Slang: Something to worry about?


Nelly Martin, Madison, Wisconsin | Sat, 11/12/2011 10:39 AM
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Itu gak meaning banget deh.

Ini tempat lagi happening banget deh!

These days, youths in Jakarta and other big cities often employ sentences like these in their daily linguistic repertoire. The first sentence here is used simply to say that “that is not meaningful” and the latter could be roughly translated to mean “this place is so cool”. Additionally, they like to say cekidot, a modification of the English phrase “check it out”.

Linguistically speaking, this phenomenon should be referred to as code-switching. Code-switching is the juxtaposition of at least two languages employed by bilinguals and multilinguals during the same conversation, and takes place on any level of linguistic differentiation: languages, styles or dialects/registers (Cantone 2007; Muller & Ball, 2005; Poplack, 2002; Cook, 2001; Romaine, 2000; Skiba, 1997; Myer-Scotton, 1993).

These youths then are safely assumed to be a bilingual, and at least understand the difference between English and Indonesian. Quinn (2001) claims that Indonesians are at least bilingual, if not multilingual. However, the sentences they use may be viewed as defective forms. The fact that they are using the incorrect or uncceptable forms of English, such as “Ini tempat lagi happening banget deh,” which literally means “this place is so happening” and the modified form of cekidot to alternate “check it out”, have raised the question as to whether they are going to destroy Indonesian.

We may refer to this kind of phenomena as slang. In the United States, slang is often related to some negative and informal things. Indeed, in the past, slang has been defined negatively. Merriam Webster’s dictionary in the 1800’s, for instance, defines the word negatively by stating that it is a vulgar, and an unmeaning language.

Also, slang is considered to be closely related to a particular gender and a social group. It was in 1870 that slang was defined positively and since that time many writers and linguists who have defined it either positively or neutrally. However, there are still a number of people defining slang as a negative element of language.

Putting aside discussion of whether slang is positive or negative, we can see slang has played an important role in language. Youths tend to use slang to differentiate themselves and to show their identity. That may be one of the reasons why slang can enter language easily, become vogue and be forgotten very fast. In fact, several elements of slang have faded away. However, in the US there are many examples of slang words that have remained and have changed their original words, such as the words “bus” replacing “omnibus”, “phone” replacing “telephone” and “ TV” replacing “television” or “bike” replacing “bicycle”.

It goes without saying that the concern about Indonesian being “destroyed” is overstated. Language is a consensus between the speakers that is met to achieve and negotiate meaning and understanding. If they still agree to use the term(s), those “new invented words/phrases” will still exist. On the other hand, they may vanish if the users no longer use them.

As stated earlier, this kind of style is vogue. They can easily enter youths’ repertoire but are easily forgotten as well. If users are able to influence more people to use these terms, they may survive. Or else, they will fade away since people regard them as outdated.

In this respect, I could not help but to wonder if Pusat Bahasa, the language center of the National Education Ministry will want to put cekidot, happening and meaning into Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia, the Indonesian Dictionary, if they continue to be used.

In fact, a number of slang terms have survived despite not having been formalized through dictionary reference. Words and phrases such as makasih from terima kasih (thanks), PD from percaya diri (confidence), jomblo for single, yukensi from you can see meaning tank-top, putus for break up, among others, emerged in the 1990s and continue to play a role in everyday Indonesian language.

Suffice it to say youths will always be the agents of change. Unlike jargon or argot whose purpose is to communicate secretly within certain groups, slang is used to acquire a particular identity.

Youths are so creative that they can create easy-to-say and attractive words and phrases. While some say this destroys language, it could be argued that this process also develops and enriches language, and is a really interesting phenomenon.

Linguists often find it hard to define such terms as linguistically proper. However, the phenomenon has tremendously influenced the nature of language as an increasing number of people use code-switching on a daily basis. Like it or not, this phenomenon has a great impact on language development. Attitudes that this phenomenon is purely a negative element of language should really be changed.

For me, it is preferable to support young people in the hope they will create more slang terms rather than to criticize them and consider these words as “trash” language. It goes without saying that slang has esssentially contributed to the lexical development of language. Pusat Bahasa is highly expected to be open-minded to see this phenomena as a contribution from the youths.

Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia may want to imitate Websters, which has amenably included some newly invented words in its dictionary. In fact, these words may fade away once the trend passes. I should say we may want to let people invent and use the language as they wish, since only time will tell if their words will survive or vanish.

The writer is a Fulbright Presidential Scholar and a doctoral degree candidate under the SLA Program at UW-Madison, United States.

One response to “Slang: Something to worry about?

  1. Great! Thanks and have a nice day🙂

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