Volume 19, Issue 1 p. 57-77
Free Access

Language Shift, Gender, and Ideologies of Modernity in Central Java, Indonesia

Nancy J. Smith-Hefner

Corresponding Author

Nancy J. Smith-Hefner


Dept. of Anthropology
232 Bay State Rd.
Boston University
Boston, MA 02215
[email protected]Search for more papers by this author
First published: 08 July 2009
Citations: 36


This article explores the shift away from formal styles of Javanese to the use of the national language, Indonesian, within the context of new educational and social opportunities for Javanese youth. It focuses on gender differences in language attitudes and considers how socialization and cultural ideologies regarding men's and women's relationship to language shape those attitudes. Recent changes in possibilities for social and status mobility linked to language use have challenged traditional language ideologies and have led Javanese men and women to develop different language strategies and patterns of interaction. A new subjective concern with emotional and interpersonal expressivity among youth—particularly among young women—is identified as an important mediating valence in the shift to varieties of Indonesian identified as more “communicative” and “participatory.” [Indonesia, language shift, gender, ideologies of modernity]

The site of a still-active Javanese sultanate, the city of Yogyakarta in south-central Java, Indonesia, has long been considered a stronghold of traditional Javanese court culture. Residents of the city were once known throughout Indonesia for their refined speech and polished social comportment (Mulder 1996, Koentjaraningrat 1985). The Javanese language historically associated with the area is marked by a complex set of speech styles or language “levels” used to express and index the nature of the relationship between the speaker and the addressee. These linguistic styles developed out of the courts as one aspect of an elaborate system of the symbolic differentiation of status which governed “virtually every aspect of personal appearance and movement” (Errington 1985:36). The speech styles were expanded under the Dutch and eventually diffused beyond the courts into many areas of the countryside (see Smith-Hefner 1989). In Javanese speech situations, no interaction was linguistically neutral. During every encounter speakers had to assess their relative social standing and choose the style of speech appropriate to the relationship. Asymmetric interactions were commonplace. Even within the family, children were expected to address their elders in a more respectful speech level and would receive a more familiar form in return.

By the late 1970s, linguists and anthropologists had begun to notice that in Yogyakarta and elsewhere, a shift was occurring in language use away from Javanese to the national language, Indonesian. Scholars linked the shift to the emergence of a new, educated, middle class (Errington 1998, Oetomo 1990, Tanner 1972, Wolff and Poejosoedarmo 1982). Young people have been the single greatest beneficiaries of the expanded educational and employment opportunities made available under President Muhammad Soeharto's “New Order” government (1966–1998). In Yogyakarta and elsewhere it is urban, educated youth who have been the most active proponents of the movement towards the greater use of Indonesian (Samuel 2000).

The shift to Indonesian has more recently been captured in national census figures. Comparing census data from 1980 and 1990, Hein Steinhauer (1994:768) indicates that the number of youth reporting “daily use of Javanese” dropped 16.3 percent during that period, whereas the number reporting “daily use of Indonesian” increased by 38.9 percent. While these figures appear modest and Javanese is hardly in danger of extinction,1 an important transformation is nonetheless taking place. What the census figures can only hint at are two important developments: first, the gradual but continuing expansion of Indonesian into domains which were previously the province of Javanese, and, second, the negative effects of this encroachment on use of the formal styles of the language (Errington 1998, Poejosoedarmo 2006). Today in Yogyakarta, the elegant and refined, formal variants of Javanese once widely spoken on the city's bustling streets are increasingly confined to interactions among elderly Javanese neighbors, formal ritual events (like weddings), and performances of the traditional arts. At the same time, more casual, “social” styles of Indonesian are gaining in popularity especially among Javanese youth (Smith-Hefner 2007b, Swastika 2003).

In this article, I draw on ethnographic observations, interviews, and survey data gathered over a nine-year period to explore the shift away from more formal styles of Javanese to the use of the national language, within the context of new educational and social opportunities for Javanese youth. I focus on gender differences in language attitudes and consider how socialization and cultural ideologies regarding men's and women's relationship to language shape those attitudes. I argue that recent social and economic developments have challenged traditional Javanese language ideologies and have encouraged a reassessment of the cultural valences of the national language. New informal varieties of Indonesian identified as more “communicative,”“intimate,” and “participatory,” are particularly appealing to young women seeking to establish “modern,” more egalitarian, relationships.

Women and Language Shift

Recent studies from a variety of settings have identified women as at the forefront of language change and have addressed the question of just why this might be the case. In her research among adolescents in an American high school in the suburban Midwest, for example, the American sociolinguist and anthropologist, Penelope Eckert (1998, 2000), found young working-class women to be the innovators in regional (nonstandard) vowel shifts. Eckert links these shifts to the fact that, more than men, women seek to acquire symbolic capital via language use because their social position in society is more comprehensively defined by symbolic means—that is, by way of distinctive styles of social expression—than by their physical skills or activities (Eckert 1998). Other studies have found that women's social status and identity are more dependent than men's on displays of community membership and social interaction (Eckert 1989, 1990; Woolard 1996, cited in Bilaniuk 2003:49). Pierre Bourdieu (1991:50) makes a similar argument, that women are more predisposed than their male counterparts to accept new demands from the market in symbolic goods because of a sexual division of labor which orients women towards consumption and towards marriage as important avenues of social advancement.

Bourdieu's concept of the linguistic market is based on the notion that one's language use can enhance one's chances of social and material gain (1991:51). The idea that symbolic values come to be associated with the use of different linguistic varieties to access nonlinguistic resources resonates with studies that have linked women's responsiveness to more standard speech norms to their desire for social recognition and upward mobility. Susan Gal's (1978) research in a Hungarian-speaking village in Austria and Patricia C. Nichol's (1998) study of a Gullah-speaking community off the coast of South Carolina found that women tend to use more standard or prestige varieties; both studies related this tendency in turn to women's struggle for higher social and economic status in seeking marriage partners and job opportunities (see also Labov 1991). Hungarian women preferred factory jobs and urban living associated with speaking the standard variety of German and, as a result, switched from Hungarian to German. Gullah-speaking African American women cultivated a linguistic style that was closer to Standard English because the best jobs in their communities (as teachers and maids in wealthy homes or hotels) required the use of that language. Laada Bilaniuk's (2003) study of language use in post-Soviet Ukraine revealed a similar pattern. Ukrainian women expressed more positive attitudes than Ukrainian men toward both English and the country's former official language, Russian, because these languages offered them greater opportunities for social advancement than their native Ukrainian. Conversely, Bilaniuk found that Ukranian men's more positive evaluations of their native language were linked to their desire to maintain or possibly increase their authority in the local, post-Soviet economy (Bilaniuk 2003).

As Eckert's (2000) study of nonstandard vowel shifts demonstrates, however, women's linguistic innovations cannot always be assumed to move in the direction of more standard, prestige varieties (see also Bucholtz 1999, Miller 2004). Moreover, we should not assume that it is only women who exploit the symbolic capital of language. Peter Trudgill's (1974, 1998) widely cited study of language use in the British city of Norwich, for example, revealed that Norwich men used local nonstandard forms because these forms have a “covert prestige” which indexes characteristics of masculinity and toughness. This same kind of covert prestige would seem to lie behind the popularity of African American and Latino hip hop and gangster styles among some subgroups of young men in the United States. These studies illustrate how gender ideologies respond to and interact with new avenues for social power and advancement made accessible through the use of distinctive language varieties. These studies suggest, furthermore, that gendered differences in language use may be viewed as the result of language forms being valued differently by each gender depending on the symbolic construction of available social opportunities (Bilaniuk 2003:48; Haeri 1996).

In this article, I argue that there is evidence of a similar dynamic at work among Javanese youth. The shift in language away from formal styles of Javanese to the national language among young, educated Javanese is an index of shifting language ideologies in the context of new social and economic possibilities. While recent social and economic opportunities have benefited both men and women, the new possibilities are particularly appealing to young women (G. Jones 1994, Robinson 2000, Smith-Hefner 2005). Notwithstanding normative expectations that Javanese women should be models of traditionalism for future generations (cf. Brenner 1999), young educated women are also leading the ideological shift towards the use of Indonesian.

Youth and Social Change

The research presented here is part of a larger ethnographic study of Muslim youth and social change in the city of Yogyakarta (see Smith-Hefner 2005, 2006, 2007a, 2007b).2 Yogyakarta is today a modern and cosmopolitan educational center, known for its more than one hundred private and public institutions of higher learning. Although the district's population is as a whole relatively poor, the city has become a popular tourist destination with five-star hotels, luxury conference centers, fast food restaurants, movie theaters, and mega-shopping malls. In addition to being a center of classical Javanese culture, then, Yogyakarta is a city of young people aspiring to join Indonesia's new middle class. The study draws on data collected during eight months of ethnographic research in Yogyakarta in 1999 and six shorter visits during summers from 2001 to 2007. During that period, I conducted over 200 interviews with university students on questions related to their lives and experiences. I also conducted interviews and engaged in participant observation with parents, teachers, and religious leaders. Finally, I worked with a team of student assistants to carry out a survey of 206 men and women who were students at or recent graduates from the prestigious secular Gadjah Mada University, Universitas Gadjah Mada, or the highly regarded State Islamic University, the Universitas Islam Negeri Sunan Kalijaga. The survey covered a wide variety of topics including young people's aspirations for the future, marriage, employment, sexuality and religion, as well as questions on language attitudes and use.

Students from Gadjah Mada University (UGM) are considered to be among the nation's brightest. They typically come from urban middle-class backgrounds and, prior to university, attended nonreligious primary and secondary schools. A good number, though by no means all, are from nominal or more-or-less “secular” Muslim families and aspire to white-collar positions in the professions or as civil servants.3 Once on campus, however, many of UGM's students are attracted to the growing pietistic and Islamist movements, both of which tend to take a more conservative, “strict-constructionist” form than is the case on the State Islamic University campus. By contrast, students from the State Islamic University (UIN) typically come from rural or small town middle-class backgrounds. Most of the UIN students grew up in devout Muslim families; many (upwards of 70%) attended Muslim boarding schools (pesantren) for all or part of their earlier education.4 UIN students often aspire to employment as religious scholars, religious teachers, or independent entrepreneurs.

The Linguistic Market

By the standards of most speech communities, the Javanese linguistic situation is unusually complex. When approaching a speech interaction, speakers first have to assess the quality of their relationship with their interlocutor and then choose among the several styles of Javanese as well as formal and informal varieties of the national language, Indonesian.5 The multiple speech styles or levels of Javanese are based upon two major distinctions. Ngoko is the basic, familiar level and is generally learned through informal interactions with family and friends. Basa, the formal, respect level, is more pragmatically complex and must be more consciously cultivated. Basa is a general term for what are in fact at least two registers: madya, a “middle” respect level and krama, a “higher” respect level. The speech levels are intersected by honorific vocabularies (krama inggil“high krama” and krama andhap“humble krama”), the linguistic effect of which is to create a system of distinct styles of speech which can be calibrated to express the relative relationship of status and familiarity between interlocutors (Errington 1985, Koentjaraningrat 1985, Wolff & Poejosoedarmo 1982).

Until the late 1970s, asymmetric Javanese speech interactions were still relatively common, with the lower status speaker in an interaction using a more respectful speech variety to a higher status addressee and receiving a relatively lower (less respectful, more familiar) speech variety in return. J. Joseph Errington emphasizes, however, that the ability to use the “highest,” most refined speech levels was always limited to the court elite, the priyayi (Errington 1985:43). In the Javanese-speaking areas of rural eastern Java where I carried out research in the 1980s, almost no locals commanded these refined courtly language varieties (see Smith-Hefner 1989). Meanwhile, in Yogyakarta, by the early 1980s most elites had made a significant shift away from asymmetric exchanges which involved the use of the krama speech level toward the symmetric exchange of the “middle” respect level, madya.6 Among nonelites as well, the most common, everyday, uses of basa varieties outside the family are today symmetric (cf. Errington 1998, Goebel 2000). Most involve the exchange of the middle or madya form in interactions with some category of nonfamiliars.

Nonetheless, the model or ideal of asymmetric social exchanges has persisted in the use of basa as a strategy of deferential (negative) politeness and in the traditional arts and theater. Asymmetric exchanges are also still in evidence in many Javanese families, with children using a more respectful form of speech to their parents and elders and receiving a more familiar form in return. Mothers ideally begin training their children to use respectful speech forms when they are quite young. This training takes the form of modeling polite forms known as mbasakke anakke“speaking basa for or to the child.”Krama and krama inggil (honorific) forms are still today a part of Javanese “baby talk” vocabulary (Smith-Hefner 1988a).7

Javanese, however, is not the only language available to speakers. Indonesian (bahasa Indonesia), historically adapted from Old Malay, became the national language of the republic after Indonesia declared its independence from the Dutch in August 1945. Earlier, in the first decades of the twentieth century, Indonesian had been the mother tongue of no more than 5 percent of the population (Sneddon 2003:105). Today, in what is widely acclaimed as a remarkable political and linguistic achievement, the number of Indonesians who can speak their national language is well over 90 percent (Errington 1998:2; Sneddon 2003). While regional languages like Javanese continue to be used for many intragroup purposes, Indonesian is considered the appropriate code of official, governmental, and intergroup communications, (Nababan 1991, Sneddon 2003, Steinhauer 1994).

There are, in fact, several significantly different varieties of Indonesian. Linguists have emphasized the language's “essentially diglossic” nature, pointing to the considerable differences between the formal standard and colloquial varieties of everyday spoken Indonesian and the rigid compartmentalization of their corresponding functions and contexts of use (Sneddon 2003:17–18; see also Errington 1998, 2000). Diglossia is a “relatively stable language situation in which there is a very divergent, highly codified superposed variety learned largely by formal education and used for most written and formal spoken purposes but not used by any sector of the community for ordinary conversation” (Charles Ferguson 1972 [1959] cited in Sneddon 2003:123). The Australian linguist James Sneddon argues that diglossia applies to the Indonesian language situation because formal Indonesian is learned almost exclusively in school and is associated with print publications, government pronouncements, and official media but is not used in everyday, informal interactions. Informal Indonesian, by contrast, is learned outside of school through daily interactions and is often inflected with linguistic elements which reflect the regional language backgrounds and social aspirations of its speakers.

Over the past several decades, a prestige variety of informal Indonesian has also developed among middle-class speakers in the Indonesian capital city of Jakarta. This new variety has become the linguistic norm for social interactions in metropolitan Jakarta in all but the most formal contexts. Migrants to the capital begin to speak the Jakartan dialect of Indonesian within a generation or two, eventually losing all or part of their regional dialect (Sneddon 2003:11; see also Oetomo 1990). The Indonesian sociolinguist Dede Oetomo has observed, “The shift to Jakartan Indonesian is understandable, given the role of Jakarta as the capital city where the most powerful, most wealthy and most attractive people are thought to live” (1990:71).

In recent decades the influence of the Jakartan dialect of Indonesian has spread beyond the capital. Alia Swastika writes that in imitating Jakartan speech, young people in the provinces aspire to the hip, modern, and cosmopolitan lifestyle of those who live in metropolitan Jakarta (2003:14). Sneddon (2003:11) hypothesizes that Jakartan Indonesian may be developing into a standard colloquial variety. As its use has spread beyond Jakarta to urban areas like Yogyakarta, it has increasingly come to be associated with both the members of and aspirants to Indonesia's new middle class.

Language and the New Middle Class

Indonesia's middle class is small but growing. In the early 1990s, Ian Chalmers (1993, cited in Gerke 2000:136) estimated that Indonesian families who were able to enjoy a middle class lifestyle constituted only between 7 and 10 percent of the population and lived mostly in urban areas. The largest and most distinct group within the emerging middle class consists of civil servants (pegawai negeri), many of whom have attained their positions as a result of the rapid expansion of the education system and bureaucracy under Suharto's New Order (Gerke 2000). Other segments include categories of salaried professionals such as engineers, doctors, lawyers, journalists, and airline pilots; business executives, white collar workers, and employers; and indigenous entrepreneurs and merchants (Dick 1985). Although cross-cut by differences of region, ethnicity, and religion, these middle-class groups exhibit lifestyles and consumption habits which mark them as distinct from the majority of Indonesians who live at a near-subsistence level.

In Yogyakarta, signs of the new middle-class consumerism have become strikingly apparent, especially since the sustained economic expansion of the late 1980s and 1990s. Multistory gated housing communities have sprung up where there were once verdant rice fields. Coffee shops, ATMs, fast food restaurants, and supermarkets are available on every major urban intersection, and even in some congested suburban neighborhoods. Modern appliances, up-to-date electronic devices, and the latest fashions are featured on billboards and in store windows. Of course most young people cannot afford the new middle-class consumerism, but many nonetheless engage in what Solvay Gerke refers to as “symbolic” consumption or “lifestyling” (Gerke 2000:147; see also C. Jones 2003); that is, taking on or displaying low cost or no-cost elements of the lifestyle to which they aspire. It is commonplace, for example, to see large numbers of youth on Saturday nights, walking through one of Yogyakarta's air conditioned, multistoried malls, “window shopping” and taking in the scene without actually purchasing anything. Some strollers carry and display cell phones even when in fact the owner lacks the resources to make calls. Other groups sit conspicuously savoring a nine cent ice cream cone, the cheapest item on the menu at MacDonald's—an institution that clearly signals their identification with middle-class consumerism.

The use of new varieties of Indonesian is an integral part of this symbolic consumption of middle-class identity. Yogyakartan youth describe the Jakartan dialect of Indonesian as “trendy,”“cool,” and “modern.” They draw heavily on Jakartan Indonesian in formulating the hip new youth speech styles called bahasa gaul (lit., “social language; slang”; see Chambert-Loir 1984, Smith-Hefner 2007b). The use of these new “social” styles of Indonesian is, of course, free, and it effectively indexes a speaker's knowledge of and orientation towards modern ideas and new consumer trends. It is thus not surprising, Oetomo argues, that language is among the first things adopted by those who identify with the new, urban, middle class (Oetomo 1990).

Language and Education

The earlier spread of Indonesian as the national language is widely associated with the often heavy-handed nation-making policies of the New Order regime which ruled Indonesia from 1966–1998 (Anderson 1966, Errington 1998, Liddle 1988). National language standardization and its implementation through the expansion of the educational system were central features of the government's ambitious nation-building projects. The New Order period witnessed a dramatic increase in both the number of state-run “general schools” (sekolah umum) and state-supported Islamic schools (madrasah) as part of the president's so-called Inpres (“presidential instruction”) program. Primary education was made compulsory, first through grade six and later through grade nine.

The effects of these educational programs have been impressive. Between 1965 and 1990, the percentage of young adults with basic literacy skills rose from 40 to 90 percent. The percentage of youths completing senior high school grew from 4 percent to more than 30 percent today (Hefner 2000:17). The expansion of educational opportunities has affected the situation of girls and women even more significantly than men. A telling example of this transformation, in 1971 there were 45 percent more males than females enrolled in school between the ages of 13 and 17; by 1991, this disparity had shrunk to just 8 percent (Hull and Jones 1994:164).

As the national language, Indonesian is the official language of school instruction (bahasa pengantar). Up until about five years ago in Yogyakartan schools, Indonesian was introduced gradually with teachers using a mixture of the children's first language (Javanese) and Indonesian from grade one until grade four to ease students' linguistic transition. The great majority of the two hundred college students I interviewed for this research reported that in their childhood they had learned Indonesian primarily at school and in interactions with friends and classmates. A majority also said that their parents had not made any deliberate effort to teach them Indonesian before they started school because their parents knew there would be a period of teacher-supported school adjustment.

More recently, Indonesia's educational expansion has even extended into early childhood education. Since the late 1980s, Yogyakarta has experienced a phenomenal growth in play-groups, preschools, and kindergartens. The most sought after preschools and kindergartens are private, curricularly “integrated” (terpadu) institutions operated by Muslim organizations, which introduce young children to both religious and secular subjects. Despite the expansion in schools, however, classrooms remain overcrowded, and the number of spaces available for students is not sufficient to meet demand. Parents complain about long waiting lists and expensive school fees. The preferred schools even for very young students are highly selective. Competition for admission to the better schools compels parents to introduce their children to Indonesian at an even younger age, since mastery of Indonesian is one of the measures used to rank applicants.8

The state's language standardization efforts have focused almost exclusively on increasing speaker competence in and expanding the use of the national language, Indonesian. By contrast, the government's policy with regard to regional varieties is best characterized as one of benign neglect (Bertrand 2003, Samuel 2000).9 In areas of East and Central Java, Javanese is generally introduced as a subject in grade four and is studied through middle school, after which time it becomes an elective (Nababan 1991:130, Poejosoedarmo 2006:114). In Yogyakarta—as a center of Javanese court culture and at the urging of the Sultan—Javanese language classes were recently made a requirement from grade one through high school.10

Identified as muatan lokal or “local/regional subject matter,” the focus of Javanese language instruction is on regional culture and vernacular values and is intended to reinforce the learners' identification with a regional and, in this instance, Javanese ethnic identity (Nababan 1991:122). Instruction in Javanese emphasizes the teaching of elements of formal Javanese, krama, through the memorization of word lists and through sentence translation exercises from the informal style, ngoko, into the formal style, krama.11 The impact of this instruction on the use of Javanese outside of the classroom is limited, to say the least. In interviews, very few students or parents report that regional language classes affected young people's use of Javanese in everyday speech interactions outside of school. In fact, rather than reinforcing their use of Javanese, a surprising number of the young people in my study—even some of those who had been socialized to use krama in their families as children—reported consciously shifting their speech to Indonesian in interacting with their parents at some point during their school careers. Uul, for example, a second-year student at the UIN in Yogyakarta, was one of many who said that she shifted from using ngoko alus (informal but polite Javanese) to using Indonesian with her parents when she began high school. She said she feels more comfortable using Indonesian and considers it to be “more communicative” and “less complicated.”

Devi, a fourth-year medical student at UGM, shifted to using Indonesian even earlier in her school career. At the time of our interview, Devi was in her mid-twenties and had recently married her high school sweetheart. The young couple was living with her parents in a middle-class Yogyakarta neighborhood while she finished her internship at a local hospital. Devi laughed and said she mostly relies on Indonesian when speaking with her parents at home.

When I was young, my Javanese was really good. I could speak really polite krama. Then I went to kindergarten and all my friends spoke Indonesian. I couldn't speak Indonesian at first, but after awhile I learned to speak Indonesian and I forgot my Javanese! Now I can only speak ngoko. I mean I still use a few polite words when addressing my parents like Pak dhahar dulu yok, Pak[“Dad, come on and eat (hon.).”] My parents say, ‘How is it you're Javanese and can't speak Javanese correctly?’ My mom gets really upset when I address my in-laws in Indonesian. But Javanese is too much trouble (susah). We have to really differentiate our language depending on the person we're addressing—if they're older or the same age or younger. It's just too complicated (terlalu repot). I plan to use only Indonesian with my kids.

Other students like Sofiatun who is from the UIN argued along similar lines that they are simply too lazy (malas) to use the speech levels of Javanese.

I never use krama anymore with my parents even though they're constantly reminding me to. I tell them, “It's not communicative and I'm just too lazy.” It's more enjoyable to use plain ngoko or Indonesian.

Like Devi's parents, most Javanese of an earlier generation are ambivalent about the shift they see occurring in their children and grandchildren. Many identify the linguistic change with a loss of respect for elders and worry that, as certainly would have been the case a generation or two ago, it will reflect poorly on the family's reputation among neighbors and relatives. At the same time, parents recognize the importance of Indonesian for educational achievement and for social mobility and most say they are resigned to the fact that “the times have changed” (zaman sudah berubah).12

One striking aspect of the changing times is the shift in attitudes towards the national language as reflected in the comments of young people like those above. Many Indonesians trace this shift back to events in the final years of Suharto's New Order regime. Indonesian, as the language of state, has been linked from its inception to ideologies of modernity and upward mobility (Anderson 1966, Errington 2000, Keane 2003). Shifting iconic relations, however, have involved a transformation of the sign relationship between Indonesian and the social images with which it is linked (see Irvine and Gal 2000:37). As more informal styles of the national language have developed and spread, there has been a shift in the language's cultural valences from state-mandated modernity to a new cosmopolitan sociability. By adopting varieties of Indonesian identified as more “expressive” and “participatory,” young people aspire to establish more modern, democratic, social and familial relationships.

Language use during the New Order was carefully monitored by teachers, language experts, and government officials who insisted that young people be trained in a “proper and correct Indonesian” (bahasa Indonesia yang baik dan benar). Indonesians who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s have described their experience of Indonesian as a depersonalized “third person code,” distant and distinct from their everyday experience (cf. Heryanto 1990, Swastika 2003). In the late 1970s and early 1980s, when I first began doing research on language use in Java, young people most commonly referred to Indonesian as bahasa sekolah“school language” and bahasa resmi“formal language.” Many also described it as “stiff” (kaku) and “inadequately expressive” (kurang ekspresif).

Today, by contrast, students and young parents describe the national language in terms that indicate their perception of it, not as formal and bureaucratic, but inclusive and democratic. Indonesian, they say, is “more communicative” (lebih komunikatif), “more flexible” (lebih flexibel), and “more egalitarian” (lebih egalitar). To underscore this new perception, students often spontaneously contrast Indonesian with Javanese, referring to the speech levels of Javanese as “feudal” (feodal) and even “patriarchal” (patriarchis). Eko, a former UGM student now working for a local nongovernmental organization, said he still remembers the difficult ten years he spent living in his uncle's house when he was in middle and high school. His uncle was distantly related to the court and “had a feudal orientation” (masih feodal) so Eko was required to use especially refined speech (krama inggil) with him. For Eko, it was torture. “I was always scolded if I made a mistake and didn't use the proper term of address. I had to call my uncle den, raden, like that. I always had to be careful to use the right language or he would yell at me. So now I reject those aspects of feudalism and patriarchy. My wife and I speak mainly Indonesian to our son.” A prominent human rights activist, Eko now inhabits a social world in which the use of formal Javanese is no longer required—and in fact is regarded as simply “awkward” (kaku).

The change in young people's perceptions of Indonesian as more communicative, expressive, and egalitarian is eroding the linguistic compartmentalism (diglossia) long posited to exist among formal and informal varieties of the national language. While today Indonesian teachers say they continue to insist on bahasa Indonesia yang baik dan benar (“proper and correct Indonesian”), they also admit that more informal variants are increasingly allowed in the classroom. As one teacher explained, “Indonesian isn't like it used to be. Of course we use proper and correct Indonesian, but that doesn't mean it has to be stiff and boring.” Other teachers reported similarly, “It's not the same Indonesian.”

Survey Data

These ethnographic and interview data on young people's language use and the attitudes which underlie the shift to Indonesian are supported by the data from a survey of young Javanese which I conducted early on in my research, in the spring of 1999, with the help of a team of university students. The survey was distributed to equal numbers of male and female students who were either attending or were recent graduates of UGM or the nearby UIN. One hundred and five men and 101 women completed the survey questionnaire.13 The survey questions which speak most directly to the present discussion are those which focused on the language students most commonly use to address their grandparents and their parents, and the language variety respondents plan to use with their own children. Of course personal reports of language use can be inaccurate indicators of actual behaviors, made even more complicated in this case by the number of available language choices—including the various speech levels of Javanese. Nonetheless the responses are valuable, I would argue, as a barometer of (changing) attitudes towards language use which can be profitably compared with ethnographic observations made in a wide variety of contexts.

Whereas the majority of students report that they continue to use some form of Javanese in family interactions (most commonly ngoko or ngoko halus“polite ngoko”), survey data support interview and ethnographic evidence that the preference for the use of Indonesian is increasing even within families. Of the 206 students who answered the question regarding the language they use with their grandparents, for example, 22 or 11 percent reported that they most often use Indonesian (BI). Of the 199 who answered the question regarding the language they used with their parents, 25 or 13 percent reported that they use Indonesian. And of 198 who answered the question regarding the language they plan to use with their own children, fully 123 or 62 percent reported that they plan to use the national language.

Chart A: Reported Indonesian Language Use by University Student Respondents

BI use with grandparents 22/206 (11%)
BI use with parents 25/199 (13%)
Plan to use BI with own children 123/198 (62%)

Students' responses reflect the cumulative effects of New Order educational programs. They speak to the fact that, not only are the majority of young people today fluent in Indonesian, but an increasing number of Javanese in the parental and grandparental generations are capable of using Indonesian to converse with their children and grandchildren. The responses speak to the shift in language attitudes discussed above: a new willingness on the part of young people to persist in using Indonesian with their elders because it is perceived as “more modern” and “more communicative” and on the part of elders to acquiesce to interacting with their children and grandchildren in the national language instead of insisting on the use of Javanese because they don't want the new generation to be “left behind by the [changing] times” (ketinggalan jaman).

When the survey data are arranged according to the background of respondents, a significant difference emerges in the responses of students from urban as opposed to rural backgrounds. As mentioned earlier, a much higher percentage of students who attend the Islamic UIN come from middle-class but rural backgrounds than is the case for students attending UGM. When the survey data are organized by the school of respondents, my findings indicate that a considerably smaller percentage of UIN students report using Indonesian with their grandparents and parents than do students from UGM (2% vs. 19% and 7% vs. 18%, respectively). This pattern is supported by the 1990 Indonesian National Census which indicates a similar correlation between urban background of speakers and greater fluency in Indonesian (Samuel 2000, Steinhauer 1994). What is striking, however, is that the difference between rural and urban students is much less dramatic when it comes to the students' stated desire to use Indonesian with their own children. A full 59 percent of UIN students indicate that they plan to use Indonesian, not much less than the 65 percent of UGM respondents who plan to do the same.

Chart B: Reported Indonesian Language use by School/Background of Respondents

BI use with grandparents 2/100 (2%) 20/106 (19%)
BI use with parents 7/100 (7%) 18/99 (18%)
Plan to use BI with own children 57/97 (59%) 66/101 (65%)

The differences in reported Indonesian use with parents and grandparents among UIN and UGM respondents reflect the fact that levels of education and of Indonesian proficiency are generally lower in rural areas of Indonesia; and, as a result, fewer individuals in the parental and grandparental generation are willing or able to use Indonesian to converse with their children and grandchildren. UIN students emphasized that village life is more homogeneous than life in the city and expectations are greater that family members and neighbors share a regional language and culture. Respondents from both UIN and UGM stressed that using Indonesian to address someone of an older generation who does not feel comfortable speaking the national language is seen as improper and disrespectful. This linguistic norm continues to hold sway more in rural areas of Java than in cities and towns where levels of Indonesian proficiency are higher.

The most intriguing finding from the survey data, however, concerns patterns of reported Indonesian language use as correlated with gender. While broadly similar percentages of men and women report using Indonesian with their grandparents (10% and 12%, respectively), a significant difference emerges in levels of Indonesian language use with parents. Some 18 percent of women report that they use Indonesian with their parents, as opposed to just 8 percent of men. An even more significant difference emerges in the responses of men and women to the question of what language they plan to use with their own children. Of 97 male respondents, 50 (52%) indicated that they expect or hope to use Indonesian; whereas of 101 female respondents, 73 (72%) indicated that they plan to do so. Interesting too is the fact that eight of the 105 men surveyed declined to answer this question. Five of the eight men said they had “never thought about it” or “had no idea.”14 By contrast, all 101 female respondents answered—an expression of widespread cultural assumptions regarding gender roles and the socialization of children (taken up in the discussion below).

Chart C: Reported Indonesian Language Use by Male and Female Respondents

Male Female
BI use with grandparents 10/105 (10%) 12/101 (12%)
BI use with parents 8/104 (8%) 17/95 (18%)
Plan to use BI with own children 50/97 (52%) 73/101 (72%)

When female respondents are broken down by school, once again a culturally significant distinction emerges between respondents from the Islamic UIN (who are more likely to come from rural backgrounds) and those from the nonconfessional UGM (who are more likely to have come from urban backgrounds). Women from UGM consistently report higher levels of Indonesian use with older relatives (parents and grandparents) than do women from UIN. Significantly, however, there is very little difference between the two groups when it comes to the language they plan to use with their own children. Some 72 percent of UIN women indicate they plan to use Indonesian compared with 73 percent of women respondents from UGM. Here female respondents from the UIN align themselves very closely with their more urban counterparts.

Chart D: Reported Indonesian Language Use by School of Female Respondents

BI use with grandparents 1/48 (2%) 11/53 (20%)
BI use with parents 5/46 (11%) 12/49 (24%)
Plan to use BI with own children 36/50 (72%) 37/51 (73%)

Thus while UIN women who are generally from rural backgrounds are more constrained in their language choice with parents and grandparents (a higher percentage of whom are unable or unwilling to speak the national language), the overall pattern to emerge from the survey data is one in which middle-class Javanese women are in the forefront of the ideological shift towards the greater use of Indonesian.

Gender Ideologies and Social Change

Survey data which indicate Javanese women's greater preference for Indonesian must be viewed within the context of new social and educational opportunities for young people and their differential impact on gender ideologies and the symbolic valuation of language resources. Over the past three decades, Javanese women have made great strides with regard to education and professional employment (G. Jones 1994, Robinson 2000, Smith-Hefner 2005). Compared with women in previous generations, far more women today are delaying marriage in order to pursue an education, working outside of the home, and having smaller families consisting of only two or three children. In the 1950s, the age of marriage for most Indonesian women was 16. By the 1980s, most women married at 19 or 20; since that time the figure has continued to rise (G. Jones 1994:306). In 1990, the average woman in Yogyakarta married at age 21.1, and among those women with senior high education or above the figure approached age 25 (G. Jones 1994:96). In my surveys and interviews well over 90 percent of women indicated a desire to work outside of the home both before and after they marry. These developments, however, have raised new anxieties surrounding marriage, family life, and the quality of interpersonal relationships (C. Jones 2004, Smith-Hefner 2005). They have also led men and women to develop different strategies in using and valuing language.

Despite the new educational and economic opportunities for women, the marital imperative looms large; Javanese women are still expected to marry and have children. “Modern” marriages are romantic unions based on the free consent of the bride and groom. Yet, in interviews and casual conversations, young, educated women express high levels of anxiety about the difficulties of finding a marriage partner. Among other things, women insist that the older and more educated a woman becomes, the more difficult it will be for her to find a match (jodoh). They repeat the common belief that Javanese men prefer marrying women who are both younger and less well educated than themselves. Adding to their tension, many women are also familiar with conservative Islamist demands for the wider practice of polygyny (poligami). Among other things, the advocates of polygyny cite what they believe is a significant imbalance in numbers of men in relation to women. The fact that there is no empirical evidence to support this alleged gender imbalance does not appear to have diminished the public's belief in its truth.

In surveys and interviews, women cite a strong religious foundation (in Islam) as the single most important criteria for a prospective husband and say that regional background and ethnicity are not important. The shift to Indonesian by Javanese women can be seen from this perspective as a possible strategy (conscious or unconscious) for widening the pool of potential marriage candidates to include non-Javanese speakers. In fact, in discussions and interviews many women directly linked their preference for Indonesian to the possibility of their marrying someone who does not speak Javanese.15 An example of the interaction of these varied concerns surrounding language and marriage is articulated by Ita, a student from UGM, who when asked about her preference for language use with her (future) children, responded,

Of course it will depend on my husband and where he comes from. But I would prefer to use a form of Indonesian which is not too standard or stiff (nggak terlalu baku dan kaku). I want to create a “participatory” family life (ingin jadi partisipatoris). I'm against using krama (saya ‘anti’), because I just can't use it correctly”[laughter].

Ita's comments reveal that the preference for Indonesian is not merely viewed as expanding the possible pool of marital candidates, but is also linked to the aspiration for particular types of spousal and interpersonal relationships—specifically those identified as more “relaxed” and “participatory.”

What is more, because women, even working women, are still expected to be in charge of the household and the socialization of children—including language socialization—the effects of women's ideological shifts are potentially far-reaching. These expectations have only been reinforced by the resurgent interest in a more normative profession of Islam, one which emphasizes a woman's critical role within the family as an educator of her children and helpmate to her husband (Blackburn 2004, Brenner 2005, Robinson 2002). Teaching young children to use the speech levels of Javanese, however, is a difficult and time-consuming task which requires enormous patience. The burden is even greater given that the broader social environment is “no longer supportive,” because so many young people and even parents are now using Indonesian. In interviews with young mothers, many offered stories of how they had made a concerted effort to teach their first child krama, only to decide with subsequent children that it was just too much trouble (merepotkan sekali).

Wid's story exemplifies such a pattern. Wid is a lecturer at a private university in Yogyakarta where she teaches economics. At the time of our interview she was in her late 20s, and had three young children, ages 9, 6, and 2.5. She reported that her first child, a boy, could speak formal Javanese “really well.” She explained that she had been “diligent” (rajin) about teaching him formal Javanese (krama) when he was young and his grandparents supported and encouraged him. (At that time, she and her husband lived with her mother and father while saving to buy a house of their own.) But her second child, a girl, didn't learn to speak the formal Javanese variety (basa) at all.

It was just too difficult. I decided to just let her do what she wanted and see what happened. By that time we had moved to a new neighborhood with lots of young children and my daughter was surrounded by playmates all of whom spoke Indonesian [though their families, like Wid's, were ethnically Javanese]. My daughter has never shown any interest in learning basa and I didn't push her. It was just no use. Then with my third child, well, I just wasn't fast enough. He's already been influenced by his surroundings. All of the other kids in the neighborhood speak Indonesian and now his vocabulary is completely Indonesian, except for a few baby talk words of krama.

When asked about the role of grandparents—who used to play a critical role as models and supports for teaching grandchildren formal Javanese—mothers reported that grandparents nowadays are older, less available, and less willing to provide such language training. Equally important, in interviews many grandparents also reported that they wanted to develop a more close, loving, and communicative relationship with their grandchildren and that the use of Indonesian or ngoko Javanese rather than formal krama facilitates that relationship.16

Javanese women's domestic role is viewed as extending deep into the affective sphere to include responsibility for the emotional well-being of household members—husbands, children, and even maids. Carla Jones has argued that this “emotion work” falls to women because women are considered to be more emotional by nature than men who have difficulty expressing their feelings, are more susceptible to sexual temptations, and just generally more “needy” (C. Jones 2004:516; see also Peletz 1995). The modern housewife is expected to create for her husband and children a household which is not only clean, well organized, and aesthetically pleasing, but also harmonious and free of tensions and stress (setres/stres). Young women are keenly aware of these expectations and of their expected role as caretakers of (future) children. At the same time, however, many are determined to create “modern” households of close, “democratic” relationships in which their children feel they can express themselves and “share feelings/ confidences” (curhat).

In interviews and casual conversations, both young men and women expressed the desire for more “modern” (moderen) relationships. However, the concern for greater equality between husband and wife and, in particular, the desire for more closeness and intimacy (keakraban) in the family relationships came up most consistently in conversations with young women.17 Many young women linked these concerns to the use of Indonesian or the informal variety of Javanese, ngoko.

Puji UIN: I want to use Indonesian in my own family. Of course I'll teach my kids some regular Javanese (ngoko) too. It depends on where we live. If we live in Salatiga, then they'll have to use some Javanese, but I'd rather use Indonesian because it's more close/intimate (akrab). My fiancé and I use Indonesian even though we're both from the same background (Javanese from Salatiga). It seems that [using Indonesian] he values me more, like it's more egalitarian.

Farah UGM: When I use Indonesian I feel more close, familiar (akrab), with my friends because it's more equal (lebih seimbang) and “democratic” (lebih demokratis). It's like, “I eat and she eats too. I sleep, she sleeps too.” So I plan to use Indonesian with my own children if my [future] husband agrees. In my opinion it's more comfortable and more flexible [than Javanese]. I want to create an environment of intimacy (suasana yang akrab) and equality (yang demokratis) in my household.

A female student of Javanese language and literature at UGM made the connection between the shift to Indonesian and more equal marital relations even more dramatically, arguing that “[in the past] when a Javanese wife used formal Javanese (krama) to her husband, she could not say ‘I want’ and she could not say ‘no.’ But her husband could say ‘I want’ (dikersakke) and she would have to serve him. She could not refuse. The shift to Indonesian means the distance between husband and wife is smaller and their relationship is closer (lebih akrab). Now a wife can just say, ‘Ah, I'm not in the mood’ (Ah, saya tidak mood).”

In this regard, it is interesting to note that the greater preference expressed by young women for the use of Indonesian parallels findings from my survey data which reveal a marked preference on the part of young men for the use of formal Javanese krama in their family relations. Statistics on the reported use of krama (including the speech level known as madya) with parental and grandparental generations indicate that young men continue to maintain, or at any rate, report, more formal relationships within the family than do young women. For example, 75 percent of male respondents reported using some form of krama with their grandparents compared with 53 percent of females. Moreover, more than twice as many males (44/104 or 42%) reported using a formal style of Javanese with their parents than females (18/95 or 19%). Finally, a significantly higher percentage of males than females indicated they plan to use formal Javanese with their own children (46% vs. 34%); that is, the young men plan to have their children speak formal Javanese (krama) in addressing them.18

Chart E: Reported Krama/Madya Use by Male and Female Respondents

Male Female
Krama/Madya use with grandparents 79/105 (75%) 54/101 (53%)
Krama/Madya use with parents 44/104 (42%) 18/95 (19%)
Plan to use Kr/Madya with own children 45/97 (46%) 34/101 (34%)

Ethnographic research indicates that young men's relationship to formal Javanese is rather different than that of young women. The use of formal Javanese typically weighs more heavily on young women. This differential burden applies not only to the socialization of children but to other roles women play within the household. Women, for example, are expected to receive and serve guests in addition to serving the male head of the household. In fulfilling these duties they were traditionally expected to use some form of formal Javanese (Smith-Hefner 1988b; see also C. Jones 2004). As a result, within the household, there is a clear gendered dimension to the production and reception of formal Javanese: women are required to use more formal and polite speech; they receive less. It is the male head of the household in his role as husband and father who is the recipient of most of the status-deferential Javanese, most of which emanates from women and children. It is especially revealing that the examples of krama use within the household which were offered by respondents in interviews all positioned the father as either the subject or addressee of the sentence.19 Not one respondent, male or female, offered an example which addressed their mother or described her actions in honorific or formal Javanese.

Interestingly too, in interviews a number of male respondents reported consciously cultivating the use of krama in later adolescence in order to express a newly acquired social status (see also Smith-Hefner 1988b), a pattern which contrasted with the stories of young women who more often recounted shifting towards the use of more Indonesian as they matured. This pattern of cultivating krama as a sign of status rather than an expression of deference was most dramatically evidenced among male students who had attended pesantren (Muslim boarding schools).

Young men from pious Muslim families typically leave home to study in Islamic boarding schools (pesantren) in early adolescence—usually at age 12 or 13, but in some cases even earlier. Pesantren students often have little contact with their parents for long periods of time. A part of the pesantren rite of passage, male youths are expected to “endure” (betah), that is, not succumb to homesickness or attempt to leave for home. As a result of expectations like these, many male students (santri) at Islamic boarding schools see their parents only one or two times a year. When they do finally return home, they are expected to exhibit signs of moral and spiritual transformation in their social comportment. One response to this expectation, heard in a number of my interviews, is for the newly returned young man to use krama when speaking to his parents and elders, thereby adding a linguistic index to his recently achieved religious and social status.20

Ali UIN: I decided to change my language when I came home from the pesantren. I felt I had been away and studied in the pesantren, so how could it be that I didn't undergo a change in my character and behavior? I decided to express that new understanding by changing my language. Growing up, I used to use plain ngoko with my parents, but when I came home from the pesantren, I changed to krama. I felt embarrassed not to, I felt I had to show I was more responsible and mature.

Given the shifting linguistic landscape, however, this particular linguistic innovation is not always well received. In Ali's case, he admitted later in the same interview that he just couldn't keep it up. “The environment just didn't support it. My family, my brothers, sisters and cousins, weren't used to speaking krama to their elders, and so after awhile I gave up.”

Ali's example underscores both the ways that language ideologies may change over the lifetime of the individual and cautions that attitudinal shifts do not in any simple way translate into shifts in usage. Nonetheless the concern with community status and its linguistic indexicalization through the speaking of krama, was a far more common theme in the comments of male interviewees than it was in those of women. For example Kholiq, a recent graduate of UGM who was preparing to marry in the next few months, explained that he came from an area of East Java where few people are able to speak krama. When he goes home, then, he still uses ngoko to speak to his parents and neighbors. However, he said he wants his own children to learn to use krama“because young people have to be respectful to their parents and elders. People listen to the child and evaluate the parents. If the child is impolite they say, ‘Who's that kid's father? Why's he so impolite?’ ” Or Saeroni, a third year student at the UIN who explained that he wants his children to learn to speak krama to their elders because “otherwise people will think that their parents didn't teach them properly.” He went on to add, “Even though it [krama] is a remnant of feudalism which I reject, I think it's acceptable so long as it's limited to language.”

Gender Change and Language Ideology

Several years ago, Don Kulick (1998) observed that the relationship between gender and language behavior is not straightforward but depends on the mediation of other identities and social ideologies. These identities and ideologies, moreover, are not always mutually reinforcing but may be in tension. For Kulick's Gapun villagers of Papua New Guinea (1992), the resolution of that tension has moved the local language towards extinction. In the Javanese case the situation is much less dire, but an interesting and important linguistic shift is occurring nonetheless. Here the tension concerns new ideologies of modernity, middle-classness, and family relations. The tensions have been intensified by recent social changes and new possibilities for social and status mobility linked to language use, which have led Javanese men and women to evaluate and use language differently. At the same time these social changes have resulted in the revaluation of the meanings indexed by the linguistic varieties themselves.

The Javanese example is consistent with Gal's (1978) and Nichol's (1998) findings that women cultivate forms of speech which afford them greater opportunities for social and economic advancement. It also speaks to Eckert's (1998) argument that women are more dependent on the cultivation of symbolic capital via language use because their social position is defined more through symbolic means than by their public skills or activities (see also Bourdieu 1991). In the case of Javanese women, new educational and employment opportunities require fluency in the national language, Indonesian. These opportunities, which may take women far from home, have also greatly expanded both the possibility and desirability of marrying someone who does not speak the same regional language. This perception is reinforced by the “modern” expectation that young women today are free to choose their own marital partners. It is also fueled by an imagined marriage market in which older, educated, and “career” women are assumed to have greater difficulty finding spouses, as well as by the widespread belief that in Indonesia there are demographically disproportionately fewer males than females. The symbolic capital offered by the use of Indonesian thus not only enhances a woman's educational and economic possibilities but also broadens the imagined field of possible marital partners.

While Javanese men also cultivate the national language for the educational and employment possibilities it affords, survey and ethnographic findings on men's use of Indonesian offer evidence of a less striking shift than is the case for women. Men are, relatively speaking, more secure in their employment options, and employers generally assume men are family heads and breadwinners.21 The marriage market is similarly perceived as skewed in men's favor and women are expected to “follow their husbands”—adjusting their language, place of residence, and even religion if necessary.

Javanese women's shift to Indonesian and away from formal Javanese can also be seen as resistance to a traditional gender ideology that positions women in the domestic sphere and as subservient to men (Brenner 1995, Smith-Hefner 1988b). Despite considerable advances in the situation of Indonesian women over the past thirty years, important inequalities in their status relative to that of men remain (Brenner 2005, Robinson 2000). Women, even those who work outside of the home, are still expected to manage the household, to serve their husbands, and to take primary responsibility for the socialization of children (C. Jones 2004). Teaching young children to use proper Javanese, however, requires a great investment of time and energy, a reality that is particularly demanding for working mothers. What is more, in urban areas of Java like Yogyakarta, the broader social environment is no longer supportive of such efforts and the rewards for doing so for women are limited. Fathers are the most frequent recipients of formal Javanese within the family, while women are the ones who are using polite forms or directing and admonishing children to do so—reinforcing the inferior position of women within the household. At the same time, and against the grain of formal Javanese, middle-class mothers whose Indonesian-speaking children do well in school are widely admired and held up as models to be emulated. Women thus have more to gain from encouraging strong Indonesian language skills in their children as a foundation for their future educational achievement. This emphasis on Indonesian has been reinforced by the intensifying competition for admission to quality schools, as well as by the recent explosion of Islamic preschools and kindergartens. Almost without exception, Islamic schools emphasize, not Javanese, but language skill in Indonesian as well as Arabic and even English.

Kulick (1998) suggests that language ideologies never seem to be solely about language but are bound up with clusters of social phenomena and entangled in other aspects of culture. In the Javanese case the cluster includes not only gender, but social expressivity, middle-class identity, and the perceived ideals of modernity. The shift in the perception of Indonesian among Javanese young people, from a distant, “third person code” to one identified as more flexible, communicative, and egalitarian has made Indonesian use particularly attractive to young women who are seeking to distance themselves from “feudal” gender relations encoded in asymmetric patterns of Javanese. The turn away from formal Javanese to Indonesian is all part of an effort by women to develop more expressive styles of interaction, most importantly with their husbands and children. While these informal styles also appeal to young men, males are understandably more reluctant to relinquish the social status benefits which accrue to them in using (and receiving) formal Javanese.

The shift in the perceived cultural valences associated with new forms of Indonesian, from state-imposed modernity to cosmopolitan sociability, has widespread appeal for Muslim Javanese youth in search of new middle-class subjectivities. The cultural capital of Indonesian holds particular appeal, however, for young women who have taken advantage of new educational and social possibilities and are now struggling to redefine their social roles within a rapidly changing Java.


  • Acknowledgments: Research was funded by a Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Grant and a Spencer Foundation Small Grant; write-up was generously supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. I would like to thank Robert W. Hefner for his careful reading of numerous drafts of this paper and helpful suggestions for revisions. I would also like thank Paul Manning and three anonymous readers who offered excellent and very useful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.
  • 1 Javanese is Indonesia's largest regional language group and has some 75,508,300 speakers worldwide (Gordon 2005).
  • 2 With some 88.7 percent of its 220 million people professing Islam, Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation. An estimated 96 to 97 percent of Javanese are Muslim (see Hefner 2000).
  • 3 More than 65 percent of the UGM students in my survey reported that their families lived in the city (kota), district centers (kecatmatan), or in urban neighborhoods (kampong). By contrast, fully 87 percent of the students surveyed from the State Islamic University (UIN) indicated their families lived in the village (desa/dusun).
  • 4 Eighty-one percent of UIN men and 65 percent of UIN women had attended pesantren schools, compared with only 13 percent of UGM men and 7 percent of UGM women. In Java, many pesantren schools are located in the Javanese countryside and associated with the “traditionalist” Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). By comparison with Indonesia's Muslim reformists (in organizations like the Muhammadiyah; see Peacock 1978), the NU represents a more popular and indigenous form of Islam, more accommodating to Javanese culture and more favorable to the practices of Sufi mysticism.
  • 5 In addition, many Javanese know some Arabic as a result of religious study, and growing numbers of Javanese youth are also learning English. Some are also able to speak other regional languages. These varieties, however, are not consistently or widely used in everyday interactions.
  • 6 After the struggle for national independence there were serious social and political challenges to traditional status hierarchy and many commoners could no longer or would no longer use the required deferential variety to address their social “superiors.” Moreover, social and political developments had made the calibration of social status increasingly difficult to determine (see Errington 1985).
  • 7 On the concept of modeling in language socialization, see Elinor Ochs and Bambi Schieffelin 1984.
  • 8 Reinforcing these pressures, in 2002 Yogyakarta's regional government suggested that one year of kindergarten become mandatory for all children and urged schools whenever possible to use Indonesian as the language of instruction for all school grades from kindergarten on.
  • 9 In this regard Jacques Bertrand writes, “The Suharto government pursued the same basic language policies as its predecessor. The priority remained the advancement of bahasa Indonesia as the principal means of communication. [. . .] Local languages were officially respected and supported by the state, although in practice little was done to protect them” (2003:278; see also Samuel 2000).
  • 10 Despite the new language regulation which was instituted in 2005, the existence and quality of Javanese language instruction varies widely from school to school with many schools forgoing Javanese classes completely because of the dearth of qualified teachers and appropriate materials and the large number of existing required courses. Not infrequently, teachers of Javanese language are trained in fields other than language instruction and the status of Javanese within the curriculum is ranked below that of Indonesian, English, and, in religious schools, Arabic. Adding to its relatively low status as a school subject, Javanese is also not among the areas of study used in calculating a student's GPA for graduation and college entrance evaluations (see also Nababan 1991).
  • 11 Javanese language classes typically meet once a week for 45 minutes to an hour.
  • 12 Even those families related to the Yogykartan court have not escaped the shift away from the Javanese speech levels to Indonesian. For example, Ibu Kusfandi, who was in her mid-60s at the time of our interview, is a distant descendant of the Sultan of Yogyakarta, a “blue blood.” She is a collector of Indonesian antiques and the publisher of one of last remaining Javanese language magazines. She has four children, all of them now married with children of their own. Bu Kusfandi explained that she grew up within the palace walls and feels very strongly about the value of maintaining Javanese for future generations. She taught all of her own children how to speak krama and even krama inggil but notes that the linguistic landscape has changed rapidly with the present generation.
    “Nowadays there are lots of young people who just use Indonesian with their grandparents. Like my own grandchildren. They talk to me in Indonesian! It's a generational change. My children weren't like that. I taught them to use krama inggil to their parents and grandparents. But now in the school and with their friends, my grandchildren use Indonesian, so they use it with me too. They understand Javanese, they just won't use it. I tell my daughters, ‘You don't teach your own children proper language etiquette (tata krama); how is it that they use Indonesian with their grandmother! You should teach them to use proper Javanese!’ And they say, ‘All the kids are like that now mom. How can I force them to use formal Javanese? That's just for the palace, mom!’ ”
  • 13 The survey was distributed to respondents and then collected during the same meeting. At the time of collection, requests for clarification and expansion of responses were made and noted by student assistants where necessary. Not all of the respondents chose to answer all of the relevant language questions; as a result the number of respondents per question varies. Nonetheless numbers of males and female respondents remain broadly equal.
  • 14 The other three men answered “all languages.”
  • 15 While Javanese men also marry women from other regional backgrounds who speak languages other than Javanese, there is a cultural expectation, particularly strong among the middle-class, that women “follow their husbands.”
  • 16 Elderly respondents often commented that if they insisted on the use of formal Javanese, all their grandchildren would be able to do is ask them for money, (Mbah, nyuwun arto). They wanted to be able to discuss school and other interests together.
  • 17 These and related concerns are a popular focus of articles in Indonesian women's journals and magazines like Kartini and Femina.
  • 18 When asked to explain their responses, men made it clear that they felt their children should address their elders (including their father) using respectful speech. Women, however, more often indicated that they felt obligated to teach their children to use some krama to address others, typically fathers and grandparents.
  • 19 These examples included: Bapak lagi siram.“Father is bathing (hon.).”Bapak tindak kantor.“Father has left (hon.) for the office.”Ayah mau tindak dulu.“Father wants to leave (hon.). Pak, dhahar dulu yok, Pak!“Dad, go ahead and eat (hon.)!” Note that the last two sentences are actually Indonesian sentences into which a Javanese honorific form has been inserted.
  • 20 Female santri also reported the desire to signal to their families and communities that they had undergone a moral transformation as a result of their pesantren experience but in their case this more commonly took the form of a change in clothing style and demeanor; that is, wearing a longer more enveloping veil (jilbab“headscarf”) or wearing more modest, Islami dress and behaving in a more pious and restrained manner. I encountered no young women who said they had switched to speaking krama with their parents after studying in a pesantren.
  • 21 Note too that attractive and potentially lucrative jobs linked to the cultivated use of elevated Javanese (krama inggil) are generally more available to men than to women. These include professional announcers (MC) for ritual and official events, traditional practitioners of the arts (wayang, macapat), village and local/neighborhood officials, etc. (cf. Errington 1998)