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Stop Calling "Bahasa Indonesia" as Just "Bahasa"

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Published by The LingoNomad

Featured article photo: Indonesia, by Arif Djohan (CC0 Licensed)

Bahasa just means 'language'

Let's start off with this:

  • Bahasa just means 'language'.
  • Bahasa Indonesia means 'the Indonesian language'.
  • Calling "Bahasa Indonesia" as just "Bahasa" is as weird as calling the "the English language" as just... "language".

I have come across people on the internet saying, "I'm learning Bahasa," when they mean to say they are learning Bahasa Indonesia, or Indonesian. The phrase "I'm learning Bahasa," simply means, "I'm learning (a) language." What language? Just because you're mentioning the word "language" in another language doesn't mean you are actually referring to that language.

Let's take an example. Sometimes French is referred to as la langue française, or 'the French language'. Calling Bahasa Indonesia as just Bahasa would be like calling la langue française as just... langue. It's weird and it makes absolutely no sense.

"Saya belajar language."

Now, let's explore a similar example back in an Indonesian context. If an Indonesian person is learning English, and they say "Saya belajar Bahasa Inggris," this means, "I'm learning the English language." No problems here.

But if they were to say "Saya belajar language." What would this even mean? This is exactly what happens when someone who speaks English says, "I'm learning Bahasa," which is a word-for-word reverse translation for "Saya belajar language."

In Indonesian, Bahasa is used to refer to ANY languages of the world

In English, there are usually two different words to describe a country and its language. For example:

  • Indonesia (country), Indonesian (language)
  • England (country), English (language)
  • Netherlands (country), Dutch (language)
  • Japan (country), Japanese (language)
  • Korea (country), Korean (language)
  • Russia (country), Russian (language)
  • France (country), French (language)
  • Portugal (country), Portuguese (language)
  • Spain (country), Spanish (language)
  • and so on

But this is not the case in Indonesian. In Indonesian, the word Bahasa is added in front of the name of the country to refer to the language originating from or associated with that country. For example:

  • Bahasa Indonesia = The Indonesian language
  • Bahasa Inggris = The English language
  • Bahasa Belanda = The Dutch language
  • Bahasa Jepang = The Japanese language
  • Bahasa Korea = The Korean language
  • Bahasa Rusia = The Russian language
  • Bahasa Perancis = The French language
  • Bahasa Portugis = The Portuguese language
  • Bahasa Spanyol = The Spanish language
  • and so on

Inggris, Belanda, Jepang, Korea, Rusia, and so on are all names of the country. Indonesian does not use two different words to describe the name of a country and a language like English. The only exception is Thailand, where the country is referred to as Thailand in Indonesia, and the Thai language is referred to as Bahasa Thai.

But in many cases, if someone were to say "I'm learning Bahasa," a possible mental response from someone who speaks Indonesian will be, "Bahasa what? There are so many Bahasas!"

    So once again, please, stop Calling "Bahasa Indonesia" as Just "Bahasa". Either call it "Bahasa Indonesia", in full, or simply, "Indonesian".

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