Language of the Second Kind: Media and the Social Constitution of Language in Southeast Asia and Beyond – a seminar by Prof. Bernard Arps (Wed, 19 October 2011)

Speaker: Prof. Bernard Arps (Asia Research Institute, NUS & Leiden University, Netherlands)
Date: Wednesday, 19 October 2011
Time: 3:30pm – 5:30pm
Venue: AS3, Level 6, SEAS Seminar Room (06-20)

The claim I make in this presentation is that a distinct kind of language (conceived as a sociocultural formation) is born in the so‐called “situations of utterance” that are enabled by media technologies, productions, and institutions. I will try to show this initially with reference to Osing, spoken in the far eastern corner of Java. Around 1970 a campaign began for recognition of Osing—then considered a rustic patois of Javanese—as the Regional Language of the Regency of Banyuwangi. Radio, print media, public signage, the recording industry, even sound amplification were central to this campaign.

The language‐making process emerged in a particular political and technological constellation, that of the New Order era in Indonesia, with its heritage of Dutch colonial structures and ideas, its economic developmentalism, its growing dominance of Islam, its uneasy multiculturalism and fervent nationalism, its cultural exceptionalism—to mention a few of the factors that influence the state of language in Indonesia. To what extent, then, is what has happened to Osing unique, to what extent is it shared in
Indonesia and beyond?

To answer this question, I will try to demonstrate that media‐related language change in Osing presents inflections of phenomena that are also occurring elsewhere too: in Indonesia, to be sure, but also in languages with geopolitically different statuses. I focus particularly on Lao, which is structurally all but identical to Isan (spoken in northeastern Thailand), and also spoken by first‐ and some second-generation Laotians in diasporic communities in the USA, Canada, Australia, and France.

About the speaker
Bernard Arps is Professor of Indonesian and Javanese Language and Culture at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and currently a Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute. His greatest intellectual curiosity concerns social and political processes in which language plays a formative role. In his teaching and research so far he has focused on four fields of this kind: religion, promotion and propaganda, cultural policy, and language itself, in all cases devoting special attention to mediation and performance. Prof. Arps is currently working at the intersection of narrative and religion. His lecture is based on an earlier research project.