Reviewed by Riko Arfiyantama

This article is meant to describe the use of languages or Multilingualism in Central Java society. It is interesting to know how people choose a language i.e. Bahasa Indonesia, Javanese, or even English as a means of communication since they can use the languages interchangeably. This article will be carried out by taking from language domain, language shift and maintenance, and language revitalization and death point of view. Therefore, there will be mapping in the language setting, interaction, and participants examples provided. Then, the change or the transformation of the language use among the society and its factor. At last, it describes what language needs to be revitalized in order not to be extinct.


Goh and Silver (2004) explain, “Individuals in multilingual societies have to choose languages or varieties according to the different situations. Sometime the choice might concern of the use of a different style or register”. It is likely to happen in Indonesia where many languages are used for example in Central Java where Bahasa Indonesia, Javanese language, and English are used in that place. Bahasa Indonesia is used frequently when people communicate in the formal situation such as in the meeting, school, commerce, and media. While English is used at school, commerce, and technology. Moreover, Javanese is used broadly by society in the informal situation such as at home, and colloquial conversation. The use of the three languages may become an interesting topic to examine by looking at Goh and Silver point of view. Since the use of three languages in Central Java society is unique and need to be investigated further. In this essay, it will be discussed the use of the three language from three points of view. They are the (1) language domain, (2) language shift and maintenance, and (3) language revitalization and death.


According to Fishman, domain deals with the use of certain language in particular interaction, particular participant, and particular setting. The three aspects cannot be separated since it affects the use of the language in the communication. Bahasa Indonesia as the standard language used broadly in Indonesia has become the most dominant language since it becomes the united language. In the formal occasions, it is always used by ignoring who the participant is. For example, when a boss has a communication with his employee in the meeting, they will use the language. It also happens when the two speakers are from the employee party. They still use Bahasa Indonesia. However, it may be changed when the interaction turns into joking as an intermezzo in the meeting. They tend to switch their language into Javanese.

However, in the school context, language is played differently after the government upheld some policies dealing with the establishment of pilot school (RSBI) where the school is supposed to use English as the instructional tools when teaching. Accordingly, English as a foreign language could play a small part as a communicative language in the Indonesian education since 2004 after the new curriculum was implemented then. The fact shows that the dominating language is still Bahasa Indonesia even in those pilot schools. When students interact with teacher, they use Bahasa Indonesia mostly both in the formal and informal situations. English is used only in special occasion such as English day and the English class. Javanese is used in the formal setting when the interaction turns to be socializing or joking. This local language is also used when people at school have the same social levels in the informal way such as a student speaks to other students and a teacher speaks to other teachers.

There is a unique fact about the use of Javanese in the school context. The first is school in the village which uses Javanese more frequent and the second is the school in the city which uses Javanese less frequent. This phenomenon could happen because some non-indigenous people who cannot speak Javanese usually inhabit cities. It also happens when the communication between teacher and the student’s parent. In the village, such participants tend to use Javanese to communicate which is in contrast with the city side.

In religion domain, Moslems are dominant since many citizens in Central Java are Islam followers. There are two kinds of stream in this way. Like in the school use, Javanese is used more frequent in the village for example when there is a sermon in the mosque. On the other hand, Bahasa Indonesia is dominated when there is such kind of ritual done. In addition, a unique ritual is found in the Central Java society when they hold a wedding party. Most of them use the old Javanese called “Kawi” language to run the ceremony whereas the Kawi language is no longer exist in the daily communication. In this domain, English in this way is not used at all.

To make it clearer. Look at the below table!



Employment Manager Manager’s office Budget Planning Standard Bahasa Indonesia High
Employment Boss Shop Asking info Javanese Kromo Variant Moderate
Education Teacher Classroom Classroom teaching Standard Bahasa Indonesia High
Religion Congregations Mosque Qur’an Study City à Standard Bahasa Indonesia

Village à Javanese




Religion/Ceremony Audiences Wedding The running of the agenda “Kawi” language High
Friendship Friend Canteen Activity Javanese “Ngoko” High
Friendship Friend Public area Introduction Village à Javanese “Kromo Madya” Variant

City à colloquial Bahasa Indonesia





In Javanese, there are three kind variants which has elaborate system of honorific speech levels. They are:

  1. Ngoko (or Ngaka). Informal speech, used between friends and close relatives. It is also used by persons of higher status (such as elders, or bosses) addressing those of lower status (young people, or subordinates in the workplace).In Javanese, there are three kind variants which has elaborate system of honorific speech levels. They are:
  2. Madya. Intermediate between ngoko and krama. Strangers on the street would use it, where status differences may be unknown and one wants to be neither too formal nor too informal. The term is from Sanskrit madhya (“middle”).
  3. Krama. The polite and formal style. It is used between those of the same status when they do not wish to be informal. It is used by persons of lower status to persons of higher status, such as young people to their elders, or subordinates to bosses; and it is the official style for public speeches, announcements, etc. The term is from Sanskrit krama (“in order”). (Adapted from


Goh and Silver argue, “Language shift refers to the process by which one language displaces another in the linguistic repertoire of a speech community and in specific domains. The term also refers to the outcome of the process”. Discussing language shift will become an interesting topic since language as a means of communication can be displaced by another. People’s mind is changed to follow or use certain language in order to many factors. In other word, there is moving from a language to another. The phenomenon happens due to following factors such as 1) social and economic factors, 2) socio-political issues, 3) demographic changes, and 4) attitudes and values.

In central Java, language shift has already occurred so many times for example the use of Javanese in the society is becoming lower by the time past. It is because the use of this local language is only limited in the informal occasion or intimate one. When a person wants to work, they only need English and Bahasa Indonesia to apply for job interview. When, children go to school, they can use Bahasa Indonesia to avoid Javanese which has many vocabularies in each levels. Therefore there is almost none require to use Javanese except from the person’s motivation. Goh and Silver add, “As language is an important marker of identity and membership, many children and adolescents prefer to learn and use the dominant language so that they can ‘fit in’ with the dominant social group and culture”. Many parents in Javanese have left the habit to use Javanese for their child nowadays. It is because the exposure from outside such as TV and internet has influenced their mindset that using Bahasa Indonesia is cooler than Javanese. Some also think that the use of Javanese makes them belong to “Ndeso”, a term for a left behind person from rural area who does not know anything in the negative sense. Obviously, it has affected to the society’s attitudes and values to make language shift. In addition, the use of Bahasa Indonesia has been enough to make them survive in the modern society. However, this situation, of course, brings harm to the existence of Javanese in Central Java society. Many children in city can no longer speak Javanese, which becomes one of their heritages.

In the social and economic factor, the use of Javanese is used in all social levels. Javanese Ngoko is highly used by middle-down social class. For those from the low social levels, two low social level persons communicate usually by using Javanese Ngoko all the time to address anybody they meet without considering age despite considered as impolite. For middle social class, they are able to use the three speech levels i.e. Javanese Ngoko, Javanese Madya, and Javanese Kromo Inggil. They are usually able to perform politely. At last, for high-social levels, often called Ningrat or Priyayi, they are the part of the society who use Javanese Kromo Madya most frequent. Nevertheless, it should be noted that all social levels in Central Java could communicate by using Bahasa Indonesia.

In socio-political factor, school is the best example where people are educated by using language. English as the foreign language is still the main goal for many people to acquire because it has already set in the Government Act to conduct education by using English instruction. Therefore, there is a language shift which triggers people indirectly to use English. However, in this case, the regional government also set a regulation that Javanese should be taught in Elementary school to Senior High School. It aims to preserve the local language not to be extinct.

In demographic factor, city and village contribute much in the language shift. More village will be more Javanese while more city will be more Bahasa Indonesia. It so happens because in the city there are many non-indigenous people comes from other places. Therefore, people tend to use Bahasa Indonesia that can be understood easily by all people. In the other hand, in the village, there are few people only speak Javanese. It usually comes from the old people who have little exposure from other languages. In addition, there is a unique fact that the Central Java demography can provide a mapping where Javanese is used more frequent. People in the Southern usually use Javanese higher than the Northern one. For example, the use of Javanese is more mushrooming in Solo and its surroundings. For indigenous, they can perform Javanese in all variants very well.


Talking about language death and revitalization, the old Javanese “Kawi” is placed in front because the language is no more used by people in casual conversation. Nowadays, the language is only used in the sacred ceremony such as wedding party and other rituals. However, the use of the language is decreasing year by year because people have already moved to use Bahasa Indonesia in that ceremony. The preservation of the language is also not enough since there is no special formal education which provides the learning of the “Kawi”.

Another issue raises whether the Central java young generation can perform the language adequately. Because their high motivation in learning foreign language, which has more prestige, they begin to leave Javanese especially the “Kromo” variant. Javanese has many vocabularies in every variant for example the word “eat” can range from “mangan”, “maem”, “Nedha”, to “dhahar”. Therefore, it sometimes makes the youths avoid the use of the language because of its complexcity. They may be able to use Ngoko variant in their communication because it is the common and mostly used variant when they speak to their friend. Moreover, parents do not teach their children by using “Kromo” variant when talking to the older. The first reason is that the use of it begins to be rare among young people and the second because they can use Bahasa Indonesia, which is more generalized.

Recently, revitalization on the language use will happen again. Government, the National Education Ministry, will implement the new curriculum in Indonesia. The concern toward the change is the policy of the language use. English, which is taught in Elementary school, will be deleted and it will only be learned in the Junior High School and higher. It is in contrast with previous curriculum which focus on English use in order to be internationally. Of course, this policy will affect to the language use at school. Bahasa Indonesia will become the main concern again instead of English because it is assumed that most Indonesian people only need that foreign language passively. In fact, Indonesians almost rarely use English in their daily communication. It is also believed that Indonesian can still survive although many people cannot use English actively like Japan, Korea, China, and others.

Another revitalization of the language shift should be done by the government. That is the revitalization on the Javanese use. The government actually should make Javanese use is not only in the informal occasions but also in the formal one. For example, the government can make Javanese day, when people have to use the language on that day, when they are working in their offices. In addition, there should be a campaign to make Javanese to be more prestigious so that Javanese will be preserved and never extinct.


In Central Java, there is a unique language use. Many of the people are able to use Bahasa Indonesia, Javanese, and few use English. The use of the language is determined by the language domain and the social network. Bahasa Indonesia is taken to the first place as a universal means of communication in Cetral Java. Everyone knows the language very well as the united language in Indonesia. Then, Javanese is positioned in the second as the local language. It is mostly used in the informal occasions where people want to socialize with others. The last is English as the international language is used only in school setting where students learn that language more and try to use it for communicating with others.



Goh, Christine C. M. & Rita Elaine Silver. (2004). Language Acquisition and Development. Singapore: Longman

Quinn, George. (2001). The Indonesian Language. Retrieved from,d.bmk.

Wikipedia. (2012). Javanese Language. Retrieved from on December 15, 2012.


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