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A Hidden Language – Dutch in Indonesia


This paper discusses the impact of Indonesian language politics on the formation and consolidation of Indonesian national identity. Maier’s central argument is that Indonesia’s claim to have completely eradicated colonist language from that of the independent state is a myth. He contends rather, that the revolutionary fervor that drove the creation of a new language and national culture in Indonesia also contributed to the repression of the ongoing presence of Dutch in both its language and national infrastructure. Indeed, Indonesian leadership has endeavored since Independence to disregard both the state’s colonial antecedents, and ongoing Dutch physical and cultural presence in it. Indonesians have been extremely reluctant for instance to acknowledge that the basis of modern Indonesian was laid by Dutch scholars. Maier maps this linguistic foundation through the work of earlier Dutch students of Malay, such as Van Ophuijsen, Takdir Alisjahbana, Gerth van Wijk and De Hollander. He stresses moreover, that significant aspects of Takdirs scholarship may be found in the Standard Grammar of Indonesian, published in 1988 and used to this day. Dutch has also contributed grammatical structure and vocabulary to Indonesian; roughly 20% of contemporary Indonesian can be traced back to Dutch words, and appear even in quintessential nationalist texts such as the October 1988 Pledge of Youth. They are unrecognized as such however, because few Indonesian speakers are aware of this linguistic history. Finally, Maier argues, Malay is accepted today by inlanders as Indonesia’s most inclusive language, only because colonial administrators and scholars deliberately encouraged its use as the official language of communication in the Indies. This chapter in Indonesian history has also been obscured.

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