23 May 2009

Javanese and Indonesian in a novel

Here is a longish (edited) excerpt from an analysis of a multilingual work:

"Bintang Berpijar di Langit Majapahit was written by Taufiq Saptoto Rohadi, also known by his pen name Tasaro. He is a talented writer who started his career in the journalistic and media world. The historical fiction is his first book.

"The setting in this novel is near the end of the Majapahit Golden Era. This novel is about a girl’s adventure. Hui Sing comes from China, and then she chooses to stay in Indonesia. She is one of the Cheng Ho admiral’s pupils, but he considers Hui Sing as his own daughter. She comes from the Ming Kingdom and accompanies Cheng Ho to go to Java to give a tranquility message to the King of Majapahit. Then she meets Respati, a brave Majapahit commander. Despite the ordeals, they finally get married and have a baby boy. Many murderers try to kill them. Hui Sing is saved but not her husband. Her enemies kidnap her son. Finally, Hui Sing takes revenge for her husband’s death and tries to find her son.

"There is a lot of code mixing in this novel. The code mixing could be in different word classes. To illustrate: 'Romo, Kartiwa hanya seorang nelayan, bukan prajurit yang siap berperang.' ('Father, Kartiwa is a fisherman, not a soldier who is ready for a battle.') Romo means father. In that particular sentence, the speaker is mixing two codes or languages, which are Javanese and Indonesian. The Javanese word is Romo and the rest are Indonesian.

"Another example is 'Aku rasa akan sangat mudah untuk menggebuk tubuh Hui Sing dalam posisi itu.' ('I think it will be easy to punch Hui Sing’s body from that position.') Menggebuk means to punch. In that, utterance the speaker has mixed Indonesian and Javanese codes. Furthermore, in the first example, the code mixing deals with the word class Noun; however, the code mixing in the second example deals with another word class - Verb."

I have nothing against linguistic analyses of literary works. In fact, much insight has been generated by linguists reading literature that has not been available to literary critics that do not have that deep a knowledge of linguistics. But it is important for literary critics to go beyond questions of language into questions of literature. In this example, it would be good to ask, for instance, how Indonesian and Javanese cultures differ and how the differences (as signaled by the code-mixing) illuminate the situation of the characters or move the plot forward.

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