‘Language Coup’ and Linguistic Imperialism


By. Afrianto Daud 
(This article was first written for the Jakarta Post)

In the last one week or so, the name of Vicky Prasetyo was suddenly becoming the ravings of a lot of people on various social medias shortly after his video interview with a media infotainment was widespread in the social media networks. The interview caught peoples’ attention as it has a ‘unique style’ of language with many ‘foreign’ terms and ‘weird’ vocabulary that flow smoothly from his mouth.

'Statusisasi hati ', konspirasi kemakmuran ' , and ' mensiasati kecerdasan ' (hard to find equal proper english translation for these terms) are some of vocabulary Vicky mentioned. Majority of people seem to feel 'amused' (not to say ' sick ') listening to Vicky’s style of using these uncommon terms. This is because from the standard Indonesian language point of view, those terms sound very inappropriate.

Borrowing a phrase from Viky himself, it can be said that what Vicky had done was like a ' coup' for Bahasa Indonesia. Therefore, some people just couldn’t refrain themselves for not to bully Vicky at various sites of cyberspace.

This article does not intend to add to the list on bullying to Vicky personally, nor intended to peel the personal lives of Vicky. Moreover, I never knew the name before. This article is going to highlight and analyze what is behind the phenomenon of Vicky’s language style and what to do with the proposition introduced by Philipson (1992) in his book Linguistic Imperialism.

By using post–colonialism’s perspective, Philipson said that the massive spread of English to the third world or developing countries has led to a ‘new form of imperialism' which he called as 'linguistic imperialism'. He continued that the structured, systemized, and massive teaching of English to many countries have inevitably brought about some negative effects.

This massive English teaching, for example, has added to the domination of the so-called ‘English exporting countries’, such as the UK and USA on many developing countries. This has doubled up their powers as they are already very strong and coloring many other countries in the economic , military , social , and political fields.

From economic perspective, the English teaching is a big business. Millions of dollars flowing into the countries where English language teaching materials are produced ( the USA , UK , Australia ) in the form of purchasing for audio - visual materials , books , human resources and others. And at the same time, culturally these 'English exporting countries' are also constantly exerting their nails in various forms to the people in the target of English language teaching (the language learners). Philipson refers this new domination with linguistic impralism mentioned above.

On the field , the result of this new imperialism can be seen from the phenomenon of  'special attitude ' from public and or government of the existence of English and English language teaching in many non - English speaking countries , including Indonesia. As we know, from many foreign languages, English has been chosen and set to be a compulsory subject in our secondary schools since few years after our independence .

The use of English has invaded our daily lives, ranging from its use for the name of hotels, shopping centers, to the everyday vocabulary used by some members of our society. English is also deliberately used in a variety of radio and television programs, in some newspapers and magazine, and even within our national education.

It is reasonable if we assume that English speaking ability is important, as we just cannot deny the fact that English is a global language that we will need on many occasions. We are also having an interest to be part of more than 1.8 billion people who speak English in the world today. Because of the importance of English as a global language, even some developed countries, like Germany had also started to impose the teaching English as a compulsory subject in their high school curriculum starting from 2012.

The problem is that the importance of English’s campaign seems to have also surreptitiously ‘poisoned’ the subconscious mind of our society that English is considered as " the most precious pearls ' in our life; that it is more important than any other language skills. For this reason, it is not really a surprise to see that those who are able to speak English well get special treatments and some privileges from the community.

In the world of education, for example, the special treatment on the status of English can be easily seen in some government policies. Not only became a compulsory subject, but English occasionally used as a short cut measure and determine if a school or a teacher has developed quite well and can be categorized as ‘sophisticated ones’. The practice within the implementation of the controversial International Standardized School Pilot project (RSBI) before , for example , could explain this phenomenon , when the notion of the ' international standard ' by some have been simplified to the use English as a medium of instruction.

In the case of Vicky, I suspect that the phenomenon of language style he used is an extreme form of the other side as a result of this linguistic imperialism as Philipson presented above. That is when the subconscious minds of some people started to be 'colonized' in some ways and unknowingly thought that the English speaking ability is a symbol of social status; that those who speak English are cool people, the intellects , modern , educated , and from middle to upper class. As a result, some people tend to 'force themselves ' to speak the stylish English. This self-imposed perception later in some occasions goes too far, as the tendency seen in the phenomenon of Vicky.

In a softer case, this phenomenon can also be observed when some people, such as politicians , observers , or radio and TV news anchors who deliberately use the English terms on many parts of their word choices, even though there is no particular context that requires them to use the terms. Once again, it is very likely that they did it as they might assume that the more ' sophisticated ' choice of language they use, the 'cooler ' they would be perceived by their listeners.

I am certainly not saying that we should all avoid the use the foreign terms in our communication. However, my point is that how we could use the English proportionally in a proper way and in a proper context. Use it wisely when it is necessary.

This Viky’s phenomenon could be used a momentum for all Bahasa Indonesia lovers to think and find ways to prevent the 'language coup' done by Vicky in order not to negatively affect on the existence of Indonesian language. I believe that we still agree with the old view saying that language is an important part of identity which is inherent in every nation. Thus, the destruction of the language could also be said to be potentially ruining that particular nation. For this reason, we are all concerned not to let 'language virus ' from Vicky generate ‘another Vicky’ and then subsequently 'coup' of our national language – Bahasa Indonesia.


Afrianto Daud is teaching English at Riau University and is currently doing his PhD in the Faculty of Education, Monash University Australia

I teach (and learn) for the same reason I breath. I am a teacher and a constant learner at the same time. --- Jatuh cinta dengan kegiatan belajar dan mengajar, karena dua aktifitas inilah yang menjadikan peradaban terus tumbuh dan berkembang ^_^ I have been teaching in various institutions in Indonesia, ranging from primary school to university level. I have just completed my Ph.D in Education at Monash University Australia. My research interest is on (English) teacher training and education, English Language Teaching, and educational policy in Indonesian context. I am available to share my knowledge with all interested teachers worldwide. Feel free to contact me through my email as seen in my blog :-). Many thanks!

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