Will Javanese Language Become Extinct?

Javanese language is a principal language in Java. It has 65 to 80 million speakers with the biggest number living Java. Geographically, except in Central Java, East Java and Jogjakarta, the language is spoken in many other parts of Indonesia as Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Papua, Bali, NTT, and in some other countries as Malaysia, New Caledonia and Suriname. Many Javanese are now worried about the future of Javanese language. They say that unless systematic efforts are made to maintain the language, in the next 20 or 30 years, Javanese language will become extinct. This paper analyzes the possibility of this language to become extinct with the time frame of 50 years to go. The data are collected from library. The analysis is directed to answer whether Javanese language will become extinct in the next fifty years.


Javanese is the principal language of Java. Javanese is a Sundic language of the Western Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family. Although it is related to Indonesian, it is most closely related to Malay, Sundanese, Madurese, and Balinese. With respect to the geographical distribution, the language is spoken principally in the central and eastern regions of Java but with different variations or dialects. In addition, Javanese is spoken in the northern coastal regions of the western portion of the island, mainly around Banten and Cirebon. Through transmigration programs of the central government in 1970 to 1990 (Fearnside, 1997), now a number of Javanese speakers are found in other islands of Indonesia (Hidayat, 2011). Approximately 7.5 million Javanese speakers reside on the island of Sumatra in the Sumatera Utara (northern Sumatra) and Lampung (southern Sumatra) provinces. Other Javanese settlements include Papua, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Maluku. In addition to these regions, Javanese is spoken in the former Dutch colony of Suriname, New Caledonia, Madura, Bali, Lombok, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Netherlands (Hinnebusch, Year NA)

Javanese language has a very distinct orthography called Aksara. The traditional Javanese orthography is over 1,200 years old and is believed to have evolved from a Pallava script of southern India (Coulmas, 1999). Variants of this script are also used to write Sundanese, Madurese, Balinese, and Sasak. The Aksara script is a syllabery orthography consisting of twenty consonant graphemes, each with an inherent [o] vowel (transliterated as ‘a’). In this respect, the Javanese script is similar to the Abugida system most famously associated with the Devanagari orthography used to write Hindi.

Many Javanese are now worried about the future of Javanese language. They say that unless systematic efforts are made to maintain the language, in the next 20 or 30 years, Javanese language will become extinct. Their worrisome is based on the facts that – with the increasing use of the national language –Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia), and moreover with the introduction of English language as a local content at primary schools, fewer young children now can speak Javanese very well. Many Javanese family in the cities which become the centers of Javanese culture as Yogyakarta and Solo, little by little swift the use of Javanese language to Indonesian as the first language for the family circle. Those families used to use Javanese Kromo (the refined register of high Javanese) to older and respected people, and Javanese Ngoko ( lower dialect) to children and close friends. But now, they use more Indonesian, Javanese is only used in a limited encounters as when they talk to their grandparents and other older and respected persons. Young people are now more interested in learning foreign languages as English than learning their own local language. With the close association of English and modernity, business, and economy, Javanese will easily be termed as an ancient language and the language of ketoprak (Javanese theatre performing the stories about kingdoms in the past).

The role of Javanese language has changed a lot during the last 30 years. In 1980s, for example when I was about 13 years old, I could witness that Javanese was used very widely in the community both in formal and informal situations. The village leader would speak in Javanese when he addressed his people in meetings and gatherings. Even, when the Regent was visiting the villagers, and he had to make speeches, he would use Javanese. Such practices are rarely found there now. The Village leader, even the lower level as The Chair of the neighborhood unit (RT) will use Bahasa Indonesia or at least a mix of Indonesian and English during meetings with his people.

Considering the worrisome of Javanese people and the change of the role the language now has, the paper will analyze the issue of its extinction, whether the Javanese language will become extinct. Since any language has a possibility of extinction, time frame of 50 years from now is applied. First, the paper will review the issue of extinct and dead language and the factors associated with it. Secondly it will present data for the analysis. The data are from library research. A discussion then follows, and it ends with some points as conclusions.



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