Indonesian('s) Authority

J. Errington
Yale University
For a collection of essays on language and ideology, ed. Paul Kroskrity for the School of American Research


  1. Modernist state and modern language
  2. Exemplariness and public language
  3. Reading Indonesian's authority
    1. Lexical change: exemplary Javanese and esoteric English
    2. Exemplary Indonesian in performance
    3. Standard Javanese in Indonesia
  4. Discursive public authority
  5. Notes
  6. References
  7. Acknowledgements

Ascendant ethno-nationalisms now punctuating the end of the cold war may also signal the end of developmentalism as it has long been fostered in the ``Third world'' by the ``First.'' Lesser Developed states are now confronted by primordialist, identitarian politics of ethnicity and religion which reduce the purchase of ``development'' and ``modernism'' as modes and legitimations of nationhood. But in this regard, at this time of writing, the Republic of Indonesia seems conspicuously exceptional as a large, hugely diverse nation-state which presents the appearance of stability, economic robustness, and an ongoing national integration of hundreds of ethnolinguistically distinct communities. These conditions are very much rooted in the Cold War and ensuing geopolitics of development, and emerged from a reign of terror in 1965-1966 which saw the extermination of the Indonesian Communist Party and ascendance an authoritarian, self-named New Order. This New Order has since been the sole source of political legitimacy, and overseer of a highly centralized program of national development which seems a real success story of Third World Development.

New Order public authority has been crucially implemented through and so reflected by forms of public discourse in Indonesian, instrument and symbol of state penetration of local communities and lives. Indonesian has for fifty years been infrastructural to the New Order's vast project, what Benedict Anderson called at its very inception a ``project for the assumption of `modernity' within the modalities of an autonomous and autochthonous social-political tradition''(1966:89). Certainly Indonesian seems a conspicuously successful aspect of Indonesia's development: Joshua Fishman, preeminent among Language Developmentalists, has called Indonesian nothing less than a ``linguistic miracle'' and ``the envy of the multilingual world'' (1978:333). There is statistical backing for his opinion; notwithstanding the difficulties of evaluating non-disinterested survey techniques, questions, and results, there seems to be broad consensus that ``the national language problem'' is one Indonesia is well on its way to solving.1

Indonesian's rapid spread bespeaks not only the effectiveness of New Order development policy but also the political and cultural salience of its nationalist rhetoric, which brings into convergence an exogenous conception of modernity and suitably reinvented versions of endogenous traditions. Indonesian is thus doubly pivotal as means for and symbol of the New Order's project and legitimacy: authoritative public genres of Indonesian are at once instrumental for New Order efforts to impose state prerogatives, hierarchies, and legitimacy, and at the same time culturally salient in form and appropriateness. Shaped by and expressive of national development ideology, public Indonesian discourse offers tangible, transcribable, interpretable clues to the broad nature of New Order project it embodies and propogates.

In his paper I sketch the successful, conflicted efforts of the New Order to domesticate exogenous modernity, and modernize domestic traditions, in their new national language. To this end I proffer quasi-diagnostic readings of a few instances of public Indonesian as symptomatic of ideological ambiguities which at once enable and efface New Order authority, and which make its national rhetoric, to adapt Partha Chatterjee's phrase (1985), doubly derivative. Focal here, as in much other commentary on the New Order, are ``domestic traditions'' of Javanese, the ethnic group which is demographically dominant in the nation, and politically dominant in the New Order state. Javanese elites in the New Order perceive and represent themselves as inheritors of a ``high'' Javanese cultural tradition, supporting an essentialized, originary picture of a courtly Javanese past much like that to which scholarly and journalistic observers appeal in accounts of the ``neotraditional'' in national politics.2 But this image, which appears increasingly tenuous under critical historical scrutiny, can itself be indirectly interrogated insofar as it can be read out of genres and acts of New Order national discourse.

Contrasts between ``ethnic'' and ``national,'' and ``traditional'' and ``modern,'' figure here not as designations for epochs--paired alphas and omegas in nationalist or Developmentalist teleologies--but as correlates of rubrics for potentially copresent, copresentable modes of authority, standard and exemplary, in public Indonesian discourse. Taken as modes or inflections of discourse, ``standard'' and ``exemplary'' allude to distinct ways of enacting and construing authority; in this way they join issues of discursive genre and political culture. National yet ethnic, ideologically backed yet culturally resonant, these categories for overtly modern and covertly traditional discourse offer an entree to mutable constellations of authorship (or speakership), authority, and audience as they are presupposed and propogated by and for the New Order.

That public Indonesian's legitimacy as a standard language devolves crucially from its New Order institutional backing is evident from its conspicuous lack of an appreciably large group of native speakers: the state, rather than any native community, ultimately sanctions standard Indonesian dialects and official genres of Indonesian speakership. Licenced, then, not just in nonlocal but nonlocalizable terms, Indonesian public discourse involves specifically governmental and institutional modes of talk. I seek here to demonstrate that this obvious backing for Indonesian has an unobvious complement in generic markers of ``exemplary'' Indonesian talk, a mode of discursive self-presentation which presents perceived symptoms of intrinsically personal authority. Such exemplary authoritative discourse emerges as a ``natural'' reflex of speaker's intrinsic character, ``showing forth'' qualities for others who are accorded the status of observing audience, rather than potentially co-participating interlocutors.

This broad distinction between the standard and exemplary is neither new nor distinctively relevant to ``the Indonesian case.'' It resonates with Weber's distinction between bureaucratic and charismatic authority,3 and with descriptions he inspired of social transition from pre-national patrimonial states--what Cohn and Dirks (1988:224) aptly call ``theaters of power''--to modern bureaucratic modes of governmentality. My purpose here is better served, though, by developing this distinction with partial, opportunistic recourse to two other recent, broadly epochalist theorizations of soicopolitical transition from prenational and premodern to national, ``modern'' forms of polity. Ernest Gellner's version of nations and nationalism serves first to develop some of the ideological and epistemological reflexes of developmentalism, at least as practiced by the New Order. Jürgen Habermas' account of the rise of the modern public sphere in Western Europe next serve to develop a contrastive notion of pre-modern ``publicness'' which helps in turn to generalize a notion of exemplariness. Brought together to consider a few concrete specifics of public Indonesian, these authors help read (and read against) the grain of New Order developmentalist ideology; at the same time, they serve in an argument by example against the epochalist presuppositions which inform epochalist visions of wholesale transition from a traditional ethnic diversity to modern nationality.

Modernist state and modern language

Ernest Gellner's 1983 On nations and nationalism--a eufunctionalist, technodeterminist picture of modernity and development--has proven empirically problematic4 and anachronistic only ten years after its publication. But its lack of predictive or explanatory power does not reduce its usefulness as an explication of the modernist, developmentalist ideology of nationalism, and especially language developmentalism, which is still quite viable in Indonesia. Gellner unwittingly sets out a concise, clear explication of an ideologic of New Order national development (pembangunan nasional) generally, and Indonesian national language development (pembangunan bahasa nasional) particularly.5

Gellner seeks to explain what he sees as nationalism's delusional character with recourse to Durkheimian notions of collective representation and organic division of labor on one hand, and Weberian notions of bureaucratic rationality on the other. His argument depends on the transition to standard, national languages from their epochal precursors: sacred script languages which anchored mystified symbolic realms in local, locally conceived communities, and which legitimized the roles of the literate, clerical few as mediators between those realms and the illiterate many. Echoing Hegel--``none, then some, then all can read'' (1983:8)--Gellner traces a coarticulation between the rise of nationalism and secularized, crucially state-sponsored, state-standardized literacies controlled by citizens, each a cleric in the state's crypto-religion.6 In this respect Gellner anticipates what Anderson in an otherwise quite different chronicling (1991) calls the ``vernacularizing thrust'' of print capitalism.

Gellner emphasizes the crucially symbiotic relation between standardized languages and modern states: state-fostered linguistic/symbolic homogeneity enables socioeconomic differentiation which, in turn, is infrastructural for the state. To promote the cultural and linguistic homogeneity it presupposes, nationalism must be misrecognized, like the language it promotes, as an intrinsic end rather than the instrument of socioeconomic development which it ``really'' is. Gellner's argument in this respect broadly resembles policy-oriented sociological accounts of language problems of ``developing'' nations elaborated in the period of high international developmentalism, most notably by the same Joshua Fishman (e.g., 1967) who found Indonesian particularly miraculous.7 Self-named ``language engineers'' are in this respect Gellner's precursors, anticipating his focus on the referential transparency and communicative efficiency of national languages, and on state-sanctioned school systems as crucial loci for what he calls an ``exosocialization'' of citizens in and through a standard national language.

But Gellner extends his philosophy of industrialization (1964:72) beyond institutions and state policy to the sphere of epistemology and world view. In an argument reminiscent if not directly derivative of Basil Bernstein's writings (e.g., 1972) on context-free ``elaborated codes,'' Gellner identifies suitably standard national languages as media of thought which is autonomous with respect to context and topic. Modern languages are context free, presupposing in use ``that all referential uses of language ultimately refer to one coherent world, and can be reduced to a unitary idiom; and that it is legitimate to relate them to each other''(1983:21, emphasis mine). Gellner thus links standardness and translocal availability of language with a kind of referential privilege and epistemological stance, effectively claiming for such languages the status of vehicles for the aperspectival thought engendered from what Charles Taylor has called ``a view from nowhere.'' Here it is enough to identify these claimed convergences--between modernity and rationality on one hand, and nationalism and language on the other--as the basis of a standardist ideology of language. It is this ideology which finally underwrites Gellner's own authorial position, and his story of a long, hard, developmentalist road which leads, finally, to the modes of rational thought which his own work presumably exemplifies.

I sketch this extremely broad position by way of motivating an overview of the New Order program of language development, to which it corresponds remarkably well. Indonesian language policy can be read as emblematic of broader state moves in social and political spheres to achieve what Gellner calls a progressive ``imposition of a high culture on society, where previously low cultures had taken up the lives of the majority...of the population (1983:57).'' At the same time Gellner helps develop an understanding of New Order efforts to efface the derivativeness of that national ``high culture,'' and the national language of central concern here.

The Indonesian version of national development was inaugurated by General (now President) Suharto at the very inception of the New Order era. Recognizing ``the monopoly of legitimate education [to be] more important, more central than is the monopoly of legitimate violence'' (Gellner 1983:34), Suharto unilaterally mandated the state supervised building and staffing of elementary schools throughout Indonesia, including rural areas. These have since been--as Suharto intended, and Gellner described--primary institutional means for disseminating standard Indonesian language and nationalist sentiment to a new national citizenry. Thirty years of state-fostered Indonesian language development have now ostensibly yielded what Gellner (1983:57) calls ``, academy-supervised idiom, codified for the requirements of reasonably precise bureaucratic and technological communication.''

Indonesian national development ideology resonates remarkably well likewise with Gellner's functionalist, statist view of nations and their national languages. Indonesian language is itself an object of national development (pembangunan), one among the many spheres--economic, social, cultural--which fall under the New Order's purview. As such, Indonesian is propogated as the ethnically uninflected, culturally neutral language which is both omniavailable to its citizens, and itself subject to ``development'' by the state. Indonesian can thus be both medium and topic of developmentalist discussion, as for instance at regular state-sponsored conferences on national language politics (politik bahasa nasional) and language development (pembangunan bahasa). The following quotation is entirely representative of the means-ends rhetoric discourse at those conferences, and its overtly statist, developmentalist, underpinnings:

The concept of national society (masyarakyat bangsa8) cannot be fully understood if one national language ... does not exist. A country (negara) that has one general/common (umum) language known thoughout society will be more advanced in development (pembangunan), and its political ideology (ideologi politiknya) will be safer and stabler. (Burhan 1989.)9

In such policy-oriented, state-sponsored discourse standard Indonesian discourse frames standard Indonesian as one object of institutional treatment among many within the state's purview.

The ideology informing this vision of Indonesian, perceptively and critically explicated by Ariel Heryanto, resonates remarkably well with Gellner's standardist conception of language, modernity, and rationality. Heryanto traces the emerging constructivist, instrumentalist rhetoric of New Order development out of the shifting tropes of ``development'' which occurred between the pre-1965 era of Sukarno10 and the post-1965 New Order. Prior to 1965, ``development'' was figured in nationalist discourse with broadly organic metaphors through keywords derived, for instance, from the root kembang, 'flower'. Its nominal form perkembangan, for instance, counts as a rubric for a ``NATURAL PROCESS of change which is motivated primarily by some INTERNAL necessity, enforced primarily by its own INTERNAL energy, its pace and extent being PROPORTIONAL to its own nature'' (Heryanto 1988:49-50, emphasis in the original). This version of ``development,'' in all likelihood traceable to German Romanticist visions of language and nation, had its earliest and most eloquent expression in Takdir Alisjahbana's unabashedly modernist writings.11

Under the New Order these have given way to mechanical, constructivist figurings of pembangunan--a nominal form of bangun 'to rise, become vertical'--as an agentive, instrumentalist, vision of technical, expert, conscious construction. It is, as President Suharto himself put it, ``like building a large building''.12 It ``denotes CRAFTMANSHIP as well as ENGINEERING, with the chief emphasis on yielding MAXIMAL PRODUCT, in the most EFFICIENT pace and manner possible, by bringing EXTERNAL forces to bear upon the object, bangunan.'' (Heryanto 1988:50-51, emphasis in the original).

Such is the instrumental rhetoric legitimating of the New Order's self-assumed roles as mediator of foreign forces, privileged overseer of technocratically governed socioeconomic change, and socializer of Indonesians into modern nationality. Indonesian, as the nation-state's standard language, counts as a ``developed,'' efficient, referential instrumentality, integrated at once into a translocal system of state institutions and the local lives of members of what Burhan called the ``national society.'' Indonesian's putative geosocial omniavailability and referential privilege insures the putative neutrality and autonomy of public Indonesian discourse which, as Gellner would note, is derivative of the state which sanctions and propagates it.

Besides isolating points of fit between the broadest ideological underpinnings of New Order developmentalism and a standardist ideology of language development, Gellner's functionalist account throws into correspondingly strong relief features of Indonesian public discourse which fit his theory no better than they conform to New Order development ideology. I address these by sketching a ``traditional'' Javanese conception of polity and language which, being ``pre-modern'' and ``pre-rational,'' can be set out here in antithesis to New Order language standardism.

Exemplariness and public language

Habermas' account of the rise of ``public spheres'' in Western Europe nation-states has stimulated broad debate on public discursive representation; but I invoke here his succinct, prefatory comments on modes of medieval ``public representativeness'' which were antecedent to bourgeois public spheres. He develops a conception of pre-modern publicness as something which accrued to public persons ``like a status attribute'' through which a noble personage ``displayed himself, presented himself as embodiment of some sort of 'higher' power.'' (1989:7) In this way, argues Habermas, aristocrats engaged in a kind of representative publicity. They embodied such intrinsic attributes in performatively staged courtly society. Habermas thematizes the ``naturalness'' of these attributes of ``public persons'' through Goethe's observation (in Wilhelm Meister) that nobles are set off by their right to seem, that is, to bear in their personal qualities--movements, voice, and ``whole being''--a distinctive public-ness (offentlichheit). And where Goethe distinguished inalienable traits of nobles from alienable possessions of the bourgeoisie, so Nietsche, cited by Habermas to the same end, nostalgically distinguished the (publicly representative) aristocrat by what he is from the commoner who proves himself by what he can do. Such remarks allude to what Landes, working in and against Habermas' gender-blind idiom, calls the ``performative character'' of ``the official public sphere of the abolutist court'' (1990:18-19).

Publicly representative discourse is from this perspective staged and conventionally distinctive, yet at the same time perceivedly im-mediate and natural. Devoid of apparent artifice, subsistent on differences which are only tacitly conventional, these naturally exemplary forms of conduct bely their social nature. In this respect, Habermas' observations are echoed by Bourdieu's (1984:23) comments on the modern ``aristocracy of culture'' in France, which subsists on misrecognized differences between what he calls domestic and educational modes of acquisition of cultural capital. Habermas' concern is to contrast such ``personal publicness'' with the anonymity or anonymizability of print-mediated discourse which, being alienable from the person of any author or reader, is ``a kind of social intercourse that, far from presupposing the equality of status, disregard[s] status altogether''(1989:36). Such a language of anonymous public discourse which belongs to no one, and so, ostensibly, to everyone, enables a putatively autonomous public sphere. That sphere coarticulates with a putatively standard, coavailable language, as well as universal access to that public linguistic instrumentality.

Unlike Gellner's developmentalist, state-centered explication of standard language and rational thought, Habermas' account of civil society has little purchase in contemporary Indonesia.13 Suitably transposed, however, his remarks on ``publicly representative'' persons suggest a comparative perspective on what might be called exemplary modalities of Indonesian discourse. Notions of the ``exemplary'' have a long pedigree in scholarship on premodern Southeast Asian statecraft and political culture. Best known, perhaps, from writings of C. Geertz (1980) on exemplary centers and ``theater states,'' they figure likewise in Tambiah's writings on Thai kingship (1976) and the galactic polity of ``Indic'' Southeast Asia (1985). Anderson developed a broadly similar position in a seminal article (1972) on the concept of power in Javanese culture, which develops from a reading of traditional Javanese historiography and early Indonesian politics a Javanese conception of power as a quasi-concrete attribute of things and persons, rather than an aspect of social relationships.14 As a tangible property inhering in persons, objects, and locales, power has its paradigmatic loci in the singular persons of kings who occupy and define geosocial centers and pinnacles of traditional polities.

Anderson discusses in this vein power which accrues to esoteric texts and utterances which can manifest, actualize, and transmit it. Those sufficiently powerful to master archaic, exotic, semi-opaque discourse can deploy it as much as communicate through it. The natural efficaciousness and foreign provenance of much such powerful discourse confers on its forms a radical non-arbitrariness with respect to ``content'' and so, correlatively, an autonomy with respect to its writers/utterers or readers/hearers. Semantic opacity and syntactic idiomaticity can make speech resistant to construal in mundane ways, and confer on it the perceived significance of what Keeler has called ``reserved reference,'' that is, ``meaning held in readiness rather than released in intelligibility'' (1987:139). Such words and their discourses are then construable, as Anderson has more recently and generally written, as ``emanations of reality, not fabricated representations of it (1991:22).''

Exemplary persons can manifest their capacity to affect the world through efficacious acts of speech which draw the describable and performable into convergence--bringing the world into a fit with the word (in John Searle's phrase)--as when (in Javanese literature) a king renders someone insane by describing them as such (i.e., ``You [are] mad.''). Textual specialists--paradigmatically, poet-scribes (pujangga) of traditional royal courts, and Islamic teachers (kyai) steeped in a heavily Arabicized literature--were endowed with the privileged ``ability to penetrate to and conserve old and secret knowledge'' (Anderson 1972:47) in script languages. These count more generally as what Anderson has called Truth languages ``apprehensible only through a single, privileged system of [orthographic] representation'' (1991:22). Such exemplary language supplemented the perceived exemplariness of those in proximity with the quasi-divine apex of a sociocosmological hierarchy, a literati which putatively mediated between an autonomous realm of esoteric knowledge and the mundane world of their illiterate inferiors.

Ideologically sanctioned exclusivity--``the sacred character, separate and separating, of high culture'' (Bourdieu 1984:34)--can render speech symptomatic of speakers' internal natures, and signal its construability as naturally indexical of their intrinsic status. Exemplary usage could tacitly signal at once personal distinctiveness and social privilege to speak, over and against uninitiated others relagated the residual, subordinate, and passive role of audience status. Perceivedly ``natural'' modes of fit between exemplary speech and powerful personhood, broadly resonant with Habermas' observations, allow exemplary discourse to figure in performative realizations of personal nature. As such, social significances of exemplary discourse are borne more by its immediate, self-evident qualities rather than its conventional, reportable or reproducable content. Its generic distinctiveness, semantic opacity, and syntactic idiomaticity must render it mute with respect to its own nature, and so also the nature of the authority it presupposes and entails.

Reading Indonesian's authority

This ideal-typical sketch of ``exemplarist'' and ``standardist'' modes of public discourse, underwritten by Gellner's and Habermas' accounts of transitions to modernity, suggests two distinct construals of institutional authority in the contingencies of talk. I consider in this section some contemporary specifics of New Order discourse to argue that dynamic asymmetries emerge when covertly exemplary modes of discursive authority are figured in the dominant, standard mode of public Indonesian. I sketch relations between these modalities of public Indonesian's authority with three tiny, quasi-diagnostic illustrations.

The first involves politically salient lexical developments which suggest a covert exemplarism of distinctive public Indonesian. These developments are interpretable in ways reminiscent of other neotraditionalist readings of New Order political culture, but are presented here as inflections rather than displacements of standard Indonesian's authority, which they subserve more than they subvert. The second quite different example consists of a brief passage from a recent Indonesian play which both exemplifies and thematizes another aspect of this potential doubleness. Through a well-crafted stylistic awkwardness, its author parodies and then thematizes a style of public discourse. This brief passage encapsulates the kinds of tensions its author has read out of official discourse in other venues.

Together, these two examples make relations between ``exemplary'' and ``standard'' genres seem mutable, adaptable to the contextual and topical contingencies which shape enactments and modes of authoritative speakership. But any dynamic between enduring conception and emergent event is necessarily grounded in enduring asymmetries, at once institutional and ideological, between exemplarist and standardist discursive authority. Standard modes of Indonesian discourse, self-evidently sanctioned by state institutions, are informed by the kinds of modernist, instrumentalist assumptions which Gellner invokes in his discussion of ``one coherent world'' which a modern, exoteric language can ``reduce'' ``to a unitary idiom.'' Exemplary discourse, on the other hand, only tacitly resonates with received understandings of power, and partakes of a logic of power which can only be exhibited, neither named nor semantically objectified. For exemplary discourse to efface its antecedent legitimating source, it must efface its own subsistence on linguistic conventionality.

This suggests that paired asymmetries--between forms of institutional backing on one hand, and between ideologies of language on the other--shape relations between exemplary and standard modes of discourse. And both can be read from a recent event in which state officials used public, standard Indonesian serve to fix and exotericize exemplary genres of Javanese. This was a government sponsored event explicitly aimed at standardizing and bringing Javanese language under its aegis, and so assimilating Javanese elite tradition to a public, modern context. This final example of Indonesian language development is significant not just for its overt goals, but for the tacit language ideologies which were presupposed more than thematized in it.

Lexical change: exemplary Javanese and esoteric English

A vocabulary has developed in Indonesian over the last thirty years which is conspicuous for its provenance and generic distinctiveness: archaic or archaicized borrowings from Old Javanese and Sanskrit. Some are as old as the national motto--Bhinneka tunggal ika, 'Unity in diversity' (lit. 'Many that, one that')--which can be read as broadly analogous to E pluribus unum not only in content but style.15 But this now venerable invocation of a prenational Javanese past has come to be complemented in more mundane Indonesian usage by a range of analogous Old Javanese archaisms. Terms like lokakarya ('workshop') and kridanirmala ('epidemic control') are elegant archaic terms for very new entities and programs; portentous phrases like Parasamya Purnakarya Nugraha, the name of an award given to provinces most successful in implementing development plans, are semantically opaque archaistic composites.

Alisjahbana, the perennial modernist, has ruefully observed that

the tendency for using Sanskrit and old Javanese words... during the last decade as a result of the greater activities of the army [i.e., the New Order] in political, economic, and other aspects of social and cultural life . . . Many Indonesians still consider words from Sanskrit or Old Javanese finer and commanding of more respect than other words . . . (1976:119).
He attacks such nativist and traditionalist influences as arising from ``something mysterious in human feelings, which still leans to the magical and mystical'' (16 But some of these exogenous borrowings, which appear by modernist criteria to be communicatively gratuitous, can be construed as unobvious markers of the covert power of exemplary modes of discourse. Alisjahbana's remarks hardly extend, for instance, to English borrowings whose discursive significances exceed their referential functions. Does one really need a word like mengakselerasikan (causative transitive verb based on akselerasi) for 'accelerate' when mempercepat (from cepat 'fast') exists? Why use identik rather than the Indonesian sama dengan (roughly 'same with')? The need for these and many other of the nearly one thousand English borrowings turned up in Smithies' survey of Indonesian print media is, as he suggests, ``highly questionable'', and the tendency ``shows every sign of increasing'' (1982:112). Unnecessary from the point of view of referential completeness and communicative efficiency, such superfluous borrowings contribute to what Salim (1977:82) has called the Indo-Saxonization of the English language.

Alisjahbana's and Salim's remarks can be read as overstatements and understatements (respectively) of the same basic point. Similarly, Smithies' remarks that English borrowings ``give the impression that users are steeped in alien concepts'' (1982:111) and functions as a ``semi-private language of the bureaucratic substratum'' (1982:112) may have deeper resonances with exemplary modes of discourse and power among an exemplary Javanese elite. It is worth noting how the geosocial disjunction between educated city elites and peripheral peasants is enhanced and reproduced rather than mitigated by this trend. Moderately educated younger villagers who are literate in Indonesian may recognize this new vocabulary not as the idiom of urban Indonesian modernity, but as an ensemble of referentially opaque signs of new-yet-old forms of social distinction of a ``new'' modern elite. This is tacitly suggested by the cartoon reproduced below from a 1982 issue of an Indonesian news magazine Tempo (glossable as `Time').

Almost all the new Indonesian words besetting this hapless villager are recognizably cognate with English, as is the rubric under which it is printed: Opini `opinion'. Only the caption--`Foreign terms enter the village'--needs translation. It comments wryly on a government program called `newspapers enter the village' which was predicated on the need for Indonesian's rural citizenry to follow national developments. Older villagers may be too far beyond the pale of the new national language to recognize the provenance of such exotic words, but their collective social diacritic significance, if not their respective referential senses, may not be lost on younger bilingual villagers.17 If a modernizing national ideology holds out the prospect of a new language of public discourse, verbal esoterica may resonate with antecedent understandings of exemplary status.

These two ostensibly disparate trends, archaistic and modernistic, bespeak what Gellner or Alisjahbana might agree is a ``pre-modern, pre-rational vision'' of language and nation. But they also suggest the viability of a refigured Javanese notion of exemplariness in a modern yet ``naturally'' distinctive New Order discourse. Imagined Old Javanese and English societies are distant from contemporary Indonesia in time and space, respectively, but both are being exploited in public, by these new, esoteric lexicons of a new, exemplary elite. If developmentalism presupposes a panethnic, translocal Indonesian language, it also offers scope for a self-evidently exemplary modalities of public discourse.

Exemplary Indonesian in performance

Lexicons are socially salient as metalinguistically identifiable ``targets'' for development insofar as ``new'' words are both readily adducable from and introducable into public discourse (and editorial cartoons). Objectified through glosses, they are standardized as public knowledge in Indonesian dictionaries, particularly those sponsored by the state.18 Qualitatively distinct and less readily adduced are more ephemeral, less pragmatically salient distinguishers of public discourse which I can briefly address with recourse to a skillful caricature by the Indonesian playwright N. Riantiarno.

Riantiarno created a minor scandal in 1989 with a production of his play called Suksesi, a humorous but thinly veiled portrayal of social conditions in Jakarta. It concerns a king (Bukbang) who is growing old (as is Suharto) and will soon be obliged (as will Suharto) to relinquish power. The title character--whose Indonesian sounding name plays quite clearly on the English word 'succession'--may be the most sympathetic of the king's greedy children who are vying for the throne. In one scene (1990:27) Suksesi sponsors a modern fashion show for wealthy wives of high state functionaries to raise funds for the impoverished masses. After the obsequious MC lauds Suksesi's efforts to develop ``a marriage between the present and the past,'' he deferentially invites her to address the gathering. The translation of the script of her speech provided below approximates very imperfectly the tone of her words.19

Ibu-ibu yang kami muliakan. Di
dalam era pembangunan daripada
kerajaan kita ini, [ ] di dalam
era pembangunan daripada kerajaan
kita ini, maka kita di samping
harus melihat ke depan, maka sudah
sepantasnya daripada sekali-sekali
kita menengok ke belakang, untuk
melihat daripada sudah, sudah
sejauh mana daripada perjalanan
kita. Apa saja yang sudah kita
lakukan, serta apa manfaat
daripada yang sudah dipetik
oleh daripada masyarakyat...

Ladies, whom we respect. In
the era of development in this
our kingdom [microphone noise] in
this era of development in our kingdom,
we, so we, aside from
looking forward, so also
it is most fitting indeed occasionally
that we look behind, in order
to see indeed already, already,
how far indeed our journey has been.
Whatever we have
carried out, as well as what benefit
indeed has been grasped
by indeed the people....
Unbeknownst to Suksesi, her father (Bk) has heard her speech from his hiding place, and queries in puzzled tones his very Javanese clown-servants, Gareng (G) and Bilung (Bl), about what he has just heard.
Begitukah cara anakku
berpidato, kang Togog?
Ya paduka.
Dan kamu bilang, dia
menjadi makin fasih, makin
Makdsudnya, kang Totog
hanya mau memberitahu den ayu
Roro Suksesi, semakin fasih
dan matang dalam
mempergunakan kata-kata

That's how my child makes
speeches, Togog?
Yes, Excellency.
And you say she's
getting more adept, more
What he meant, Togog
only wanted to say that Lady
Roro Suksesi is increasingly adept
and accomplished in
utilizing the word

Gareng (and Riantiarno) here allude to Suksesi's repeated, referentially superflous recourse to the word daripada, a common connective which can variously be translated into English as `in relation to', `whereas', or (as above) `in' and `indeed'. Suksesi's hypercorrect use of daripada contributes to the substance or clarity of her speech no more than does 'indeed' in their translations.

Riantiarno effectively lampoons putatively elevated, exemplary public speech in which, as Bilung says, Suksesi keeps getting more adept. But the strategy he so effectively deploys shows also the performative nature of this exemplariness: it is speech which can only signal, self-evidently in its form, the relevant grounds for its construal as exemplary. This enactable, self-constituting distinctiveness must accomplish what it presupposes: an aura of naturalness which Habermas describes as characteristic of public conduct in an abolutist public sphere. That such discourse cannot identify its own conventional basis is clear here in that Riantiarno names it, so to speak, from off-stage through talk by detached onlookers who circumscribe it in more ``realistic,'' perhaps sardonic, talk.

Though this passage was probably the least among the government's reasons for closing down Riantiarno's play, it does suggest how covertly exemplary modalities of speech have entered otherwise standard public Indonesian discourse through transient, referentially peripheral diacritics of genre. Empty of content (unlike ``new'' Indonesian lexicons), they are mute with respect to their legitimacy; but their very peripherality to the reference-focussed ideology of standard Indonesian enhances thir covertly ``natural'' exemplariness. In this respect they have the kind of osmotic character Barthes (1989:121) attributed to encratic discourse: ``a diffused, widespread, one might say osmotic discourse which impregnates ... the socio-symbolic field (above all, of course, in societies of mass communication.)''

Standard Javanese in Indonesia

Such developments have occasioned little sustained commentary in the Indonesian media, notwithstanding occasional programmatic observations like Alisjahbana's. But not long ago the Indonesian mass media focussed much attention on another aspect of state language development: a concerted, institutional effort to mitigate putatively pernicious side-effects of Indonesia's successful development on the Javanese linguistic and cultural heritage. In 1991 high level Indonesian officials were convened in Semarang, capital of Central Java, for a Javanese Language Congress (Kongres Bahasa Jawa) which was opened by President Suharto (himself Javanese). Six hundred Indonesian technocrats, politicians, and intellectuals (mostly Javanese) met to discuss (mostly in Indonesian) the current state of their nation's dominant ethnic language (their native language) in the dynamic of national development.

Suharto urged the various language experts in attendance to discuss ways that Javanese philosophy, especially as contained in the Javanese orthography, could be used to develop and disseminate Javanese character.20 Claiming rather disingenuously to speak not as President of the Republic but as a Javanese, he expressed his hope for the Indonesian people to possess the ``noble spirit'' necessary for ``proper relations'' between people, people and the environment, as well as between people and God.21

Few Indonesian functionaries take seriously the notion that in the foreseeable future ``ordinary'' Javanese will be threatened by extinction through massive language shift to Indonesian. Suharto's fond hope and the institutional logic of the conference he opened presuppose, rather, that Javanese does not need development (like Indonesian) but rehabilitation and preservation as an exemplary ethnic tradition. Suharto and others at the conference evinced particular concern for the widespread ignorance of Javanese orthography (the hanacaraka) which was recurringly identified as integral to the ``noble Javanese tradition.'' The focus was thus on traditionally prestigious yet ostensibly moribund forms of ``high'' Javanese.22 This project is of a piece with the New Order's version of Javanese tradition, well described by Pemberton (1989) and Florida (1987): a lofty, monolithic, ineffable 'noble sublime' (adhiluhung).

After suitable deliberation, participants recommended that Javanese language (bahasa) and tradition (budaya) be placed under the custodial aegis of the state--specifically, the Department of Education and Culture--which was authorized to establish (so, standardize) a version of Javanese to be taught in state schools. In this way a formerly esoteric tradition can be assimilated to a modern institutional framework, and disseminated in newly exoteric form to the nation's Javanese/Indonesian constituency. As Javanese enters schools in Central and East Java, it takes on the status of 'local content' (muatan lokal) in a translocal, state-established curriculum. Tacitly but crucially effected in this way is a detachment of that tradition from its present-day exemplary loci, the courtly circles of the formerly royal polities of Jogjakarta and Surakarta, in south-central Java. Reframed as exoteric subjects of instruction, Javanese traditions are rendered homogeneous and uniform across those provincial parts of Indonesian national space which happen to count as Javanese. Assimilated and subordinated to the institutions and ideologic of the nation-state, exemplary language becomes an object in and for a standard, public culture.

The cartoons below suggest something of the conflicted intent and effect of this congress, at least in the eyes of one shrewd Javanese Indonesian observer.23 It depicts what I presume to be an anonymous government official reciting the Javanese syllabary--

represented in the cartoon along with its roman alphabet equivalents--as he holds up a puppet from the shadow play (wayang kulit), a traditional Javanese performance genre closely associated with courtly culture. To one side stands a young boy dressed in modern, not to say well-to-do clothes. At once audience and commentator, he says to his father, in idiomatic Indonesian, ``Well, if you, Dad, of Javanese descent, don't understand it...all the more for me...'' Interestingly, the boy attributes Javanese-ness to his father's ancestry (keturunan), rather than his social identity per se, as would have been true had he called him ``a Javanese'' (orang Jawa). Whether or not this youth affirmed his own ethnic descent, the cartoon suggests, the associated ethnic tradition is as little known to his own father as to himself, and hardly relevant to the lives of either.

Even if Suharto's language project falls short of imbuing Indonesian students with the ethos of their new-yet-old ``ethnic tradition,'' it will not by that token be a failure. To the degree it impresses young Javanese Indonesians the simple existence of that ineffable, state-sponsored ethnic past, it will propogate a conception of state as custodian of and successor to that tradition, and provide a reference for a territorialized ethnic identity. This newly exotericised body of knowledge can then be overtly and publicly invoked as a means for ``enriching'' development with Javanese content in a national frame. In this way too the New Order can valorize as ``non-native'' perceivedly uncongenial side-effects of development.

As symbols of what Herder might have called ``national character,'' Javanese language/literacy mediates longstanding ambiguities of ethnic and national identity for the New Order, in New Order terms. ``Reduced'' to the ``unitary idiom'' (in Gellner's words) which is Indonesian, esoteric yet exoteric Javanese serves transposes covert ambiguities in collective identity into more manageable public discourse and contexts.

Discursive public authority

In this sketch of Indonesian's authority I have taken up only a few tiny linguistic ripples on the tide of profound social, political, and economic change. But if those ripples emerge from turbulent institutional and ideological forces I have discussed here, then they are also highly specific evidence of the broad ambiguities and conflicts which New Order politics both creates and addresses. The exemplary continues to reside in quasi-natural indices of speakers' intrinsic status and power, putatively personal distinctions which can only be figured against the institutional and ideological grounds of standard Indonesian discourse. But that self-evident naturalness renders the exemplary mute with respect to its ideological backing: its distinctiveness can be intimated but not metalinguistically objectified. That muteness simultaneously enables the tacit transposition of the exemplary into modern public discourse and ensures its subordination to the overt instrumentalist, referential ideology which underwrites modern, standard, Indonesian.

New Order developmentalism was presented here with recourse to Gellner as privileged explicator of the ways it links nationalism, modernism, economic change, and language ideology, this latter in turn linked to a conception of acontextual referentiality and rationalist epistemology. The ideology which endows Indonesian with authority as precondition and medium of modern, national thought is nowhere clearer than in the extended metalinguistic project which accomplished the overt, institutional framing (and subordination) of newly exoteric Javanese to standard, public Indonesian.

Taken together, these and other kinds of linguistic specifics suggest something of the ambiguousness which accrues to the authority of Indonesian insofar as it incorporates exemplary modalities within conventionalist standards. They point likewise to the oversimpleness of broadly epochalist chronicles like Gellner's and Habermas', and suggest that heteroglot discursive forms must be understood relative to heterogeneous cultural and linguistic particulars. To read languages of Indonesian politics, as did Anderson at the dawn of the New Order, I have tried to consider Indonesian as what he so tellingly called a project of modernity--ethnic yet national, native yet modern--by working with and against assumptions enabling the of Indonesian's putative autonomy and neutrality.

Critical readings of language politics and culture require a willingness to relativize notions of language (here, ``Indonesian'') to differences between discursive modes on one hand, and on the other to social contexts in which authority (here, of the New Order) is publically mediated and re-presented. Such particularizations help to capture what can be called, with Cohn and Dirks, ``[a] combination of paradoxes [which] conspires to make the tentacles of [New Order] state power appear to be discrete, disinterested, and diffuse...'' (1988:227). The multiplicity and contextual variability of Indonesian's authority appears, then, to emerge from ``...a particular conglomerate of constructions set in motion by agents, operationalized through agencies of the state, contested through institutional means that themselves have been naturalized through the very project of state formation''(1988:228).

Students of languages in ``the developing world'' can ill afford to ignore collateral scholarly scrutiny of the postcolonial nationalisms which ostensibly ground standardized languages in new, putatively national spaces. But those engaged with these same massive sociopolitical realignments may conversely profit by attending to the potentially pivotal place of language in those processes. My sketchy argument by example here has been that sensitivity to language's uniquely articulated nature need not lead to insulation or distract one from ``discourses of authority.'' Rather, it can enable and inform specific, locally inflected readings of ``discourse's authority,'' and thence of the institutions which legitimize them.


Some of the material and discussion in this paper was previously included in Errington 1992, 1986, and 1989. I gratefully acknowledge support from the Center for Psychosocial Studies during the time I wrote the last of these. None of the material provided or discussed in this paper derives directly from research in Indonesia. This paper is dedicated to the memory of Tempo, Detik and Editor (almarhum)

A note on transcription:

Standard Indonesian orthography is used; consonant symbols have values close to their English equivalents save that /ng/ represents a velar nasal. Vowels have roughly the following values: /i/ as in ``she,'' /u/ as in ``shoe,'' /e/ as in the first part of the diphthong in ``shade,'' /o/ as in the first part of the diphthong in ``shoal,'' /a/ as in ``shot.'' Epenthetic glottal stops between vowels are not transcribed. Javanese words are transcribed with the same orthography, save that /dh/ represents a postalveolar dental stop, over and againts dental /d/, and / / represents a low, back, semi-rounded vowel somewhat like that in ``shore.''