It is necessary to understand the philosophy of language, particularly for those who study language seriously. It can serve as the gate for understanding the nature of any conceptual knowledge, including language and its functions. In this sense, J.J. Katz in Poedjosoedarmo (2003: 4) claims that the philosophy of language should be based on the theories of language developed in descriptive linguistics—or on the scholars’ understanding of the studied languages. Linguists give important contributions in the way a certain language works and functions (Halliday, 1972)..
This book, Filsafat Bahasa (The Philosophy of Language, 2003), is intentionally meant as an alternative book on the philosophy of language recommended for Indonesian readers. As claimed by Poedjosoedarmo (ibid: iii), this book presents language universalism as theoretical base, different from Katz’s perspective which proposes transformational grammar as its theoretical base. Through language universalism, it is expected that readers gain an alternative insight of the nature of language and its functions.
This book itself actually covers seven chapters in its efforts to describe the ‘Indonesian’ philosophy of language: the study of the philosophy of language, good language, standard language, syntax of the Malay, language functions, and language universalism. In this review, however, I want to focus only on Chapter 2: ‘Bahasa yang Baik’ (Good Language). Using the related literature, I am curious to examine the concept of a good language as discussed in this book. A general reflection will be made to justify whether the writer of this book has given a satisfactory discussion on the topic.
The book, as admitted by Poedjosoedarmo (2003: 29), discusses much on the status of language—not on the quality of language in the eyes of its speakers, nor on the dichotomy between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ language. The status of language itself is determined much by its capacity for communication in a certain speech community. The more speakers use it, the higher its capacity is, and the higher its status is.
The capacity refers not only the richness of linguistic rules but also their potential for the occurrence of real communication, i.e. how effective language can be used by a speaker to convey ideas to his counterpart (Ibid: 31). When the language can be used to convey something religious, political, judicative, or scientific, it has high capacity and, therefore, has high status. The Arabic, Latin, or Sanskrit have quite a high status because they are used in the holy books which contain God’s words. They are also used by the religion followers in their prayers and rituals.
Any language can increase its status from creole to register and from register to language of a wider speech community—all this depends on the speakers’ willingness to use it (Ibid: 32-34). The history of French, German, English, Malay, or Indonesian has proved how the intensity of the speakers use of the languages can increase their statuses. Jakarta dialect was regarded as a low register in the past, but time by time it has developed and accepted as a medium of wider communication.
As an example, it is reported in http://de.wikiversity.org/wiki/ Projekt: European_ Socio-linguistics/Language_Status (download 9 January 2009) that in Italy (Standard) Italian is the official language of the Republic of Italy. However, (according to art. 6 of the Italian Constitution) linguistic minorities are to be safeguarded “by means of special provisions”. Thus several (national and regional) laws were passed in the past decades to protect minority languages. The most comprehensive law among these is Law 482/1999, which recognizes the twelve above mentioned languages as official minority languages and aims at their protection. Among other things, it declares that in addition to Italian in the specific regions also the minority languages should be taught at schools and that official documents should be written in Italian and the respective minority language.
A more saddening fact is reported in http://www.ydli.org/dakinfo/dakstat.htm (download 8 January 2009) that throughout the world, the languages of indigenous people are threatened, dying, or dead. In Canada and the United States together 187 native languages are still spoken. Of these, 149 are no longer being learned by children; 80% of the languages are on their deathbed. In Australia, of the 250 aboriginal languages still spoken, 90% are on the verge of extinction. For the world as a whole, it is estimated that of the approximately 6,000 languages now spoken, 3,000 will become extinct in the course of the twenty-first century. We can predict, that the dying life of those language happens simply because most of its speakers are not proud anymore to use them.
Now, concerning the use of language for communication, Poedjosoedarmo (2003: 38) emphasizes the importance of the speaker’s creativity. By creativity he means that a speaker may use a certain word in his utterances creatively in a new situation and manner. He may also produce other utterances creatively. This kind of creativity is called ‘generative creativity’. He produces his utterances based on a new variety of contexts. As the contexts are developing as time goes, he is challenged to produce more and more creative utterances. At large, like him, speech community will also use the language for wider communication and eventually will raise the status of the language.
Since language symbolizes civilization, one community’s language status also represents its civilization; and so does one nation’s language status. The higher the language status the community or nation has is, perhaps the higher the civilization is. Yet, the language status here is always based on the demand for the intensive use of the language in wider functions, including in intercommunity or international functions.
To be acknowledged widely, however, a language needs to possess its written system. Poedjosoedarmo (Ibid: 41) elaborates that all languages throughout the world whose status is high posses their written system. It is a fact that most speakers of those languages can read and write in them so that they can produce a vast variety of works—the works of which people feel proud and may gain some privilege.
Why should a language posses its written system? It is argued that the written system enables people to use the language in their life. People can use it to record ideas, experiences, imaginations, and so on; and the record will be useful not only for this present time but also for the future time in which the next generation may read the records (Chomsky, 1965). What the next generation may imitate from the records can range from “how to construct sentences, how to choose proper words, how to apply writing formats or discourse strategies, how to use appropriate figures of speech, and so on.” (Poedjosoedarmo, op cit.: 42). All this will enhance the standardization of the language.
Indeed, the development of the written system coexists with the standardization process. With the system, the grammaticality of the language is getting more established, the word pronunciation and idiomatic forms definite, and a variety of register formats standard. In this case, the standardization help understand messages and their senders, and help better interaction between people of different ethnic groups, cultural backgrounds, or social strata. The logic is simple. When the language is standardized, the speakers will automatically refer their utterances based on the agreed standard rules (Halliday, 1984).
A standardized language usually contributes to a speaker’s honor and privilege. In fact those who use standard language are more honored than those who do not. Why is it so? In the standard language is reflected the potential for the better understanding of any messages they want to convey. In the context of English language, people are understood better when they use the Received Pronunciation (R.P), the one regarded standard by English, Canadian, or Australian speakers. In fact this pronunciation system is used by educated people in these countries—those who also have high social status.
The standardization itself happens in all levels of language: phonology or orthography, syntax, lexicon, word choice, and discourse (Poedjosoedarmo, op cit.: 45-46). As the standardization enables people to use for a wider communication, it corresponds to the number of the language speakers. Despite the emergence of non-standard languages, the number of people who speak or use the standard language is usually big. There is certainty in the system to follow so that, historically, more and more people yield themselves to the standard language in the hope that they can avoid misunderstanding.
Here is the point of this review. In this book Poedjosoedarmo addresses ‘good language’ to mean ‘standard language’. Whereas, these two terms have different meaning and implication. When the Indonesian government launched a language policy to socialize what is called “bahasa yang baik dan benar” (good and ‘correct’ language), there was a serious debate among Indonesian scholars. Alwi et al (2003) recommend that ‘good language’ should be distinguished from “correct language”, and when talking about ‘bahasa yang baik dan benar’ we should consider these two concepts respectively.
Referring to Alwi et al (2003), as excerpted in http://www.geocities.com/ daudp65/bind/ bibaik-bnar.htm, good language is the one used suitable with social norms and situations, while standard language is the one used always relying on the linguistic rules of the language. Thus, good and standard language is the one suitable both with the linguistic rules of the language and with social norms and situations.
The appropriateness of language use which is matched with the counterpart’s utterances, even in an informal situation, is classified as good language. Good language is not always ‘standard’ in its surface form. It will sound weird and questionable if we use standard language in an informal situation. Let us examine the following examples:
(1) Where to, Sir?
(2) Union Junction, please.
(3) Where are you going to, Sir?
(4) I am going to Union Junction, please.
The first two expressions are set in an informal situation in which a bus conductor asks a passenger about where to go, and the passenger responds that he wants to go to Union Juncture. This is good language, as it is suitable with the demanding situation. Whereas, the second two expressions are suitable with linguistic rules, and that is why they are standard. And yet, the last two expressions may hardly happen in a real situation; rather, they may only exist in textbooks. They are standard but ineffective and lengthy to convey a single message.
Yet, we may use language which is both good and standard when we deliver a speech in a seminar, write an academic paper, or write an application letter. In this case we should rely on the proper linguistic rules as well as the formal social norms so that our language will sound acceptable to other speakers. If we misuse this principle, our language will probably sound weird and disgusting.
Thus, so far as Poedjosodarmo’s article is concerned, I have actually expected to get a satisfactory explanation on the quality of language: What is meant by a good language? How does good language look like? And yet, the title of this chapter is not in line with the content of discussion; even the discussion is a bit “deviant” from the title, as the title does not cover the overall scope of discussion. He simply refers ‘good language’ to the one which is both standard and good. Besides being overlapped, it is just like a sprinter who takes a 500-meter initiating steps before jumping.
I think the only part of the chapter that discusses ‘what good language is’ is the one concerning the standardization process of language. And this part is, of course, only a small part of the whole discussion. Readers, like me, may probably be trapped in their own questioning about the rest of the content.
Yet, as part of the whole book, this chapter is rich with valuable information, deep contemplation, and simple style so that readers, like me, are facilitated to follow any single ideas presented in it. From this viewpoint, I appreciate highly this book and the writer who can convey difficult concepts in a simple wording.
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