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Me, myself, I: exploring conceptions of self and others in Indonesian names and pronouns with early learners.


In this paper, I describe an early learners' (Years 1-3) Indonesian classroom interaction developed around the concept of intercultural understandings of ways of talking about oneself and about and to others, in Indonesian and Australian contexts. I explore planned interactions for scaffolded discussion about the language of self and others in Indonesian and English, and how this language use is rooted in social and cultural contexts that influence what is said, how it is said, and to whom. Differences and similarities of language, word order, concepts of politeness and (in)formality, and, especially, personal meanings which children draw from these, in relation to their own life experiences, are discussed. The discussion is contextualised within an intercultural orientation to language teaching and learning pedagogy.


Indonesian language and culture, interculture language teaching and learning, address forms



How we talk about ourselves, and how we talk about others, informs our sense of identity and affirms who we are in sociocultural contexts (Kramsch, 1993; Lantolf, 2000; Liddicoat, 2006). An intercultural orientation to language learning, through foregrounding personal understandings and learners' meaning-making about languages and cultures, consistently focuses on issues of identity and social context (Scarino, Liddicoat, Crichton, Curnow, Kohler, Loechel, Mercurio, Morgan, Papademetre, & Scrimgeour, 2008). Attention is given to individual meanings for learners, in relation to their developing understanding of the target language and culture and how users of the target language and culture understand their worlds, seen through the lens of (or mediated by) their own experiences (Papademetre & Scarino, 2000). That is, there is a focus on how others think and feel, understood through the learner's own referential framework of experiences. Learners are continually invited to consider their sense of themselves as language users situated within sociocultural contexts, to generate a deeper awareness of who they are and what shapes them.

Personal pronouns, substitute words for people's names, are used as indicators of identity and a sense of self and others, in many languages. Discussion of this issue in languages learning literature focuses on pronoun use according to complex relationships and social hierarchies, in relation to levels of register or formality, and on learners' age of acquisition of correct pronoun use, mostly in European languages, but also in Asian languages and English (see, for example, Brown & Gilman, 1960; Morford, 1997; Oshima-Takane, Takane, & Shultz, 1999; Girouard, Ricard, & Decarie, 1997; Djenar, 2006; Kretzenbacher, Clyne, & SchOpbach, 2006; Norrby, 2006; Nyblom 2006; Warren, 2006; Weisensenb6ck, 2006). There is little pedagogical research literature on the importance or significance of intercultural understanding of pronouns or of pronoun use (see Belz & Kinginger, 2002; and, especially, Liddicoat 2006, for instances of where this does occur) and even less on intercultural exploration of Indonesian use of personal pronouns. Djenar (2001) explores deictic (spatial relationship relative to the speakers) and anaphoric ('psychological' positioning of the speakers) use of 'locative' (place) pronouns in Indonesian; and self-categorisation in pronoun choice and use (Djenar, 2006; Djenar, 2007). The self-categorisation exploration begins to address self-referential sociocultural understandings of self, but does not directly address intercultural understandings of the speakers in relation to their linguistic and cultural backgrounds or in relation to others' understandings of them. There is also discussion of sociocultural understandings of Indonesian pronoun use in Sneddon's (1997) Indonesian Reference Grammar, and other authors have explored sociocultural understandings of passive verb use in relation to Indonesian pronouns and 'stancetaking' in conversation (see, for example, Conners, 2001; Englebretson, 2007).

Wider languages education research literature also addresses 'cultural dimensions' of personal pronoun use across languages. Kashima and Kashima (1998), for example, studied the relationship between culture and language across 39 languages spoken in 71 cultures, in relation to personal pronoun use, on occasions when the personal pronouns 'you' and 'I' may be 'dropped', omitted as 'understood' in the cultural context. These authors found that personal pronouns were more likely to be dropped in less 'individualistic' (more community-focused) cultures (including Indonesia, in Indonesian use), suggesting that more individualistic cultures (including Australia, in English use) gave greater emphasis to expressions of self, and that personal deixis (positioning of self through pronoun use) may provide a window into understanding sociocultural dimensions of language use. It is not my intention in this paper to investigate the issue of more or less individualistic cultures and languages, as individualistic/communalistic categories are problematic and more complex than can be captured in these broad terms (with structural and cognitive motivations as well as cultural ones influencing language choice). Studies of this kind, nonetheless, inform consideration of intercultural analyses of language use, and indicate the kinds of sociocultural conditions, embedded in languages used in particular cultural contexts, that could be better understood by learners and users of languages considering their own and others' use of language reflexively.

This paper explores an intercultural orientation to learning Indonesian names and pronouns, where a deliberate emphasis on understanding what pronouns say about identity and sense of self, for young learners, is foregrounded. Liddicoat (2006, p. 56) describes exploration of intercultural understanding of pronoun use as a 'focus on the sociocultural dimensions of personal reference', shifting the emphasis away from 'speech acts' or 'politeness', for example, and onto the broader social and cultural context(s) of the participants. That is, he proposes that, in this orientation, pronoun choice is considered not as a given, but something that 'emerges in interaction constructed through understandings of the cultural belief systems of the participants' (Liddicoat, 2006, p. 57). Crucially, in an intercultural orientation to considering pronoun choice, there is an element of awareness of choice on the part of the user, a reflexive 'decentring' of self to see oneself and others involved in the interaction as socioculturally contextualised language users, each (all) making choices according to the understanding of each other as such, and mediating or moderating language choices during the interaction accordingly. In this paper, learners' realisation of their own (English) pronoun use is explored in comparison with pronoun use in Indonesian. In turn, learners' developing understandings of Indonesian pronoun use can then be used reflexively to consider their pronoun use in English, providing sociocultural understanding about themselves as language users located within a cultural and linguistic context, and more aware of choices in all languages they learn and use.

The interaction discussed in this paper is based on an audiorecording of the author, as teacher, with early learners, in Years 1-3 of school, around 6-8 years old. Though the interactions could be adapted to suit the age of other learners (a consideration, for example, with learners commencing language learning in later years of schooling and even at tertiary level), the significance of considering this age group is that it is in these early years of primary school that learners first formally encounter, in specific classroom language/grammar activities, the concept of alternative names, or pronouns. Recent Australian State and Territory English curriculum frameworks, for example, refer to pronoun use related to sense of self for learners in this age group (see, for example, the South Australian Curriculum, Standards and Accountability (SACSA) framework: DECS, 2001 ; New South Wales Board of Studies English Curriculum Foundation Statements: BOS, 2003; Victorian Essential Learning Standards: DEECD, 2005). It is at this age that learners often experiment with pronouns in ways that show complex personal understandings of themselves and others, as they continue to develop a sense of who they are in their world(s) (DECS, 2001). Learners of this age, as suggested by Piaget and others, are also developmentally attuned to 'social connections', going beyond the egocentric self of the younger child (up to about 6 years of age) to explore their place in social groups, including beginning to recognise the feelings of others. They are engaged in an explosion of language development as they acquire increasingly complex language skills and insights (see, for example, Piaget, 1955; Cook & Cook, 2009). To take a Vygotskian view, there is also the possibility with children around this age of making a sensitive and timely intervention around the concepts of self and others to support their processes of development, in their 'zones of proximal development' (ZPD), achieved through the social experience of learning in the group, with teacher-scaffolded group interactions that can be transferred to and cement the learning for the individual (Vygotsky, 1978; Wertsch, 1985).

In learning Indonesian as an additional language, it is anticipated that understandings will influence not only learners' use of Indonesian, but how they use English or their other languages as well, consistent with intercultural language learning principles of 'social interaction', 'making connections' and, especially, 'reflection', as described by Liddicoat, Papademetre, Scarino, and Kohler (2003). This reference back to other language and culture practices is significant, as language learning embraced in this way provides enhanced and potentially richer ways of understanding oneself and one's place in an increasingly intercultural world.

The paper is divided into three sections. The first explores a generalised discussion of Indonesian pronouns, indicative of the complexity of pronoun use and choice, while not exhaustively investigating all pronoun choices. The second explains the interaction and learner responses using Indonesian forms of address and pronouns, from a teacher's perspective and in the teacher's voice, as a first person account based on review and analysis of the audiorecording. The final section briefly discusses the interaction and responses in relation to the existing literature and potential for furthering an intercultural orientation to languages learning, and how these might be fruitfully researched through longer studies. It is also worth noting that, in relation to developing understanding of what pronoun choice says about identity, the interactions explored in this paper are largely generalisable across languages. Teachers of other languages would need to consider what is particular and specific about the use of pronouns in that language, and how exploration of pronoun use with learners across and between the target language and English (or learners' other languages) might focus attention on learners' sense of self.

Indonesian pronouns

Sneddon (1997, p.160) notes that Indonesian personal pronouns 'reflect social relations between people far more than do other parts of the language'. They signify social and cultural relations and involve users locating themselves within hierarchical social structures that influence identity and status. Djenar (2007) suggests that pronouns indicate aspects of both personal and social identity. Choices of pronouns to use, and interpreting pronouns used in texts or in spoken communication, therefore, need to be understood in these sociocultural terms (Belz & Kinginger, 2002; Liddicoat, 2006). Complexities of pronoun use in Indonesian occur with first, second, and third person, and with singular and plural options, but, are especially located in first and second person use, that is, in contexts where self and the immediate other (person/people spoken to) are in focus.

First person singular pronouns, saya and aku, provide users with a choice between a less and a more intimate representation of 'I' (noting that both can correspond to English 'I' and 'me'--there is no differentiation between the subjective and objective use in Indonesian). Saya is represented as the neutral version of 'I', and is generally promoted as the preferred pronoun for standard formal Indonesian (Sneddon, 1997; Quinn, 2001; Sneddon, 2003). Aku is generally considered more intimate, and is often used when speaking to children and between equals who have a close relationship. It is also often used in songs and poems to signify a more personal connection. Its shortened version ku is also used extensively as a suffix (and, occasionally, as a prefix), to produce possessives such as rumahku ('my house') or to become the object of an active verb, such as menungguku ('waiting for me'). This affixation cannot be done in the same way with saya and, sometimes, it is for this ease of expression and its capacity to 'trip off the tongue' that aku is chosen over saya. As Sneddon (1997) points out, choosing not to use aku, but saya, is rarely a choice for the neutral, however, and is more often an indication that a close relationship does not exist between speaker and those spoken to, or that it is a deliberate choice to achieve distance or indicate difference from previous use of saya. Djenar (2007) elaborates this more complex situation regarding the choice between these two standard forms of 'I' suggesting that, although it may help beginner learners of Indonesian to understand these two pronouns as being more or less formal (saya being more formal than aku), it gives a false impression to suggest that the choice between the two is straightforward, determined by rigid social variables, and that even in conversations between the same two people, both pronouns can be used, indicating other reasons for the choice.

A further alternative for a first person singular pronoun is to use one's own name, such as in/wan mau ke pasarwhere this means a person called Iwan is saying 'I am going to the market'. Clearly, context is important in such usage, so that listeners understand who is being talked about (as well as the tense intended). Djenar (2007) suggests many further options for first person pronoun choice, including regional language words (e.g. the Hokkien-derived gua/gue) and first person plural forms as alternatives in singular contexts. It is also common to use Bapak (literally 'father') or Ibu (literally 'mother) to mean 'I', in a formal situation, or when an older person is speaking to a child. Finally, the first person pronoun can be avoided all together (as indicated above) in the 'dropping' of pronouns described by Kashima and Kashima (1998)(see also Djenar, 2007).

Second person singular pronouns are numerous, compared to the single English 'you' and reflect complex choices in relationships and identity between the user and the 'you' referred to. Anda (usually with a capital A) was introduced in the 1950s, intended as a neutral version of the all-encompassing English 'you', and to replace engkau, kau, kamu (all for familiar, intimate uses) or the formal saudara (formal, or for relatives), or the variation saudari (for women), or Bapak or Ibu as respectful terms for older people (Sneddon, 1997). As with the first person singular pronoun, it is also acceptable to use the person's name to mean 'you'. As with aku, for 'I', kamu can be shortened to the affixation mu, such as in bukumu ('your book'). Clearly, pronoun choice for the second person is much more complex in Indonesian than in English, with each choice suggesting something about the relationship between speaker and listener, and, therefore, about identity and status. Sneddon (1997) says that Anda is not neutral, as it would not be used by a younger person in talking to an older person, for example, since it does not convey respect. It is, however, frequently used in advertisements, announcements, and at conferences in this neutral sense. In this author's experience, I am aware of its use by those seeking a more egalitarian society, in an effort to remove some of the need for deference to others. This use is more evident in the professional classes.

Third person pronouns are more simple, usually dia or the shortened ia (or, the less often used but highly respectful, beliau). Dia and ia are, generally, widely used and, therefore, socially neutral (though there are grammatical limitations on where ia can be used in a sentence). Both mean 'he' or 'she', a marked difference with the more complex English, where the gender of the third person is always specified. The 'gender awareness' arguments regarding English, which may pose questions such as 'is 'he' neutral, representing both genders?' or 'is the use of 'he' a means of subjugation of women?' (see Wouk, 1999; Gal, 2001) do not, therefore, occur in Indonesian. In Indonesian one's gender can be left unstated in an example of pluralistic linguistic inclusivity (which may or may not reflect social views of pluralistic gender inclusivity). Similarly the word for 'person' (orang) is gender neutral. This neutrality with third person pronouns often accounts for Indonesian native speakers referring wrongly to a male as 'she' or vice versa, when first using English, since this gender differentiation is not part of their sociolinguistic culture (perhaps suggesting gender is less important than social rank, in sociolinguistic terms, although this idea is complex and not explored here). The suffix nya can also mean 'he' or 'she' as in saya menganggapnya bodoh ('I consider him stupid') or the possessive 'his' or 'hers', as in di maria rumahnya? ('where is her house?') (Sneddon, 1997). Nya can also mean 'the', and it is sometimes difficult to tell which use of nya is intended--contextual evidence is required to make this clear.

First person plural pronouns are highly interesting for the relationship status they infer. Kita is 'we' in an inclusive use, where the person/people being addressed are included in the 'we'. Kami is also 'we', but is exclusive--those being spoken to are not included, as in kami akan makan pada jam enam ('we [but not you] will eat at six o'clock'). In English, inclusivity is not evident in the use of 'we', but contextual information or vocal tone may make this apparent. Second person plural pronouns are rarely used in Indonesian. Kalian means 'you all', but usually singular forms of second person pronouns are used. The third person plural pronoun most used is mereka ('they', 'them' or 'theirs'). As with the singular third person pronouns, it is gender neutral, with flow-on social repercussions as it implies social equality.

There are other possibilities for pronouns, including a great many that have entered Indonesian from regional languages or other influential languages including Dutch and English. There is also a host of colloquial pronouns, often adaptations from regional language pronouns (Sneddon, 1997; Djenar 2006; Djenar, 2007). Though of interest, these additional pronouns are not the focus here. What stands out from this examination of pronouns, however, is that the greatest range of possibilities and complexities of social significance for pronouns lies with first and, especially, second person pronouns. This would seemingly be the case because it relates to the most personal and intimate of exchanges, the 'you' and 'I' of conversation. As social status is of great importance in Indonesian culture(s), the relationship inferred by these pronouns is significant. Indeed, sometimes avoiding offence leads to not using a pronoun at all, leaving it understood, but not stated, as suggested by Kashima and Kashima (1998) or using the impersonal third person form for a second person use, as in di mana sekolahnya? to mean 'where is your school?' and not 'where is the school?' or 'where is her school?'--another possible interpretation. Kashima and Kashima's (1998) investigation of pronoun use to understand where first and second person pronouns may be 'dropped' or changed, as in the example above, provides a cultural insight into Indonesian conceptions of self and others, and of community as conceived in Indonesian cultures. This insight into culture through specific linguistic practices informs and adds to the story being investigated here, where pronoun use of children from an 'individualistic' culture (Australia) are learning about pronoun use in a less individualistic culture (Indonesia), and trying to make sense of this from their own perspectives and existing sociocultural frames of reference.

Other Indonesian forms of address

As well as discussing personal pronoun use, the following interaction considers forms of address, including words for family members. This idea has been touched on above, where the Indonesian customary use of people's names to mean 'you' or 'I', and the use of the words for father and mother in multiple contexts have been considered. Inviting young learners to consider ways that these are used in Indonesian, and to compare them to their own experiences and uses, adds to their developing and increasingly complex sense of identity in terms of addressing and being addressed by others. As there are different terms for mother and father, and, especially, for siblings, in Indonesian, where age confers status, this is an interesting point of comparison and reflection for children of this age.

A classroom interaction using Indonesian forms of address and pronouns

School and class context

I worked with a group of eight students from a class of 25 in an independent primary school located in and catering to a middle class socioeconomic demographic. Classes in the school consist of composite age groups, generally of 2-3 year age ranges. In the class with which I worked, the learners are aged from 6-8 years old. In this age group, learners normally have two 40 minute Indonesian lessons each week, although the Indonesian teacher was on a year's leave during the period in which I worked with the class. Four of the learners I worked with were six years old and the remaining four were seven. Some of the learners were familiar with me as I had previously taught in the school. The learners understood that I was 'gathering information' for some study I was doing. I audiorecorded the 40 minute session.


The overarching question I explored in the following interaction was: How do I go about planning and conducting classroom interactions to address the concept of identity through pronoun use? I aimed to trial a scaffolded interaction with an intercultural focus to see if I could gain evidence of young learners' enriched understanding of self and others through exploring comparative pronoun use in Indonesian and English.


Using an Indonesian text in which pronouns and Indonesian naming systems occur provided a 'way in' to addressing the concept of considering self and others, and to learning the associated language, through its embedded cultural context. 'Authentic' texts (those not written specifically for a teaching purpose) serve this purpose best (though, arguably, there are no 'inauthentic' texts, even those 'constructed' for pedagogic instruction), coming from an Indonesian context in which the language represents common use from real sociocultural Indonesian experience. I chose a common Indonesian children's song, Satu, Dua, Tiga ('One, Two, Three') (traditional) to begin this exploration with the learners.

Without any introduction to language or meaning, I taught the learners the song. I sang it a few times with them, using a chart with the words on it, so they could follow the song as they heard it. We used fingers to count the numbers, and the children readily copied this. They joined in at their own pace--after a couple of times through they were all singing. One of the wonderful things about learning through song with young learners is that they are not self-conscious, readily sing, and are not concerned that they do not understand the words they are singing (Fleming, 1998; Burke & O'Sullivan, 2002). They enjoy the kinaesthetic and aural engagement in using their voices and bodies (Orton, 2007). Encouraging an 'embodied' approach to learning also engages the children in their learning and promotes memorisation and language retention, as it is becomes lived, reinforced experience (Morgan, 2007). This was certainly the case on this occasion, as the learners enthusiastically sang along, using their bodies to sway with the music, and their hands to count.

Once familiar with the song, we identified the words the children already knew. They were familiar with the numbers one, two and three, and the word ibu for mother. When asked to guess the meaning of sayang, one child knew the word, and called out 'love'. I discussed with them that sayang means 'love' as in loving their mum. Its further meanings, related to pity, regret and the idea of a pet or favourite, for example, which are also culturally and linguistically interesting, were not discussed at this point.

I then asked the children to find the word sayang throughout the song. I asked 'how many times is it there?' (4) and 'what do you think it means when the same word is used often in a song?' The learners offered their own answers, and discussed it with each other.
   It repeats
   Yeah, like a chorus
   It's in every line
   It sounds better with the word a lot
   I like hearing the sound
   What the song's about
   Yes, it's about love
   Maybe love is important 'cause it's
   there so much

I asked that if it was about love, what sort of love they thought the song might be about if the word 'love' is in each line, and with 'love mum' in it.
   Um, mum, dad
   Loving your mum?
   Your mum loves you?
   Your family
   Loving numbers

I expected answers like 'about your family', about 'about loving your mum', but was also interested to hear other responses, remembering that children of this age connect ideas in ways that might not follow the same logic as adult thinking (but will have a logic particular to the individual child's thinking). 'Loving numbers' was one of these answers. Numbers were used in each line, as was the word for love, so this was a sensible connection. I said 'yes, it could be; let's find out'. I was keen to get clues from each part of the discussion about how the children were thinking about themselves, their sense of identify and their relationships with others in each of these points of discussion in the interactions. They were beginning to explore the idea of relationships, already, connected to the idea of love.


I invited the learners to tell me who they think loves mum.


   Mmm, I do

These answers allowed me to point out the word in the song that told us who loved mum, aku. None of them knew this word. I told them it meant 'I' and asked if they knew another word for 'I'. They all knew saya, and each gave me an example of using saya, when asked.
   Nama saya Andy ('My name is Andy'
   --all names have been changed)
   Saya Jennifer ('I'm Jennifer')
   Nama saya Jessie ('My name is
   Saya love mum ('I love mum')
   Saya panas ('I'm hot')

I was impressed with the range of responses, and their capacity to use saya not only in the correct word order, but as both 'I' and 'my', and without the verb 'to be' (which is not needed in Indonesian), so comfortably. Mixing English and Indonesian also showed that they were comfortable moving across and between languages, as they were able, using the Indonesian they knew, and correctly filling in the Indonesian word construction being sought with English words. This provided the opening for me to discuss that there are different ways of saying 'I' in Indonesian and that the same word can be used in Indonesian to mean 'I' and 'me' and 'mine'. It also gave me the chance to ask the children about how they talk about themselves in English, and the different ways to do this in English. They suggested 'me', 'I', 'my' and 'mine', all of which had come up in the discussion already. I asked them to tell me what was different about these words in English. They discussed this for some time, offering me and each other various suggestions.
   You have to use the right one.
   Yes, you can't say "me did it', you
   have to say "I did it'
   It's my book, not 'mine' book

I asked them each to say something to me using 'I' and then 'me'. They kept to the 'I love' theme, at first
   I love my mum
   I love my dad
   I love my family

They then ventured into alternatives, and one said the following

Me and my friend

I asked if this was the right way to say this, seeing an opportunity to discuss the difference between the subjective 'I' and the objective 'me' in English. We talked about this difference, and they offered a range of suggestions with 'I' and 'me', used appropriately. One child told me that 'little children' often get this wrong. I agreed that it takes a while to learn which is the right one to use and to understand why. I gave some examples of 'I' as the subject of the sentence, and 'me' as the object. I knew this would be reinforced in later class work, as I was familiar with the class teacher and her approach to English language teaching. I asked them if they had heard about pronouns. They all had, and were familiar with doing exercises using pronouns (their school system includes formal grammar learning, so I knew they would likely have encountered pronouns in their current year of schooling). I asked them to explain what pronouns are.
   You use them instead of names
   Instead of an actual noun
   For a name, to replace it

When I asked them if 'I' and 'me' were pronouns, they were unanimous in their affirmation, telling me they were used instead of your name. As I thought this was a good understanding of the form of what we were discussing, I wanted to get closer to what using pronouns meant to them. I returned to the Indonesian pronouns for 'I/ me'; repeating that the 'l/me' difference isn't the same in Indonesian, and that you can use the same word for both 'I' and 'me', so you don't have to worry about whether it is where you are the 'subject' (the person doing the thing) or the 'object' (the person the thing is happening to). I went on to explain that there was a choice in using saya or aku, though, for different reasons, and gave some examples of the sort of situation where aku might be used, such as in a song, or when a mum or dad talk to their child, or to each other. I said that when they spoke to a stranger, though, or to their child's teacher, they'd probably say saya. I asked them to give me some examples of when to use aku and when to use say& and they were all able to offer reasonable suggestions.
   I'd say aku to my baby brother

   If I didn't know the person, they were
   new, I'd say saya

I asked the learners what they thought, that if every time they spoke to someone they would have to think about whether they should say aku or saya. They thought about it for a while, and suggested:
   It'd be confusing



   I wouldn't want to

   Not sure of yourself




   I might make someone sad

I agreed that I might feel all these things, too. I then told them that it was even more complicated than this, because sometimes people use their own name when they talk about themselves, such as in 'Anne-Marie went to the shops', when they mean 'I went to the shops'. I invited the children to discuss their feelings about using their own name to mean 'I'.
   You can't do that in English, you can
   only use someone's name when you
   are talking about them, not you

   It's weird

   I wouldn't like it. They wouldn't
   understand me

   They'd think I didn't know what to say

I asked them to try a sentence, using their name instead of 'I' or 'me'. This brought much laughter, as several said 'I' automatically, and you could see them trying hard to say their name. What did they feel about doing this?
   I had to think about it


   Fine, but I wouldn't want to do it with
   my friends

I asked, in response to the last 'why not?', to which the student replied
   They'd laugh. They'd think I was silly

I asked them to think about whether they had heard people doing this, using their own name when they meant 'I'. They all said 'no'. I asked 'have you ever heard you mum say something like 'mummy's turning off the light now'?. They all recognised this, saying 'oh yeah' almost as one voice. They were surprised about this, but agreed that this was like someone using her own name when she could have said 'I'. Suddenly, they could think of tots of examples when this happened, usually in relation to their parents talking to them. One even told me that her mum called herself Amelia' when she spoke to the child about herself, but only at home. Another commented, about parents saying 'mummy' or 'daddy' in place of their own name
   That's not weird, I guess we're used
   to it

Another said
   My cousin James' mother always
   calls herself "Mummy" when she
   speaks to James

The ideas of 'what you are used to', and recognising that there is difference in use, even within the same cultural group, are ideas I wanted to take up with them, but I wanted to cover some more examples first. We went back to the song and went back over what was now understood. I used this as a way of seeing who is retaining the information, is engaged in the discussion, and what they are making of it. No one had suggestions for the meaning of juga, so I told them it meant 'also'. They guessed ayah (father), although they were not familiar with it, knowing bapak, an alternative word for father. We discussed why there might be more than one word for 'dad' in Indonesian, and they suggested
   Like using "dad" and "daddy"

   Or 'father"

   Or 'Pop: but that's really for a

   Yeah, and "Opa'; that's what we call
   my granddad

'But there's only one word for 'mother' in Indonesian. Why do you think that is different?', I asked.
   We have lots



   Mummy and Mum




   I suppose it is easy if there is only one

   Yeah, it's what everyone would say

   Everyone has a mum and they're the

We discussed whether it mattered which word was used, for mum or dad, in English. One was quick to point out that some kids made fun of you if you still said 'mummy' and 'daddy' once you were in Cycle Two (Years 1-3). Others said they still called their parents mummy and daddy at home, but mum and dad in front of their friends. There was an engaged discussion about which words were used by whom and when for referring to their parents, and that it did matter to them what other people thought and that choosing the right one had social consequences. I asked them what they thought about the Indonesian uses of 'mum' and 'dad'.
   It's what you're used to

   You'd say what you learned

   Or what other people say

   Yes, copy what your mum or dad did

   Or if you had an older brother; you'd
   do what he did

   It's kind of the same anyway, just less
   things you can say

I told them that Indonesian parents sometimes call themselves ibu and bapak and that this was not always when they are talking to their children, either, but when they are talking to anyone who is younger, if they are adults (not older kids talking to younger ones). I said it was another way of saying 'I' in Indonesian, too, to add to all the others already talked about. I asked them to list all the different ways we had discussed for saying 'I' in Indonesian and asked them what they thought about this.
   Pretty confusing

   I'd rather just say 'I'

   It'd be hard to know what they meant,
   there are too many words that mean
   other things too

   How would you know?

Returning to the song, we looked at adik-kakak. Through working through the meaning of the other lines, they could work out that adik-kakak had something to do with other family members. One (the same one who knew sayang) said he knew it meant 'brothers and sisters'. Another said 'siblings'. I agreed with this, and asked if everyone knew what this meant. We had a short discussion about 'siblings' and how many each of them had. I asked what each part of the word adik-kakak meant, and what the little line in between them meant. They knew the word 'hyphen' and that it meant 'to join' something. I said, yes, it was used to join words that were related in some way, about the same ideas, so they could think about this with the two words joined here. Suggestions for the meanings were
   One is brothers and one is sisters

   No, no, one is older brother or sister
   and one is younger brother or sister

   Yes, that's right, that's what Suri
   (Indonesian teacher) said

'Which is which?', I asked. There was some confusion and no agreement. I told them that both words mean 'brother' and both words mean 'sister', and that adik means 'younger brother or sister', and kakak means 'older brother or sister'. I asked them if we have words for older brother and sister or younger brother and sister in English.
   No, unless we say 'older"

   Or 'younger'

   But we don't do this always

I pointed out that we have a different word for 'brother' and for 'sister', but Indonesian doesn't have this. I asked them why they thought we have a different word for a brother from the word for sister.
   So we know if it's a boy or a girl

   Cause they're not the same

I asked them to think about whether they thought it was more important to have a word for older or younger or for brother or sister. There was a long silence before they replied.

   Umm, brother or sister is more

I then asked them to think about whether it seemed more important in English to have different words for older and younger, or for brother and sister. There was silence for a while, before one learner replied
   Brother or sister, 'cause we don't
   have the other ones, you know, for
   older and younger

There was general agreement with this, but it, clearly, was a new idea for some.

'What about in Indonesian: do you think it seems more important to have different words for older and younger or for brother and sister?' I asked.
   Older and younger

There were nods all round, but one added
   But boy or girl is important, too

I asked, 'is this more important to you, whether it's a boy or girl'?

   Boy or girl is important

'Do you think it's more important than age, whether the brother or sister is older or younger?'

   I think both are important

I asked them to explain.
   We don't have older or younger, but
   it's just as important

   I say 'my little brother' when I'm
   telling my friends about him, cause

   I'm the oldest

   Yeah, we just say it with extra words

   Like they do in Indonesian, but with
   other words

Here was the reflexivity I had hoped the learners would begin to show. Some had begun to think about the Indonesian way of talking about siblings, and had used this to think about what they do in English, recognise the linguistic difference, and explain how they deal with this difference, to suit their social/cultural 'needs', expressed through language. They were saying they needed a way to say both older and younger and brother or sister, so found the words to do this, and this was similar to Indonesian, but requiring additional words.

The remaining word of the song, semuanya was then discussed. Some guessed its meaning as 'family', which would be logical given the direction of the song. I explained it meant 'the whole (of something)', or 'all of them', in this case, meaning the whole family, the word for which was keluarga; and asked them what the phrase for 'my family' would be. They knew to connect saya and keluarga, but were unsure of the word order. I explained that it was keluarga saya, in the same way that we say nama saya, with the word for 'my' following the word for 'name', or 'family'. Several learners noticed this was 'the other way round' from English, which allowed me to explore a few other examples with them of this noun-adjectival word order structure. I asked them how to say 'my book', 'my dog', 'my pencil', 'my bag', knowing these were nouns they knew in Indonesian. They used them correctly with saya and offered a few extras: my cat, my house, my bike. I then said, 'just now you were talking to me, so used the word 'saya'. If you were talking about these things to your little brother or sister, what would you say?' Several learners were quick to call out 'aku', remembering this from the earlier part of the interaction.

To finish off the session and tie threads together, I asked the learners to think about all the things we had been talking about today. I asked them if thinking about how we talk about ourselves and our family in Indonesian affects how we think about how we say these things in English. There were nods all round. I wanted to get at something deeper, and not just 'teacher approval' (saying what they thought I wanted to hear) to see what it meant to them personally, so I asked what they thought about the differences in using Indonesian from using English to talk about these things.
   Indonesian is more confusing

   Yes, it's harder

   There are more things to think about
   English is easy

I asked them why English is easier.
   I've always used it

   Since I was born

   I know English and haven't learnt
   Indonesian for long

   Because we're not Indonesian

   My mum and dad speak English so I
   understand it

We talked about how if you had learnt a language from when you were born, of course it was easier, and that it would be easier to speak a language that you heard around you. They were keen to stress that it was 'what you are used to', which is a point I had wanted them to see. Several took a next step and suggested that if they had learned Indonesian as a baby, then it wouldn't be hard for them, and they would know which words to use. They all agreed with this. I asked them to write or draw me something that showed what they felt about what they had learned today about how they think about and speak about themselves.

Some drew pictures of their families with the Indonesian names they'd call them; others described their feelings about Indonesian language use for these ideas: different, confusing, weird but good. One drew a picture of a person with two speech bubbles, one saying say& one saying aku. She had then drawn two lines from these to two other people, a 'stranga' (stranger) and a 'dorta' (daughter), interestingly, to the 'wrong' ones, according to Indonesian cultural conventions. I wondered if she had not understood what we had been saying in the lesson until I noticed the expression on the face of the person speaking, a kind of crooked smile, and the word above her head 'confyoost' (confused). I asked her to explain her picture, and was blown over when she said
   She is using the wrong ones because
   she is confused

Here was not only sociocultural linguistic understanding, but understanding expressed through ironic humour. The same learner has also written on her page
   I woldn't lick to speak that langlig,
   because it would be confyoosing.
   Eglish is a easia langlig because I have
   ben speking it all my fife. ('I wouldn't
   like to speak that language because
   it would be confusing. English is
   an easier language because I been
   speaking it aft my life.')

Another learner wanted to talk about African languages, as his father was South African and they spoke some Afrikaans at home. He wrote
   African languages are very diferent
   from each other. Such as klosa,
   Afrikaance and namibian. The
   indonesian language is a very
   confusing language. But I understad
   it realy weft. English is a much
   simpler language. Because I've
   spoken all my life. But if i was taught
   indonesian from when i was a baby
   i'd understad it Better and why they
   say it like that. ('African languages
   are very different from each other,
   such as Klosa, Afrikaans, and
   Namibian. The Indonesian language
   is a very confusing language, but I
   understand it really well. English is
   a much simpler language, because
   I've spoken [it] all my fife; but if I was
   taught Indonesian from when I was a
   baby, I'd understand it better, and why
   they say it like that.')

His capacity to understand not only that we are 'situated' within a culture, using a (or several) languages, and that, differently situated, we would learn not only other language skills, but also understand the 'system' that went with them, was astonishing.

Discussion: A focus on meaning making for young learners

The interaction described above sought to approach young learners' developing understandings of self through a comparative exploration of pronoun use in Indonesian and English. It was framed within an intercultural orientation to language learning, where the intention was for learners to move across and between the languages and cultures 'at play' to develop understandings that they can use for both interpretation of the target language and culture and, reflexively, about their use of English in their own cultural context. A specific language focus, use of personal pronouns and forms of address, provided a focus on the learners' developing language skills appropriate to this age group.

What did this interaction show? It was clear that learners of this age group, though young, can actively engage in considering language choices and in locating these within cultural frames of reference. They were able to identify their own use of first person pronouns and compare these with Indonesian examples, noticing differences, reflecting on complexity added through considering another linguistic and cultural frame. Naturally enough, they found some of the differences confusing, but could both negotiate and understand what was happening in the other language, and use this to reflect on what they do in English, and to consider the constraints, and even limitations of their own (first) language. There was an understanding that choices of pronouns to represent self were implicit in the language being used, be it English or Indonesian, and that this had implications for cultural understandings, such as the need for or absence of consideration of relative age, status, or relationship of speakers, in deictic terms (Belz & Kinginger, 2002; Kashima & Kashima, 1998).These learners were able to compare languages and cultures and reflect on their language use and enculturation, in rudimentary but significant ways in relation to learning Indonesian and to their developing English language, and personal development skills. Their final responses, in drawings and written responses, showed their clear engagement with the interaction, its implications in their own lives as language users, and their capacity to work within an intercultural orientation to language learning.

Liddicoat, observing a group of adult learners considering personal pronoun use from an intercultural orientation, notes that 'in addition to developing knowledge of the person address system in French, these students began to explore the cultural and interpersonal understandings that underlie the system' (Liddicoat, 2006, p.77). The same observation holds true with these much younger learners, in developing understandings relevant to their own age and cultural contexts. He goes on to say that in his study 'the learning of these students demonstrates the potential for the use of linguistically-simple phenomenon to begin to develop complex cultural understandings as they are manifested in a new language' (Liddicoat, 2006, p.77). Again, the same holds for this group of learners. Using very simple language processes, complex cultural ideas about Indonesian were beginning to be explored, and these explorations had implications for how the learners subsequently considered English.

Was this interaction meaningful to the learners? The 'age' question, for example, really mattered to these young learners. It was clear from working with this group that knowing the age of brothers and sisters is of significance to six and seven year olds. They were able to compare how Indonesian and English culturally frame siblings through pronoun choices, acknowledging that English provided them with a good way of determining gender (with words for brother and sister), and admiring the Indonesian way of specifying relative age. They were then able to analyse this in terms of how they overcame the English 'deficiency', through the addition of extra words, that they said they 'needed' to add. The learners' sense of self was, therefore, foregrounded through approaching a discussion of pronouns in this way, and this was meaningful to them. Though most of the interaction was conducted in English, which was necessary to get at their understanding and to express their feelings, as they had very little Indonesian language at their disposal, the learners began to develop insights into Indonesian and to learn to use pronouns in ways that go beyond repetition, involving conscious choices and reflection on the implications of these choices. They also enjoyed this process, and clearly found it interesting to think about why they say things as they do, and to consider the choices available in Indonesian and how these differed from English.

A focus on meaning-making for learners must remain central to thinking about and planning interactions with learners of any age. This interaction has attempted to place this focus at the centre of a language learning experience for these learners, through a scaffolded social interaction. Learners were invited to share their own experiences and understanding of self and others, through engaging with an authentic target language text in a scaffolded, group discussion. Language and culture were considered together, and this consideration extended across and between the languages the learners brought to the classroom, and are engaged with in classroom learning.

Young learners were in this way encouraged to think about their learning of the language and culture they are learning and what it means to them in their lives, at this time. Considering Indonesian forms of address and pronouns not only provides ways in to exploring Indonesian, but for reflecting on English and Australian use of names and pronouns, and what these mean in terms of how we relate to others and understand ourselves. What is described above is not intended to be prescriptive, but to open possibilities for engaging with the target language and culture in language learning, in a way that is meaningful to young learners.

Extension activities, for later sessions, logically arise from the interaction discussed above in relation to this short text. Certainly longitudinal studies of this kind of interaction and orientation would be fruitful in exploring sociocultural meaning-making through intercultural language learning. It would be possible to move into discussions about what it is like to be a younger or older brother or sister, or an only child, and use of nick names or family names that the children have in their own families. The possibilities are limited only by the interest of the learners and their level of engagement with the discussions. These might also include looking at simple English texts for ways in which self and others are described and other Indonesian texts where variable pronoun or naming systems are used. It will be important to engage with a discussion about second and third person pronouns, corresponding to the complex variations of 'you', 'he/she and it', and 'they', in Indonesian, as these are not covered in this text, but are important dimensions to consider as complementing the discussions above. In exploring these other pronouns in Indonesian, learners can bring their own experiences of referring to others and compare them with the many ways and considerations that must be taken into account when using Indonesian.


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Dr Anne-Marie Morgan is a Research Fellow at the University of South Australia, in the Research Centre for Languages and Cultures and the School of Education, working on a range of national languages and education projects. She has many years experience in teaching Indonesian, drama, music, ESL, and Asian studies. Her research and publication interests are in the areas of Indonesian language and teaching and learning, languages pedagogy, intercultural language learning, ESL, intercultural performance, and studies of Asia.
Table 1. Song lyrics

Satu, satu, aku      One, one, I love my
sayang ibu           mum
Dua, dua, juga       Two, two, I love dad
sayang ayah          too
Tiga, tiga, sayang   Three, three, I love
adik-kakak           my brothers and

Satu, dua, tiga,     One, two three, I
sayang semuanya,     love them all.
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