Choirul Fuadi
Faculty of Applied Linguistics Program, Yogyakarta State University
Email: choirul.fuadi2015@student.uny.ac.id / choirul@jadwalseminar.web.id



Indonesia has hundreds local languages which are spoken throughout the archipelago and in 1945 Indonesian was selected the official language of government, mass media, and education, called as Bahasa Indonesia. Many people grow up with several different dialects and thus acquire multiple local language of Indonesia. The most effected factor of Bilingual characteristic in Indonesia, according to Firdevs (2005) and Wei (2000) that is culture, economy, education, age, and language use.

In the conscious and subconscious learning concept of gaining a language, government has taken part role in maintenance and language education in Indonesia, through the minister of education by providing several subjects in class and major in universities. The migration program is also give significant effect on people contact with other culture and language. Then the spreading of language is along archipelago of Indonesia.
By a hundreds of local language, make Indonesian people being bilingualism and multilingualism and the minority local language speaker is less rapidly. To maintenance the endanger language, the government should take policy. And, people starting using local language in daily activity and Bahasa Indonesia in formal situation is simple step to maintenance the local language also the bilingualism in Indonesia. 

The present study aims to investigate about the bilingualism in Indonesia, history and nature of bilingualism in Indonesia, and language maintenance in Indonesia.

KEY WORDS: Bilingualism, Characteristic of bilingualism, Bilingualism situation in Indonesia.


In many parts of the world, fluency in multiple languages is the norm. Bilingualism is a field of continuous growth. Shin (2004) states that Bilingual numbers have increased significantly during the last decade and the majority of the world’s population today knows more than on language. Increased social mobility and co-existence have diminished language barriers. Globalization has thus created a demand for bilingualism as a means of communication. 

Nicholas Jackson and Rahmat (2013) said that Indonesia is one of the most linguistically and culturally diverse nations in the world. They mentioned that over 550 languages are spoken throughout the archipelago and in 1945 Indonesian was selected as the official language of government, mass media, and education. Indonesia only has one official language, called as Bahasa Indonesia and has hundreds local languages. Many people grow up with several different dialects and thus acquire multiple local language of Indonesia.

Sneddon (2003) states that Indonesian is rapidly becoming the first language of many Indonesians, especially in urban centre, many Indonesians still learn and speak regional languages and their dialects. Moreover, Nicholas Jackson and Rahmat (2013) in their study titled Decoding Basa Walikan - A preliminary analysis of Yogyakarta ‘reverse’ language mentioned that  Social and regional varieties of Indonesian and regional languages are dynamic and constantly developing. Despite language purists lamenting these varieties as a degradation of correct and proper forms, these non-standard registers, or stylistic variations, are a very real reflection and representation of Indonesia’s diverse communities and their members.

Bilingualism is one of phenomenon that can be ignored by Indonesian people. It is because Indonesia has many ethnic with their local language. Besides that, people who speak local language should speak Bahasa Indonesia as united language and in formal situation. The transmigration, migration programmed by Indonesian government make people contact with other culture, resulting in growing of number multicultural. Elin (2012) states multicultural is in multilingual families and children who identify themselves with more than one culture and in many instances use different languages for each parent; that is they become bilingual.

Hakuta et al (1987) define bilingualism in three ways, in the first way, as the characteristic of an individual who possesses two linguistic systems or call it as cognitive bilingualism; one tends toward statements about the packaging problem of fitting two linguistic systems in the mind of an individual. In the second way, as a characteristic of the social condition and affect of the individual or call it as social psychological bilingualism; tends toward social psychological accounts of the packaging of value systems within an individual. In the third way, as a characteristic of a societal unit or call it societal bilingualism; concerned with between-group interactions in which the two languages serve as a symbol over which interaction occurs. This perspective is not so concerned with individual differences within groups.

Margana (2015) in his study Establishing English-Indonesian Bilinguals in Indonesia: From Theory to Practice said that the definition of bilingualism is hotly debated by a great number of scholars. Margana (2015), cited in Braun (1997) said  that Bilingualism  is defined as a  ‘speaker’s  totally  equal  mastery  of  two  or  more  languages. Whether, Anthony (1991) also states that Bilingualism is competence in more than one language, can be thought at either an individual or social level.

Other definition, Margana (2015), cited in Haugen (1968) also argued that bilingualism refers to a speaker’s native competence to utilize more than one language. So the writer concluded cited in Anthony (1991) and Haugen (1968) Bilingualism means different things to different people and competence to utilize more than one language. In assessing of Bilingualism competence, Anthony (1991) states that degrees of bilingualism can be assessed in the individual's command of the four skills of listening comprehension, speaking, reading comprehension and writing in each language.


According to Lenneberg (1967), language acquisition is linked to age. The timing of language exposure is thus an important aspect of defining the bilingual characteristics. Bialystok (2001) states simultaneous acquisition of two (or more) languages entails a different set of characteristics than what an early sequential acquisition or a late sequential acquisition process does Different social situations and social backgrounds thus affect the level of language proficiency attained by bilingual individuals.

Bialystok (2001) also states that the language acquisition process is influenced by socioeconomic status, language status and opportunity for formal study, among other factors. Modern research shows such Werker and Byers-Heinlein (2008) states that different language backgrounds (language combinations) foster different language outcomes. Individual differences and numerous bilingual variants therefore make it difficult to define bilingualism as a term.

Wei (2000) also give comment about it that due to several factors like politics, natural disaster, religion, culture, economy, education and technology, or just because of  their own preference, people speaking different languages come into contact in settings where they are treated as bilingual or multilingual. However, Firdevs Karahan (2005) states that beside a number of factors such as age, sex, intelligence, memory, language attitude and motivation, the language use of a bilingual or multilingual involves different factors such as degree (the level of the languages that an individual uses),  function (for what he uses his languages, what role his languages have played in his total pattern of behavior),  alternation (to what extent he alternates between his languages, how he changes from one language to the other, and under what conditions) and interference (how well the bilingual keeps his languages apart, to what extent he fuses them together, how one of his languages influences his use of the other).

In societal bilingualism concept, Lambert (1978) under the concepts of additive and subtractive bilingualism, proposed that language learning outcomes could be very different for members of majority and minority groups. Subtractive bilingualism refers to a situation where members of a minority group would come to lose their first language as a result of learning the second one. Additive bilingualism refers to situations where members of a majority group acquire L2 without losing L1.


Michelle Kohler and Dr Phillip Mahnken (2010) said that Indonesian is spoken by approximately 240 million people throughout the Indonesian archipelago making it a language with one of the highest number of speakers in the world and it is the official language of government, education, business and the media. Moreover, Foulcher (2009) stated that Indonesian is based on a form of Malay, the ancient language of an Islamic based court culture that spread throughout the archipelago as part of trade during the 13–16th centuries .

Michelle Kohler and Dr Phillip Mahnken (2010) in research titled the Current State of Indonesian Language Education in Australian Schools present that the language was officially adopted in 1945 as part of the move to independence. This history means that Indonesian, or Bahasa Indonesia as it is known by Indonesian speakers, and closely related languages are spoken throughout most of South-East Asia. Moreover, they also mentioned that Indonesian is written using the Roman alphabet with a clear correlation between its sound and form. It is not a tone based language and, as such, has received the reputation in Australian education of being an ‘easy Asian language’.
In line with Quinn (2001) states that among Indonesian speakers and specialists, Indonesian is ‘deceptively easy and yet bafflingly difficult’ (That is, many aspects of Indonesian such as its written form, sound and verb system (verbs are not conjugated).
Like in historical, Indonesia had been colonialism by Dutch for 350 years. In the period of colonialism, Dutch provide any education to people. Since that time, Indonesia people were recognized foreign language, such as English that was first taught to Indonesians in 1914 when junior high schools were established.

In the beginning, Julia Eka Rini (2014) in the research titled The Position of English In Indonesia states that Indonesia has seven main local languages, namely: Javanese, Sundanese, Madurese, Batak, Minangkabau, Balinese, Buginese; with Javanese as the greatest number in terms of speakers. But, Bahasa Indonesia was chosen for the first time at the second Indonesian youth congress as the national language. Then, Bahasa Indonesia used as official language.

Moreover, Julia (2014) also states that Indonesia face foreign languages, such as Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Arabic, French, German, Dutch and English. Julia saw the position of those foreign languages through Bahasa Indonesia in her research. Korean is relatively new; Japanese, French, and German are at the same position since last century. Dutch is spoken by the old generation and Arabic is used as far as religious activities are concerned. Chinese is now booming as trading and other, on the other hand English is the old timer and global language.


Indonesia is home for people from different ethnics, race, religions, and country. Indonesia only has one official language, called Bahasa Indonesia. Nicholas Jackson and Rahmat (2013) said that Indonesia is one of the most linguistically and culturally diverse nations in the world. They mentioned that over 550 languages are spoken throughout the archipelago and in 1945 Indonesian was selected as the official language of government, mass media, and education. It makes many people growing up with several different dialects and languages. Then many people also acquire multiple local language of Indonesia.

This process is another instance of bilingual acquisition of language. The local language dialects represent different linguistic systems, many of which are very different from the official language. This makes the acquisition of dialects a whole new learning process. In the formal situation, people of Indonesian use official language. In community, people use local language as communication. The transmigration, migration programmed by Indonesian government make people contact with other culture, resulting in growing of number multicultural.

The culture of Indonesia also influence in language. The languages recognize or use to express about polite and impolite expression. Some of the local language also has strata in communication. The language uses to communicate with older or friend.

In the bilingual society where two language or more is used, Hamers (1989) states that a speaker often mix one system language to other language. According to Mackey (1970), interference is using one element of language to write or speak in other language. In the case of the characteristics of utterances of Indonesian-Javanese bilingual children in Malang, East Java, Tatiek K. Danti and Yono Sulistyo (2009), in their study titled Karakteristik Ujaran Anak-Anak Bilingual  Indonesia-Jawa Di Malang Jawa Timur (Characteristic of Pronouncement Bilingual Children Indonesia-Java in Malang, East Java) found that (1) the language used is dominated by the mixing of Javanese and Indonesian, Indonesian and Javanese, fully Javanese, and fully Indonesian,  consecutively;  (2)  interferences  in phonological and grammatical  level from  Javanese  system  in  using  Indonesian;  (3) inter-sentential  and  intra-sentential switching of  lexical,  emblematic,  and pronunciation mixes;  (4) errors  in grammar, word choice related to grammatical matters or meaning, and pragmatical matter.

One of the factors that influenced the situation of language in Indonesia is the government’s policy of encouraging internal migration or Transmigrasi. The impact of this policy, presented by Simon Musgrave in research titled Language Shift and Language Maintenance in Indonesia that data extracted from the 1990 national census, which shows that Javanese was spoken by more than 10% of the population in eight provinces outside the island of Java on Sumatera and Kalimantan.

Moreover, Simon Musgrave also states that although Javanese were the ethnic group most affected by Transmigrasi¸ substantial numbers of speakers of other languages, for example Buginese, have also been spread across the nation. The increased necessity for inter-ethnic communication which results can be considered as another historical factor which has contributed to processes of language shift which can be seen today.

Sneddon (2003) argued about bahasa baku (‘standard language’) or bahasa yang baik dan benar (‘language that is good and correct’) is not used by anyone as a medium of daily communication. Language shift between Indonesian and Local language actually mean shift to a range of possible varieties which are situated both geographically and socially.


Margana (2015) states that Indonesian People gained language through 2 ways, i.e. conscious learning (formal and non-formal education) and subconscious learning (autonomous learning). Then those ways called as nurture-oriented establishment and nature-oriented establishment. He also explain that the nurture-oriented  establishment  is  conducted  through  teaching practices  embodying  formal  and  non-formal  teaching practices, meanwhile  nature-oriented  establishment is conducted by  responding  to use of English-Indonesian  in some  contexts  of  genres  such  as  advertisement,  manuals, songs,  leaflets,  brochures,  and  the  like (subconsciously).

Indonesian government through Ministry of National Education and Culture, provide several subject in starting from elementary till senior high school, and also university. The subject of Mulok (Muatan Local/Local Culture) in elementary school, junior high senior, senior high school or vocational high school, provide local language in the class. Sometimes, teacher teaches about culture of a region. It depends on regional government policy.

In some universities in Indonesia also provides major that containing culture or local language. For example in Yogyakarta State University in Graduate program provides Javanese Education for master. It is good to maintenance the local language.

Bahasa Indonesia as national language is also taught since elementary till university. Government also issued KBBI (Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia/Indonesian Dictionary). Not only government, many parties issued local language dictionary. Those steps aim to support the maintenance of local language. For example; bahasa ngapak Dictionary mobile application, released on 2015 by binavaria.com, it is free to download via app store on Android Smartphone. Then everyone can learn the language in everywhere and whenever in their gadget.

Mass media also support the providing of language education in Indonesia. Such as newspaper or magazine, direct or indirect give contribution on language education on Indonesia. For example, in Kalteng Pos newspaper, provide special column for local story. The story not only tells about local culture but also use Dayak local language as the local wisdom and local language.

Social media such as face book also give contribution in language education. A thousand people open and interact in this application, whether using mobile phone or computer. The message that they share sometimes use local language and foreign language, such English. In there, also there are many groups on learning English. Social media provide them to contact with many people around the world.

By migration, make people contact with other. For example; people who come from Java migrate to Banjarmasin. In Banjarmasin, the people speak Banjarese. Then make people from Java learn autonomous Banjarese. Step by step, they will acquire the Banjarese language.

In society, writer experience as people who live in rural area of Kotawaringin Barat regency, Central Kalimantan Province. In the home, writer speaks Java language as mother tongue. When talk with society, writer speak others local language such as Ngapak, Sunda, Banjarese, and dayak. Whether sometime communicate using Bahasa Indonesia. In formal or informal situation, contact with other people using Bahasa Indonesia. But, when work as tour guide in Tanjung Puting National Park (TNTP) writer speak English as International language.

That is one of the examples of Indonesia as bilingualism or multilingualism. People do not learn sometimes, but they acquirer the language. Migration is made people contact with other and force people in subconscious learning to gain a language.


Indonesia is home for people from different ethnics, race, religions, and country. Indonesia has hundred of local language. And in 1945 Indonesian was selected Bahasa Indonesia as the official language of government, mass media, and education. On the other hand, speakers of many local languages in Indonesia are getting less rapidly. Katharina Rustipa (2013) cheating in Sneddon (2003) states that this is caused by lingua franca and language shift. So, local language will be preserved if they are respected, used, and inherited to the following generation. According to Friberg (2011) states that languages that can be maintained are the ones written and can be read. Its mean that when people try to maintaining the language, they should use local language even they use official language as tool of communication.

Meanwhile, Komorowska (2010) claimed that understanding others’ languages will promote intercultural competence, understanding and communication between citizens.  It means that by understanding other language, it will lead to get knowledge other communities and their cultures.

Talk about maintenance, it close to endanger language. Indonesia has diversity language. But, not all language has much speaker. Hastangka (2010) mentioned that 729 indigenous languages have less 1 million speakers. 169 others become in endangers because the usage of this languages less than 500 people. It is spread in Sumatera, Sulawesi, Kalimantan, Maluku and Papua. For example; In Kalimantan: Lengilu has 10 speakers; Punan Merah has 137 speakers; Kareho Uheng has 200 speakers.

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as world organization  has  a  strong commitment to maintain the value of the linguistic and cultural diversity, to protect the right  to  be  different  of  those who  belong  to  specific  linguistic  and  ethnic  population. Jansen  (2003) states  that  endangered  language  is  language  in  the  process  of dying.  He differentiates into five stages of endangered language.  Stage I  is  potentially endangered,  that  is, when  the youths are  attracted  to use  the dominant  language more and more. Stage II is endangered, that is, when the language and the language variety is no longer spoken by children. Stage III is seriously endangered, that is, when the youngest speakers are 50 years old and above. Stage IV is terminally endangered, that is when there are only a few old speakers left who use the language or language variety. Stage V is the death stage, that is, when there are no speakers of the language or of the language variety left.
The experts give problem solving about the case of endanger or maintenance the language. King (2003) stated that education in a multilingual country should be balance and respect the use of different languages in daily life. Cope and Kalantzis (2000) stated that this can minimize failure of minority and poor children in school. Friberg  (2011)  states that local language are used  in  the  family and  in  the environment so  that  the children are not strange with  their local language.

Katharina Rustipa (2013) states that UNESCO also promotes the mother tongue instruction in education system. Mother tongue instruction generally refers to the use of the learners’ mother tongue as the medium of instruction. Additionally, it can refer to the mother tongue as a subject of instruction.  It  is  considered  to  be  an  important  component  of  quality  education, particularly in the early years; (1)  schooling  in  their  languages,  if  so desired,  (2) access  to  the  language of  the  larger community  and  to  that  of  national  education  system,  (3)  inter-cultural  education  that promotes positive attitudes  to minority and  indigenous  languages and  the cultures  they express, (4) access to international language.  Thus, a careful balance needs to be made between enabling people to use local language, national language, and global language.


Based on description above, Indonesia is home for people from different ethnics, race, religions, and country, and has many local languages, but Bahasa Indonesia was chosen as national language. It gives significant effect to endanger of some local language whose has less speaker. If there is a policy of government to maintenance the endanger language, that language will be dying rapidly. And, starting using local language in daily and bahasa Indonesia in formal situation is simple step to maintenance the local language also the bilingualism in Indonesia.

By the hundreds of local language and the diversity in Indonesia, make Indonesian people being bilingualism and multilingualism. Then, it make many people growing up with several different dialects and thus acquire multiple local language of Indonesia Bilingual characteristic in Indonesia, according to Firdevs (2005) and Wei (2000), writers conclude that culture, economy, education, age, and language use. Those are the most effected of bilingual in Indonesia.

Government has taken part role in maintenance and language education in Indonesia, through the minister of education by providing several subjects in class and major in universities. The migration program is also give significant effect on people contact with other culture and language. Then the spreading of language is along archipelago of Indonesia.


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