Authorities on the Indonesian island of Java passed a law last month requiring all inhabitants to speak a little bit of Javanese each week in a move to try and preserve the language and the culture of the island. The news was announced following approval by the legislative council of Java passing bylaw No. 17/2012.
The law, which comes into affect in 2013, may be more symbolic than pragmatic, as it doesn’t state how the obligation to speak Javanese will actually be implemented and measured or stipulate any sanctions for violations of the law; how a court could prove an individual had not spoken Javanese in the last 7 days is also highly questionable.
In interviews with the media, Councillor Muhammad Zain, one of the main advocates of the bill, has argued that the main threat to Javanese isn’t from Indonesian, (Java’s second most spoken language), but English, which is being used to enjoy western film and TV shows as well as giving residents the opportunity of using it to find office work in nearby Australia.
In our recent blog post we talked about the current options available to us to protect endangered languages using digital technology to catalogue languages . We’ve also seen cases in particular countries where languages are legally protected by law due to the historical relevance, Maori in New Zealand for example . But whilst Maori has approximately 156,000 speakers (2006), in the 2000 census of Indonesia it was revealed there were 85 million speakers of the Javanese language, exempting it from UNESCO’s endangered language list, whilst 146 other Indonesian native languages are at risk of extinction .
In practice the law may be more concerned about the preservation by local government of the island’s culture as it requires Javanese authorities to promote the use of the language through the naming of public places and buildings in the Javanese language. But the motion to encourage people to speak Javanese through law is certainly interesting and we’ll be keeping an eye on this news story whilst it develops.