Posted by: irmayasari | August 3, 2009

Bidialects and bilingualism – A case of my family and I

The topic of language and dialect sometimes makes me feels excited since it is like exploring my self and life surrounding. I remembered when I was an undergraduate student in West Papua, some former lecturers in my university wanted to conduct a research on the dialect of Papuan Malay for documentation project as the collaborative work with Max-Plank Institute; an anthropological research institute from Germany. One of the lecturers asked me whether I wanted to take a part in that research and became a volunteer or not. At that time, I was interested but I spontaneously rejected the idea since I knew at once that I was not a ‘good speaker’ of Papuan Malay. To some extent, I still wonder is my rejection quite like what Bell describes in Wardhaugh (1998. An introduction to Sociolinguistics, 3rd edition. Chapter 2 page 35) as de facto norms in terms of ‘good’ or ‘bad’, I am not quite sure about that.

 I, to some extent, will not mention that I am a ‘good’ speaker of my dialect. It may be a slightly subjective statement of mine. Even though my Papuan Malay dialect is the dialect I used most, but the case of my family is quite absurd to call my family and I spoke a ‘good’ Papuan Malay dialect. It is because I personally bidialect plus at this time I also have to speak two languages; Indonesian as the way I communicate in particular circumstance with other Indonesian students as well as English as I speak to non-Indonesian speakers. Indirectly, it definetely influences the way I speak my dialect.

 My bidialect background sometimes makes me feel a little bit uneasy when I have to speak to new people I have met. That is why, sometimes at first time I meet them, I tend to speak in standard language in order to avoid such misunderstanding. I reckon that it is because of my family background which is bilingual and bidialect as the result of inter-marriage. My father speaks 3 languages (Javanese, Sundanese, and Indonesian) and each language has its distinctive accent, and one dialect (Papuan Malay) with two different accents, while my mother speaks one language (Indonesian), and a bit of her tribal language (a Papuan Language called ‘Meyah’) but she is also bidialect (Ambon Malay and Papuan Malay) since she was brought up as a foster child of a Mollucan couple (which is also bilingual and bidialects). To make things more complicated to my competence in speaking, since I was a kid, my siblings and I were also exposed to our neighbours’ dialects. It is because we had lived so closely to them and make their house as ours, too. I mean it seems that I have two houses. My neighbour is an inter-marriage couple, and they speak more than one language and several dialects at home. It can be so since I live in such multilinguals neighbouring.

 It is really hard sometimes to define what the real dialect of me since it seems that at home, my siblings and I have mixed the dialects and language we have especially its vocabulary and accents. My siblings have been exposed to two dialects (Papuan Malay and Ambonese Malay) with just less than 4 accents, while I have been exposed to 3 – 4 dialects (the previous two plus Manado Malay and Jakarta Malay) plus more than 4 accents. It is because I lived separately from my family when I was a teenager as well as in my first year as the university student.

 By being bidialect speaker, to some extent, bring positive impact since I can understand what other people speak especially from cultures affiliated to particular dialects I spoke, and sometimes understand about particular cultural norms influencing the use of language/dialects i.e. the appropriate diction/ word choice. However, sometimes it also leads to misunderstanding when the concept of particular vocabularies is different and I need to give brief information about what I mean. To make thing worse, I do inherit the accent of my grandmother’s tribe (my grandmother’s in terms of my mother’s foster parent, since I have 3 grandmothers) which speaks a little bit faster and in high pitch, which distinguished my idiolect from my siblings.

 That is why, it seems that by studying about ‘language and society’ this semester will bring positive impact in understand about the languages used in my family and my society and it definitely gives a better insight about my question when I was an undergraduate student about why the way I spoke are so different with other friends in my class.

 Btw, I also find some links to particular articles about bilingualism and bidialects such as about bilingualism in infants:

 It is more on cognition of the bilingual people, it is about the ‘Bilingualism: The good, the bad, and the indifferent∗”

 There is also another book that I see its abstract and its table of content and I think  that it is quite interesting, and we can access it in ANU library.

 Life with two languages : an introduction to bilingualism. François Grosjean. Cambridge, Mass : Harvard University Press, 1982



  1. Can you give the reference for your first link about bilingualism in infants? It doesn’t connect to the article. Thanks, Johanna

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