Finding the Right Words: Indonesian Language

By Reyhan Fachry, BIDUK Program Officer

Ross: “What is Chandler Bing’s job?”

Rachel: “Oh-oh-oh he’s a transpons—a transponster!”

Monica: “That’s not even a word!”

This scene is certainly one of the most memorable scenes from the American television sitcom “Friends,” in which the characters try to answer many questions about each other for a bet, the winner of which would receive Rachel’s and Monica’s prime New York City apartment. After a series of questions, Rachel (Jennifer Anniston) and Monica (Courtney Cox) stumble upon a question about Chandler Bing’s (Matthew Perry) job. As a part of the sitcom’s running gag, no one knows what Chandler’s job is. Rachel’s answer, “Transponster,” would cost the two their apartment.

However, what Rachel did is not totally wrong—she’s just trying to convey her knowledge into a word about the job. Unfortunately for her, the word she used is not a word at all.

Finding the right word for the right occasion is important. As one of Athena Global’s projects, BIDUK, takes place in Indonesia, we also need to be especially careful to choose the right words for the right time and place. For foreigners, while it is not the most difficult language to learn, the Indonesian language can be a bit tricky. One unique thing about the Indonesian language is that it contains many words for every occasion and every situation. Choosing the right one can be challenging as you need to understand the context and the situation before choosing the word. For example, the terms “mangkat,” “mampus,” and “meninggal” each means passed away or dead, but the true definition lies on the context and the situation. “Mangkat” is used only for kings, leaders, or presidents who passed away, and “mampus” is used for criminals or enemies. In contrast, “meninggal” is used as a general honorable verb for passed away. Sounds tricky enough for you? Hold your horses then as more to come!

One very common misconception for foreigners trying to understand the Indonesian language surrounds the name of the language itself. [This is a misconception that many of us at Athena were laboring under until Rey enlightened us. — editor.] Often foreigners call it “Bahasa” instead of “Indonesian.” However, “Bahasa” merely means “language.” So, by only saying “Bahasa,” we refer only to generic “language” instead of the actual language! Thus, the correct name for the language is “Indonesian language” or “Bahasa Indonesia” instead of just “Bahasa.” Foreigners who use the correct terms for the language are likely to be viewed as more respectful and knowledgeable than those who don’t.  

Being aware of the nuances of language is important for business. Generally, we would not want to convey the wrong message for the occasion, or unintentionally convey a message when we think we are saying something else. In Indonesia, using the wrong words can create some disastrous outcomes and misinterpretations. To avoid this, we should be aware of the local environment and use editors who are experts on the Indonesian language.

We at Athena Global work together with many professional local officers to ensure our communication is as clear as possible and reaches the right audiences while also conveying the right messages. Often there is much more at stake than an apartment.

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