Posted by: irmayasari | July 28, 2009

Diglossia : a case in Papuan Malay and Bahasa Indonesia?

When finishing the chapter 1 of Mesthrie’s “Introducing Sociolinguistics”, there is a big question in my mind about diglossia. This question comes into mind when I think about my dialect in my home country, Indonesia. I was brought up in a town in Bird’s head peninsula in West Papua, Indonesia, and when I was a child, I thought that I spoke Indonesian language. However, in fact, the language that I have spoken that merely a dialect called ‘Papuan Malay’; this term coined several years ago when there were some linguistic researches about the language spoken in my area. For your information, in West Papua area, I study the national language known as Bahasa Indonesia. Bahasa Indonesia, to some extent, is known as the modern modified Malay with abundantly loanwords from Sanskrit, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Chinese, Arabic, English, and other tribal languages. I have studied and learned Bahasa Indonesia since I was in primary school, while when I was at home, my family and I as well as the community around me spoke the dialect known as Papuan Malay; it has served as the lingua franca of trading in the area to communicate with tribes in West Papua since circa 17th centuries or before the integration to Indonesia. Bahasa Indonesia, otherwise, is the language used at school, government, and any formal situation especially concerning to academic writing.


Mesthrie’s explanation about Ferguson’s Diglossia and ‘Fishman’s extension’ (Mesthrie, 2009: 39 – 40), to some extent, makes me think about my dialect and national language ‘Bahasa Indonesia’, whether Papuan Malay is simply a dialect in terms of ‘standard versus dialect’ arrangement or the  situation when the diglossia occurs? I also wonder about the possibility that one dialect, at first is just a dialect in such non-diglossic society but when there is a change in society, let’s say because of political circumstance leading to diglossia occurrence, or vice versa. Is that possible?


Regarding to the hints in the textbook, the two distinctions proposed by Ferguson about diglossia can be used to describe the situation of the dialect used in my area especially the second hint that mentions “the relationship between standard and dialect is typically a close one, and it is not always easy to draw the line between the two. Again, in contrast the H and L forms of diglossia have distinct grammars which are almost like those of different language.” (Mesthrie, 1999: 39). It is because, in the case of Papuan Malay comparing to Bahasa Indonesia, it is so easy to distinguish between the standard and dialect, for example in terms of its morpho-syntactical structure. It is really clear, let’say, when addressing question to another person as well in addressing the possession of someone.


To illustrate my questions, I would like to give two simple sentences and its literal gloss written in my dialect and in Bahasa Indonesia (both formal and informal) about the case of interrogative form and possessive pronoun. In my dialect, we cannot form any question without using double-pronoun.


Example #1.

Papuan Malay

(…*) – ko – mo – pi – kemana?       Or   (…*) ko – pi – mana? 

 (…*)  – you – want – go – where?              ( …) you – go – where?


Bahasa Indonesia (formal form)

Ke mana – kau – akan/hendak – pergi?

Where – you – will – go?




(…**) ke mana – kau – akan/ hendak – pergi? (…**)

(…**) Where – you – will – go


Bahasa Indonesia (informal form)

Mau – ke mana, – (kamu**)?

Want – where – (you)?




Kamu – mau – (pergi***) ke mana?

You – want – where?



Where do you go?/ Where are you going?



*: In my dialect, the (*) refers to any name of the addressee or socially accepted term we can use to address i.e. uncle, sister and so forth


** In this example refers to the addressee (name or socially accepted addressee term). It can be put in the initial position or in the final position.


*** In this example the words ke mana ‘where’ embedded the meaning of go.



Example #2

The possessive pronoun in use


a. Singular form


Papuan Malay

Ini – sa – pu – buku. 

 This/ it – I – have – book


Bahasa Indonesia (formal form)

Ini – bukuku.

This /it – book.poss.1Sg




Ini – buku – saya/ aku (informal form)

It is – book – 1st sing.


b. Plural form


Papuan Malay

Ini – dorang/ dong – pu – buku. 

 This/ it – they – have – book


Bahasa Indonesia (formal and informal)

Ini – buku – mereka.

This /it – book.poss.3rd plural



  1. The case that Maya raised about the use of Papuan Malay and Bahasa Indonesia in West Papua is similar to the case of the use of Kupang Malay and Bahasa Indonesia. Kupang Malay, or Bahasa Kupang is a variety of language I speak as my first language. It is a ‘Malay-based creole spoken in and around the city of Kupang by around 220,000 native speakers, and tens of thousands of second-language speakers’ (B.F. Grimes, 2000:510) see

    Kupang Malay is used only in informal situations, such as conversation between friends and families, while Bahasa Indonesia is used in more formal context such as in education, media and formal speeches, although both are the varieties of Malay(Jacob and Grimmes, 2005).

    I would rather call Kupang Malay a creole Malay than a dialect of Kupang or Timor as it is different from the local dialects and the vocabularies are the same with the vocabs of the official Malay (Bahasa Indonesia). It is in fact the language emerged or developed through an assimilation process between Malay, the local dialect, Dutch and Portuguese.

    Kupang Malay was developed from the ‘Lingua Franca Malay’ associated with trade brought and used by the sailors and traders from South Sulawesi when making contact with the local people and then with the process of assimilation with Dutch and Portuguese as well as with the local language during the colonization era, a pidginization occurs and Kupang Malay is developed. When a new generation of children is born and grows up in Kupang they use this as their mother tongue and then Kupang Malay become a Creole Malay spoken in this region of Indonesia. The socio-historical context in Timor has resulted in contact between the two varieties of Malay, one being the official language (Bahasa Indonesia) acquired through formal education and used in formal functions (government, education and often church) and the other (Kupang Malay) used as the language of daily lives (Jacob and Grimmes, 2005:510)

    Diglossia has three crucial features (Holmes, 1992: 32)

    1. Two distinct varieties of the same language are used in the community, with one regarded as a high and the other a low variety.
    2. Each variety is used for quite distinct functions; H and L complement each other
    3. No one use the H variety in everyday conversation.

    The situation of Kupang Malay and Bahasa Indonesia in Kupang fits these criteria. Kupang Malay and Bahasa Indonesia are the same varieties of Malay but Bahasa Indonesia is used as the standard (national) language or the one with the high prestige and Bahasa Kupang or Kupang Malay is the one with the low prestige. Kupang Malay is only used in informal situation and never used in formal situation or as official language while the standard Bahasa Indonesia is only used in formal situation and as official language but never used in informal situation.

    If that is the case with Papuan Malay, I would say that the situation happen in Maya’s place, in this case, Papua can be seen as a diglossic situation, as it is with Kupang Malay.

    Maya’s second question:

    “I also wonder about the possibility that one dialect, at first is just a dialect in such non-diglossic society but when there is a change in society, let’s say because of political circumstance leading to diglossia occurrence. Is that possible?”

    This question leads me to another question on the case of Tetun, in East Timor. Long before East Timor gained its independence from Indonesia, it used to be a dialect spoken in that region. When East Timor is separated from Indonesia and become a new country, the language status changed. It is now the national language of Timor Leste and one of the official languages along with Portuguese. However, only Portuguese is used as the language of Education under the rule of Portuguese, although both languagues are having the same status, the official language. My question is what kind of language situation is the case of Portuguese and Tetun in East Timor?

    Still related to Maya’s second question, I think it is possible for a dialect to change status to a standard or an official language or a low variety of language in diglossic situation (L) to change status to High variety/form (H)if there is a change in society. For example, Tetun (as I already mentioned before) was a dialect when East Timor was part of Indonesia but it changes status as a national language when East Timor gained its independednce, while “the Indonesian language, or Bahasa Indonesia, has ceased to be an official language, although it, along with English, has the status of a ‘working language’ under the Constitution” (

    Similarly, a low variety of the same language in the case of diglossia can change to a high variety if there is a change in society due to political reason. For example, the case of Greek Katharevousa and Dhimotiki or the case of Latin, which is gradually replaced by its daughter languages such as Italian and Spanish which has developed from its more colloquial form” or the case of French and English in which French was the language of high prestige while English was “the language of the peasants in the fields and the streets” (Holmes:1992:39)but by the end of the 14th century English had replaced French.

  2. thanks for helping me do my assignment!!! thanks heaps!

  3. you’re welcome! 🙂

  4. punya source ttg digloasia by Holmes.. thanks

    buat bahan skripsi

  5. do u have any idea or suggestion for me to write a proposal related to diglossia or bilingualism? cheers.

  6. macee terima kasih su tulis ini artikel 🙂

  7. artikel yang bagus n bermanfaat. izin copy yach kak. thank you 🙂

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