LINGUIST List 15.244

Fri Jan 23 2004

Disc: Re: Gil & Boroditsky: Indonesian Linguistics

Editor for this issue: Sarah Murray <>


  1. Joko K. Damanhuri, Indonesian Linguistics: Additional Information

Message 1: Indonesian Linguistics: Additional Information

Date: Tue, 20 Jan 2004 08:56:39 +0700
From: Joko K. Damanhuri <>
Subject: Indonesian Linguistics: Additional Information

Economist Review: Indonesian Linguistics

I don't know exactly what Dr. Gill writes about Riau Indonesia, but I
know that he has been struggling with Indonesian languages. He has
recently recorded how children in Jakarta acquire the syntax of
Jakarta Indonesian.

I will give some additional information and comments on forwarded
article "Babel's Children" in The Economist (January 8th, 2004). I
will provide some information from the view point that I am a speaker
of Indonesian. I am not a speaker of Riau Indonesian but a speaker of
Medan Indonesian (it is more or less 300 km from Riau). I assume that
there is no much difference between Riau Indonesian and Medan
Indonesian as Riau and Medan Indonesian dialect are developed on the
basis of Malay language (Riau Malay and Deli [Medan] Malay).

First, I will talk about "ayam makan" which is said to have possible
meanings (1) the chicken is eating, (2) the chicken is making somebody
eat, and (3) somebody is eating where the chicken is. (1) is the most
possible meaning though as long as I could understand. I said "the
possible meaning" because this utterance sounds 'unnatural' when it
stands alone. And perhaps it has occurred in a very specific
environment. I can only see that (1) is the possible meaning and I
can't relate the utterance with the last two meanings. I will give
some illustration pertaining to that utterance. 

+ Dimana kamu?
 Where you
 'Where are you?'

- Di tempat ayam makan
 prep place chicken eat
 'at the place where the chicken eats"

In this situation, "ayam makan" will sounds strange and naturally
unacceptable. Another possible situation:

+ Dimana ayam?
 Where chicken
 'where is the chicken'

- Ayam makan
 chicken eat
 'The chicken is eating'

"Dimana ayam" also sounds unnatural because 'ayam' can not be the
indefinite noun. People will naturally say in (c).

+ "Dimana ayam-nya?"
 where chicken-clitic 3person possessive
 'Where is the chicken?' 
 "Dimana ayam-ayamnya?"
 where chickens-clitic 3person possessive
 'Where are the chickens?'

- "Ayamnya (sedang) makan"
 Chiken (now) eat
 'The chicken is eating'

In informal Indonesian, beside "itu or ini" (that or this) '-nya'
(3person possesive adjective) is frequently used to indicate the
definiteness of a noun. People will understand that '-nya' is not used
to refer to 3person's thing, but used to refer the thing they have
shared in mind. When it is still not understandable, people will ask
"Ayam yang mana?" literally means 'Which chicken?". Therefore, I agree
with Postman that this still raises some important issues to be

Secondly, it is very difficult as long as I know to generalize that
there is no marker used to differentiate noun from verb in Riau
Indonesian. I assume that this simplified conclusion be due to
uncomprehensive examples given in the article. As well as in Standard
Indonesia, there are affixes used to indicate that noun is different
from verb. "Makan", unfortunately, is what traditional linguist would
call 'intransitive verb'. One of the characteristics of intransitive
verb in Indonesian is that it does not have affix though there are
also affixed intransitive verbs. In other words, it is the bare
verb. It is different from transitive verbs which require affixes. As
the result, the verb requires object and will sound naturally
unacceptable if object is not added. Let's see (d) and (e) for

"Pesawat itu terbang tinggi"
 plane that ( fly high
 'The plane is flying high'

"John menerbangkan pesawat itu" (menerbangkan is from "men +
terbang + kan", in informal may only be "terbang + kan")
 John men -kan (trans.affix) fly that (def. art).
 'John is flying the plane"

(d) can not be "Pesawat menerbangkan tinggi" and (e) can not be "John
terbang pesawat". In informal Indonesian, (e) may become "John
terbangkan pesawat itu". Because of incomplete examples, the
assumption that there is no grammatical marker to differentiate verb
from noun in Riau Indonesian is withdrawn. Noun in Indonesian is
morphologically marked by affix "-an". Everybody knows that "makan
(eat)" in "Ayam makan (Chicken eat)" is a verb. "Makan" will change
into a noun when it is affixed and it becomes "makanan (food/meal)".
And the construction itself will be "makanan ayam" (food of chicken).

Thirdly, tense in Indonesian is more tied up or realized in discourse
rather than realized in verb by a grammatical marker. Tense in
Indonesian is realized by a lexical marker in a discourse. Therefore,
it is usually mentioned once and the rest will refer to the time. When
a new time span is introduced, it will be realized by a lexical marker
to specify that this has different tense. When a lexical marker is not
supplied, usually the default tense will be understood as the present
or present progressive. Or, the interlocutor will ask the definite
lexical marker to specify the tense. Let' s see (f). 

+ "Dimana dia?"
 Where she/he?
 'Where is she/he?'

- "Sedang di rumah" or "Di rumah dia sekarang" (default
present/present progessive)
 being (prog) at home at home she/he now
 'at home' 'she/he is at home now'

- "Kapan?" (asking specification when being not sure)

+ "Kemarin"

- "Sedang di rumah" or "Di rumah dia sekarang" (past tense)

Once again, I agree with Postman that there are still many things to
investigate profoundly pertaining to Indonesian grammar in relation to
other languages grammar, particularly Nonstandard Indonesian which may
falls into many different dialects influenced by different native

I will be happy to provide more Indonesian data intuitively if there
are some members of this mailist interested in having them.

Joko Kusmanto 
State Polytechnic of Medan 
Jalan Almamater No. 1 Kampus USU 
Medan 20155 - Indonesia 

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