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The Use of Some Pronouns in Bahasa

If we compare pronouns in Bahasa and English, we will find some differences.  The first difference is that in Bahasa, pronouns are used with considering the context of politeness while English doesn’t have this rule. In Bahasa, the context of politeness is important. Violating the context of usage will cause a blasphemy. We can see in the use of these pronouns:

Ka(m)u – Engkau – Anda – Bapak – Ibu – Saudara – Saudari

In English, those pronouns have no such issue. However in Bahasa, you will see that the use of those pronouns is quite difficult. I will give examples. Let me give you two sentences in English:

(i) You are kind  –> We address “you” in this sentence as:

  • the 2nd person singular
  • older than us and or higher rank than us

(ii) You are kind  –> We address “you” in this sentence as:

  • the 2nd person singular
  • as equal as us and or lower than us

Those two sentences are correct and do not have politeness issue in English. In Bahasa, the sentences will be different. Let’s see those sentences in Bahasa.

The First Sentence (i)

The context:

“You” is used to address to an addressee who is:

  • older than us and or higher rank than us
  • the 2nd person singular

The sentence itself can be translated as, (and some notes I add to explain the issue we are discussing here):

  • Ka(m)u baik or Engkau baik –> these sentences are total blasphemies to be given to the addressee.
  • Anda baik –> this sentence is a total blasphemy to the addressee. We cannot use this sentence because this pronoun “anda” is only used in the context where the addressee is equal and or younger than us. It is also used when the addressee has lower rank than ours. Which one comes first; age or rank? Rank comes first before age.
  • Bapak baik –> the polite form to be given to an older or higher rank man. We can use this pronoun “bapak”  to give praise to a man at higher rank or older age.
  • Ibu baik –> the polite form to be given to an older or higher rank woman. We can use this pronoun “ibu”  to give praise to a woman at higher rank or older age.
  • Saudara baik or Saudari baik –> “saudara” is to address a man, while “saudari” is used to address a woman. We cannot use these pronouns, saudara or saudari, to address people older than us and or at higher ranks.

The Second Sentence (ii)

The context:

“You” is used to address to an addressee who is:

  • as equal as us and or lower than  us; rank or age.
  • the 2nd person singular

  • Ka(m)u baik  or Engkau baik –> these sentences are correct to be given to the addressee.
  • Anda baik –> this sentence is the most polite form to be given to the same addressee.
  • Bapak baik –> We can use this pronoun “bapak”  to respect to a man who is older than us  and or a married man though he has lower rank. But we cannot use it to a lower rank man who is younger and or unmarried. If we do that, It’ll sound funny.
  • Ibu baik –> We can use this pronoun “ibu”  to respect to a woman who is older than us  and or a married woman though she has lower rank. But we cannot use it to a lower rank woman who is younger and or unmarried. If we do that, It’ll sound funny.
  • Saudara baik or Saudari baik –> “saudara” is to address a man, while “saudari” is used to address a woman. We cannot use these pronouns, saudara or saudari, to address people older than us. In the context of formal letter, these two pronouns may be used to younger or lower ranker. Another context in which these pronouns may be used freely without any age or rank consideration is when they are used in the law or legal context. However, the use of “bapak or “ibu” in the context of business letter, formal letter, and job application letter to respect others is preferable to “saudara” or “saudari”.

The second difference between English and Bahasa is the pronouns to address the 2nd person plural. In English, we have only “we” to address both:

  1. the listener is included, or
  2. the listener is exclude

while in Bahasa, we have to determine which context is fit. In Bahasa we have two pronouns which have the same meaning with “we” in English. They are “kita” and “kami”.

If the listener is included, we use “kita”.

If the listener isn’t included, we use “kami”.

When we talk about daily usage of Bahasa, we sometimes hear some Indonesian people don’t differentiate the use between “kita” dan “kami”. However, it is now acceptable but in academic Bahasa.

In  addition, “kita” and “kami” in Bahasa, as used in English, may indicate 1st person plural. It happens when someone speaks as a representation of an institution, a group, a country, or a nation.

The third difference is that English has only “I” to address 1st person singular, while Bahasa has “saya” and “aku”.

In the context of politeness, Indonesian will use “saya” not “aku”. It happens also in the context of formal situation. Indonesian use “aku” to address 1st person singular only when they talk to people at the same age and or rank. “Aku” is also used to younger or lower rank.

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The Use of Some Pronouns in Bahasa by Dipa Nugraha is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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