Can we, once and for all, stop referring to the Indonesian language as ‘bahasa’?

We’re not sure who started this annoying falsehood and when, but we just know that it has to stop.

We have heard far too often the word “bahasa” being used to refer to the Indonesian language. This is especially common among people with passing knowledge of the country and even among those who are actually learning the language, including foreign dignitaries and business people.

To be fair, we’ve even witnessed Indonesians refer to the language as such, which is arguably worse as they definitely know better but neglect to correct others and uphold the integrity of their national language. Case in point:

Folks, we all speak at least a “bahasa.” But we’ll have to be more specific than that.

“Bahasa” literally translates to “language.” It does not mean “the Indonesian language” as many have come to understand through an illusory truth effect.

Bahasa Inggris” means “the English language” or simply “English,” not “Indonesian English.” Same goes for “Bahasa Spanyol” (Spanish), “Bahasa Arab” (Arabic), “Bahasa Wakanda” (Wakandan), and so on.

Further, to say that bahasa means Indonesian discredits the more than 700 living languages spoken throughout the archipelago. We also use the prefix “bahasa” for regional languages and dialects, like in the case of Bahasa Jawa (Javanese), which, being the day-to-day language used by approximately 68 million people, is the 28th most spoken language in the world.

It’s simply common courtesy to the 270 million-plus Indonesians out there to get the name of their lingua franca right, especially if you live in and/or are doing business in the country.

As for us Indonesians, it’s time we take more pride in our language and insist that it be referred to as Bahasa Indonesia or just Indonesian. In short, don’t enable this linguistic faux pas and certainly don’t let it persist any longer than it has already. You’re not alone.

The pedantic among you would cringe if we say “I speak language” instead of “I speak English.” Now you know how we Indonesians feel.

Also Read – 7 must-read non-fiction books to better understand Indonesia

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