Communicative competence in Indonesian
: language choice in inter-ethnic interactions in Semarang

  • Zane Matthew Goebel

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    The main aim of this research is to examine inter-ethnic interactions that occurred in two neighborhoods (RT) in Semarang, Indonesia, in order to explore how code choice and the use of prosody figured in these speaker's communicative competence. The motivation for doing this study was to provide some input into what appeared to be sociolinguistically uninformed debates about the teaching of variety in Indonesian language programs. This research utilized a number of theoretical approaches and methods to the study of language, most notably Hymes' (1972b, 1974a) "Ethnography of Communication", Gumperz's (1982a) "Interactional Sociolinguistics", and Myers-Scotton's (1993a) "Markedness" approach to code choice. Essentially this meant using these approaches to demonstrate how contextualization cues like code choice and prosody (i.e silence, intonation, pitch, tempo) were used in real-time interaction to signal intent and to interpret meaning, while also demonstrating how the use of these cues related to the wider speech community's daily social life.

    The most significant finding was that ngoko Javanese was being used to signal relative familiarity in inter-ethnic interactions, as among the Javanese alone. Non-standard Indonesian was generally used in inter-ethnic interactions to signal more distant relationships, while kromo Javanese was used to signal this among the Javanese themselves. In inter-ethnic interactions the use of prosodic features such as silence tended to match the use of code for indicating degrees of familiarity (i.e. latching and overlap used among familiars and pauses among unfamiliars) and it was found that inter-turn silence were generally symmetrical. This was found to be related to the general lack of instances of miscommunication, as was the finding that speakers tended to accomodate toward their partner's use of silence.

    Accordingly, it is argued that part of being a communicatively competent Indonesian means being able to choose a code to indicate whether one is friendly or distant toward one's interlocutor and having the ability to accommodate towards the code choice and prosodic patterns of one's conversational partner. The implications of this for Indonesian language programs might best be put by replacing questions like "Which variety of Indonesian should we teach?" with a question like "What are the parameters of social meaning that the use of one code instead of another will have?"
    Date of Award2000
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorPaul Black (Supervisor)

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