Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Learning to Slide into Indonesian Slang

Before we begin…

I must say THANKS to all of you for your kind patience.

Kelas Bahasa has been in recess for far too long! Have you been slacking off in your studies while I’ve been otherwise occupied? I hope not! ;-)

It’s high time we got back to the lessons! So although it seems like eons since the last kelas, this article will get us moving again with a popular subject: Slang language.

While Indonesian is a relatively easy language to learn, that is, as far as grammar and pronunciation are concerned, understanding day-to-day conversation is an entirely different story. The reason is generally due to the usage of what is call “bahasa gaul” or social language. This is primarily found in spoken conversation, but has also become quite prevalent in e-mail and text messaging communication.

Indonesian slang is a norm in everyday life. Because students of Indonesian usually only study formal language, we can seem quite stiff in casual conversations with Indonesian people. And for us, when they are speaking among themselves, it often seems as though they use so many words we haven’t learned yet. The reality is, they are using slang, probably even more than they realize.

Where Does It Come From?

The city of Jakarta has the most commonly used slang, which is also called Prokem. Its roots are from decades ago when it was a sort of disguised language among criminals. But over time, a form of it eventually became popular with teenagers and young adults. Now, however, it is used widely by all ages in casual conversation, as well as in popular media.

Inherently, Indonesian slang is dynamic and always changing, influenced by popular trends. It is most commonly spoken in large cities. Slang words and expressions vary in different areas, often borrowing from the local ethnic languages, such as Sundanese in West Java, Javanese in Central Java, Balinese in Bali, and Monadonese in North Sulawesi.

How Does it Work?

I certainly do not have it all figured out yet! And quite interestingly, neither do a lot of Indonesian people themselves. However, the more you are exposed to it in casual situations, the more you will start to learn, almost by osmosis. It just takes time and association. But isn’t that how one learns slang in any language? You don’t think about it, it just sneaks into your conversation somehow.

Keep in mind that slang is often a shortcut. That’s one reason it is used. Here are a few patterns that come from formal Indonesian that I’ve picked up along the way:

- Adding –in to the end of a root word to make it an active verb. Examples:
Formal root word = dengar (hear) becomes slang = dengarin
Formal root word = bantu (help) becomes slang = bantuin

- Dropping the me- on the front end of an active verb and adding –in to the end. Examples:
Formal = mengapa (why) becomes slang = ngapain (why? or doing what?)
Formal = menanyakan (ask) becomes slang = nanyain

- Dropping one or several letters from a word. Examples:
Formal = sudah (already) / slang = uda
Formal = habis (depleted) / slang = abis
Formal = saja (only, just) / slang = aja
There are tons of these!

- Combination sounds (dipthongs) merged into one. Examples:
Formal = sampai (until) / slang = sampe (pronounced “sam-pay”)
Formal = kalau (if/when) / slang = kalo

- Contraction of two words into one. Examples:
Formal = lanjut usia (elderly) / slang = lansia
Formal = terima kasih (thank you ) / slang = makasih

- Add a dragged out ‘u’ before a vowel to exaggerate the description. Example:
Formal = banyak (much/many) / slang = buanyak (pronounced “boo-an-yak”)
Formal = beda (different) / slang = bueda

There are also quite a few words that don’t follow any identifiable rules. So you just have to learn them as you go along. Since my first article about slang, I’ve learned a few more of these types. So I’ll pass them along to you.

Ndak = tidak
Duit = money
Kacau = mess
Pigi = go (formal language = pergi)
Siyok = shock
Ikan = meat (not fish as in formal Indonesian. This is from Javanese)
Duerius = double serious (dua + serius) – I laughed a long time when I learned this one! My friends explained you can make it tigerius (tiga + serius), emperius (empat + serius), etc.

Further Study?

There isn’t much written that is helpful for mastering Indonesian slang. So the best way to learn is exposure. Of course, the slang you learn will depend on where your Indonesian friends are from originally, or if you will be spending an extended amount of time in just one region of Indonesia.

But are you doomed to be shut out if you have only limited opportunity for exposure to Indonesian conversation? No, don’t fret. Even if your only exposure is through e-mail (Indo slang = imel), you can always ask for an explanation of what you don’t understand. Most Indonesians are happy to let you in on the secret. And once you start using some of the slang yourself, they will probably be delighted that you care enough to try to keep up with them in everyday language.

My hope is that this article will give you a bit of a head start and speed up the process a little. Below you’ll find a link to another article written by an Indonesian friend about slang particles. He wrote it in both Indonesian and English. The Indonesian version is loaded with slang, so it will be a good exercise for you to use what you've learned and then compare the translated English version (it is not exact).

There is also an article in Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia. One word of caution though, this article also include bahasa ‘kasar’ or rough language, such as vulgarities. I certainly don’t feel that type of language has any value for our purposes and the use of such language is not ever recommended.

Until next time…

Selamat belajar!


More Information on Indonesian Slang:

Slang Particles in Indonesian

Wikipedia: Indonesian Slang Language

Huh? Is This Indonesian?