Van der Tuuk’s own activities received growing appreciation and when a proposed doctorate ‘honoris causa’ in Leiden was prevented by professor Roorda (who must have acutely suffered under his attacks) he got it at the University of Utrecht. His Toba Batak grammar and dictionary were then his main claim to fame and were still spoken of with respect almost a century later.

The linguist Uhlenbeck said in 1956:

“At the end of the 19th century there were an impressive number of dictionaries, grammars and linguistic treatises available … of which a few have not been surpassed until today. I will give here as examples Kleinschmid’s admirable 1851 description of the Eskimo language spoken in Greenland and Van der Tuuk’s equally great achievement: his description of Toba-Batak (1864-1867)”

In 1868 Van der Tuuk returned to the Indies with the idea of going as soon as possible to Bali but an internal war there between two Balinese princes forced him to postpone the journey. The Dutch government asked him to go for the time being to the Lampongs to gather materials about the local language there and he consented, getting, post facto, permission from the Bible society.

In the Lampongs he lived for almost one and a half year far from other Europeans, wandering, mainly on foot, from place to place or living in primitive dwellings. He had long been convinced that there is no other way to learn a language well than being on the most intimate terms with its native speakers. He wrote about this to an old study friend when he was still in Holland (1866):

“To learn a language well one has to be on familiar terms with the people, and this is with some nations only possible by adopting their religion. And exactly this would, by a Society that is based on bigotry, be charged to someone as a mortal sin. I do not believe that a European is able to produce a good translation in one of the indigenous languages. Those who have published their translations without being required to do so, like me, were all incompetent. Take the test with someone or other who prides himself on his knowledge of a language. Ask him whether in the language he has studied differences can be expressed as, for example, between “is he ill?” and “would he be ill?” He will, if he belongs to the species that happily translates, cheekily reply that one doesn’t have to be so very particular. And yet all those fine distinctions are made as well in those languages as in ours. In my studies of Batak I have never done anything else than precisely trace those shades of meaning and yet I have to confess that much has remained dark to me. I understood that there was nothing for it then but to denationalize myself and when I dared to propose that to Professor Millies, then an oracle with the Bible Society, and started by saying that I wanted to enter into a Batak marriage, I drew a storm on my head and the answer “that that girl would then have to be baptized first”. This convinced me that with the best will in the world I couldn’t achieve anything. I was after all in the service of a bunch of saints who didn’t care a hoot about studies and speculated on the pockets of pious cheese buyers.”

Well, in the event he achieved quite a lot.

Though he didn’t marry a girl from the Lampongs he was apparently on intimate terms with its people. They were in fact the only people surrounding him.

He wrote in 1868 to the Bible Society:

“ I am very busy with the Lampong language and have gathered a great store of words but still must report about the various pronunciations. There is much to be learned here and any knowledge (?) for me a gold mine. So I am rather happy …

There is not much news from here, unless it is that I find the Lampongs a good people … they remind me of the Bataks, whom I would like to visit again. I don’t lose sight of Bali because I hope to learn there even more than here.”

And in the same year:

“I am sitting here in an open building, right opposite the river Seputik, and surrounded by forest. My dwelling is a house without front – or backdoor, and in the middle part that separates the two miserable dens occupied by myself and my two servants, there is a pipe of burning banana leaves mixed with melted resin, the lamp that has to keep the Sumatran tiger, that lets you hear his hiccupping sound here, away from us.

I am writing this by the light of a small kerosene lamp and am smoking like a steam vessel to keep the insects that, in the rainy season, keep floating on to one, away from me. …

My stay here is of great interest to the Bible society because I have learned here to be alone. I am planning to exile myself from that card playing Indo European community in Bali as well because it takes so much of your time and doesn’t provide any real pleasure. My time here will probably be extended a bit and if not I will be pleased to leave this land of forests, crocodiles, swamps and royal tigers. I don’t want to stay here, because there is almost no literature here, so that I have to get everything orally from natives.”

However, when later he was in Bali flooded with local literature, and the number of variant readings drove him to distraction (particularly when he couldn’t quite make out whether he was dealing with a variant or a writing error), he sometimes wished he had stayed in the Lampongs where the work was so much simpler.

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Gusti Dertik in Batakland

Dutch linguist Gusti Dertik, founder of the comparative study of Indonesian languages; his romancing, or lack of it; and the Christianising (and Islamising) of the Bataks.

Gusti Dertik (Dr.Herman Neubronner van der Tuuk) was, so we are told, the greatest nineteenth century Western student of Indonesian languages, possibly rivaled only by Brandes, a quite different type of scholar (and different type of human being). He laid the foundation for the comparative study of Indonesian languages by the formulation of two phonetic laws “without which”, according to the later testimony of the scholar of Malay Van Ronkel , “no scientific treatment of an Indonesian language is possible.”

He was born in 1824 in Malacca just before this place, through the London Treaty of 1824, exchanged its Dutch administration for a British one. His father was a totok Dutchman who had married the daughter of a totok German and a Eurasian. This latter fact explains Van der Tuuk’s rather ‘exotic’ appearance. On one of the few photographs available of him he looks, as Rob Nieuwenhuys rightly said, like nothing so much as an old fashioned elderly Chinese toko owner.

Van der Tuuk

The change over in Malacca to a British administration necessitated Van der Tuuk Sr., who occupied a position in the judiciary there, to move, in 1825, to Surabaya where he became president of the district court (‘landraad’). Thus his son spent the first twelve years of his life in an environment where he, through his playmates (and the servants), made his first acquaintance with Malay and Javanese. At the end of this period he was sent, for further education, to Holland where he was admitted, at the age of 15, to the University of Groningen to study law. But he only did a first year exam in that subject and then shifted to his lifelong interest: languages, among others Arabic, Javanese and Malay. Ultimately he moved to Leiden University where there were greater opportunities for such studies and where he added Sanskrit and Persian to his repertoire. I have not been able to get much information about his personal life in this period except for a fragment of a letter to a friend he wrote soon after his arrival in this old university town. The servant girls here, he wrote, get themselves screwed ‘pro deo’ adding ‘I have screwed only once’. Perhaps his studies kept him too fully occupied. There was then in Leiden no degree study in oriental languages (that only came about in 1877) and so Van der Tuuk left this university without any degree (his later doctorate was ‘honoris causa’) but with a phenomenal reputation for his aptitude for languages. The Arabist Professor Juynboll Sr. persuaded him to take up a job with the Dutch Bible Society that was then looking for a person to translate the bible into a Batak language and to compile a Batak grammar and a Batak-Dutch dictionary. Van der Tuuk was far from religious, a thing that was rather clear to that Society from the start, but both parties needed each other here. So, end 1847, he received his official appointment and one of his first moves was to go to London where he hoped to find some Batak manuscripts. In the libraries of East India House and the Royal Asiatic Society he did find some, half a dozen in fact, that he had to copy by hand. He also used the opportunity to draw up two catalogs of the Malay manuscripts to be found there.

Almost two years later, in Sept. 1849, he arrived in Batavia where he promptly fell sick and ended up in the Military Hospital there. He was, and remained, a fanatical worker though, and in this hospital he conceived a study of what he called ‘Centralisatie Maleis’ (standard educated autochthonous Malay).

He finally departed for the Batak lands in 1851.


He travelled to Padang in a salt vessel owned by Arabs. From there he had to go on to Siboga overland. Since he was not a civil servant he was not entitled to their perks re transport and he had trouble to get his things moved there. Years later he reported that he had been asked to pay 4,000 guilders for this. It is unlikely that he actually paid this sum, which I estimate to be at least the equivalent of 20,000 Euro today.

Siboga was not exactly the ideal place for his study of Batak since Malay merchants were the main inhabitants there. The Bataks who used to live there had withdrawn to the interior. Van der Tuuk managed however to find a native speaker willing to live with him and gradually his house also came to be used by Bataks coming for trade from the interior. A military officer who used to know him at that time wrote later that he often found up to half a dozen Bataks sleeping on the floor in his house. Van der Tuuk used the opportunity to babble with them.

But as said Siboga was not the ideal place for his studies and ultimately he moved to Baros, where the VOC had once a trading post. The place was reoccupied by the Dutch in 1839. The Batak population there was relatively affluent because of its long established trading activities, with camphor (‘Kapur Baros’) as its main trading item.

From Baros, a coastal place, Van der Tuuk made various trips into the interior attempting at one stage to reach Lake Toba. Earlier attempts by British and Dutch travelers had floundered on Batak resistance against foreign intrusion into this area. Even the famous Junghuhn had not managed to get there in a trip he undertook in 1840. He in fact denied the existence of the lake altogether. Van der Tuuk at first planned to travel together with the then well-known Austrian female explorer Ida Pfeiffer but she finally preferred to travel alone, perhaps having been put off by the linguist’s strange manners. However, she didn’t reach the lake (she was regarded as a witch and forced to return) but Van der Tuuk did, becoming the first Westerner to do so. He had set out with twelve travelling companions among whom a Malayan horse dealer whose advice would later save his life. In Bakkara, the Toba seat of the Batak ‘priest king’, the Sisinga Mangaradja, the travelers did not exactly get a friendly reception. His companions had thought to facilitate their passage through the Batak lands by spreading the rumour that Van der Tuuk was the returning older brother of the Sisinga Mangaradja who had been kidnapped in a Padri raid some thirty years earlier. The established Prince, fearing competition, didn’t take kindly to that and at one stage the linguist and his companions were in a precarious situation. They were surrounded by thousands of people, armed with lances, who according to Van der T., were arguing whether or not to let these intruders end up in their pots. The travelers had only two pistols and a hunting rifle between them but Van der T. put these pistols, on the advice of the Malay horse dealer, to strategic use. He wrote

“at the moment that some gentlemen were talking and licking their lips about the most tasty of us I got from the Malay horse dealer the wholesome advice to move with my pistols as close as possible to His Holiness and to put these at the least movement in front of his holy mouth, I saw at this my gesture that he considerably changed his tone …Our withdrawal from Bakkara was more a flight than a departure”.

Elsewhere however he received a far more friendly reception and he encouraged people who had some literacy to write things in their language, all kinds of things, songs, stories, riddles, proverbs etc. In this fashion he gathered twenty folio volumes, each of about three hundred pages, which are now in the university library at Leiden.


Van der Tuuk did not only gather oral information but set great store by the study of texts and copied manuscripts wherever he could. This was not always easy. He wrote at one stage:

“In the region Aek na oeli I got to read, at an important Batak chieftain, a pustaka in which there was also a story about the creation of the world. One can safely deduce from this that there are in the Batak lands still stories and chronicles. One of these days I hope to get hold of a pustaka that describes the foundation of the state Nai Pospos. It is a pity that the Bataks have become horribly wise in these things and ask you with incredible impudence a present for borrowing a book. Thus the chieftain mentioned above asked me as a price for borrowing this pustaka a European dog of the size of a calve, twelve large bottles of jenever (Dutch gin AB), ten Spanish ‘matten’ (old Spanish silver coins worth about two and a half guilders AB) and three padang rusaks (a sort of shawl of Acinese make). So I had to forget about making a copy.”

Meanwhile he had to get on with his translation of the bible which bothered him a lot because he thought it an absolutely useless task that took him away from his real linguistic studies. He wrote in 1854 to the Bible Society:

“I know that my letter would be more agreeable to you, if I came up with the frequent lie that “the Bataks feel the need of a Saviour, they thirst for the Holy Word” etc. I know that such fine words would be more agreeable to you and give you more courage for our cause, but it has been until now impossible for me to write such a thing, and I even take the liberty to doubt such niceties when applied to the Dayaks, the Javanese and other peoples, and to ascribe these things for the larger part to a lack of intimate social intercourse with the native in general”.

And on another occasion he wrote:

“I have often asked myself the question whether this zeal among Protestants in spreading Christianity is not a form of comedy, to throw dust in the eyes of the dumb herd, since the way in which this task is approached, must look ridiculous to the native.”

Though Van der Tuuk had obviously very little enthusiasm for the attempt to christianise the Bataks yet he was also irritated by what he saw as the tacit pro-Islam attitude of the Dutch administration. He had a lot of critique on this administration in general blaming its ignorance of the local language for the dependency on local clerks who could be easily manipulated and bribed by the local chieftains. Thus the complaints of the common man hardly ever reached the ears of those in authority and the chieftains used the liberty this gave them among other things to distribute corvee services (‘Herendiensten’) arbitrarily, according to the bribes they were paid for absolving some from these duties. On the other hand one gets the impression that the civil administration resented what it saw as the unwarranted interference of missionaries in general. There was also a wider political aim for this tacit pro-Islam attitude having to do with the fear that a diversity of religion would lead to unrest and strife – a vision that, ironically, has come to be substantiated after independence. Van der Tuuk’s skepticism about the whole matter was also fed by his clear awareness that the christian missionary was in an impossible position anyway because he belonged to a social category that was not recognisable to the Batak. Thus he could not compete with the proselytizing efforts by moslem Malays who were traders and recognised as such. And then there was, of course, in addition the ‘obstruction’ by the Dutch government.

In 1857 Van deer Turk wrote to the Bible Society:

I cannot forego either to warn you against the direction of the Van Brugghen-Simons government because this cannot be favorable to you. Mr. Simons might be orthodox protestant for Holland, here in the Indies he is a moslem and equally so Mr. Mijer, who has suddenly turned his coat. If the Bible Society is too credulous about the intentions of these gentlemen it will achieve nothing to speak of. Mr Simons is totally Delft, that is against christianity.

(the city of Delft was then the seat of the training college for future civil servants for the Indies, a task that later was allocated to the faculties of “Indology” at the universities of Leiden and Utrecht).


The stay in Baros became finally too much for Van der Tuuk. He complained that it was a ‘miserable hole’ where he couldn’t find a bookbinder and where the climate was so humid that he often had to copy his documents three or four times to prevent them from becoming illegible. What particularly irked him was that he couldn’t live with a woman there because of his connection with the Bible Society. This also enhanced the dubiousness of his social position with the Bataks who had contempt for an unmarried man. Moreover he had to forego another excellent avenue for getting more intimately acquainted with the language

He wrote:

“How did Winter get his great knowledge of Javanese? Not because he was born in Java but because he could start living like a Javanese. If I, who is regarded as a missionary, would get married to a native girl, the whole world of the Indies would claim that I was keeping a harem … The Bataks find it very strange that I am not keeping a girl like the others, and they still present me daily with an opportunity to get related to them. They just cannot understand why I am not willing to enter into that …”

and on another occasion:

“There is only one means to stick it out here without becoming prey to a melancholy that drags body and soul to the grave, and that means is inducing a stupor either through opium or through drinking, or by being continuously on the move … I could attempt to live as a Batak but it may be doubted whether I would be allowed to live in a kampong here because the Batak always thinks that there is something political behind it.”

So in 1857 he departed for Holland, a country he had never found congenial and soon we find him complaining that when he was out and about in that rainy climate and needed a piss he found it almost impossible “to simultaneously hold on to his pecker, his cigar and his umbrella”.

Nevertheless the decade he spent after this in Holland allowed him to order and publish the host of materials he had gathered in the Batak lands and to continue his linguistic studies. In 1868 he departed again for the Indies, this time for Bali where he would lay the foundations for the massive Kawi-Balinese-Dutch dictionary, a work that after his death was completed by Brandes. I would later like to say something about this period as well.

There is in Wikipedia an extensive entry on Van der Tuuk that also provides a concise bibliography of his writings.

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Omaigot Tengkyu!

Inglonesian terms and expressions, battles against their use, and examples.

In his 2000 book “The People Next Door” Australian journalist Duncan Graham noted down the number of words derived from English used by academic Daniel Sparringa at a 30 minute public lecture in Surabaya, including:

proses, frustrasi, delegasi, kampanye, kudeta, informasi, problem, sistem, presiden, partisipasi, strategik planning, sosial, politik, ekonomi, stimuli, relatif, stres, konsultasi, telepon, professional, krisis, teori, diskusi panel, prinsip, publik servis, agresif, demokrasi, objektivitas, fakta, jargon, …..

Some linguists and others are unhappy about the enthusiasm with which Indonesians take up, and run with English terms, as in the Sparringa example. Ivan Lanin, Executive Director of Wikimedia Indonesia, wages a personal battle against such words, and attempts to replace them with ‘native’ Indonesian substitutes.

For example Ivan eschews the use of “email”, substituting it with surel (an acronym from surat elektronik or electronic mail), and frowns upon the use of “online”, instead using daring (from dalam jaringan). He doesn’t issue “tweets” at Twitter.com either, but rather kicauan.

Ivan believes it is a simple matter of having pride in one’s own language.

yukensi
A ‘Yukensi’ women’s top

Meanwhile some commonly used informal words from English that are regularly used by Indonesians, with a similar pronunciation to standard English albeit with Javanese accent or other, and that have been transformed in written form:

In Yogyakarta there is even a restaurant called Matur TengkYu, a play on the Javanese term for thank you, matur nuwun
The “Matur TengkYu” restaurant in Yogyakarta, a play on the Javanese term for “thank you”, “matur nuwun”.

  • tengkyu (thankyou)
  • tengs (thanks)
  • omaigot/omaigad (oh my god)
  • seksi (sexy)
  • fesbuk (Facebook)
  • fesfud/fasfud (fast food)
  • donlod (download)
  • yukensi (you can see)
  • heppi (happy)

There are of course many others….

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