Why are there so many bottles of air and cat ovens in Indonesia?

Most languages have these accidental cross overs where one word looks exactly the same, or sounds the same, as a word in another language. But the meaning is quite different. Called heteronyms, these are a few of my favourites from Indonesian to English.

Air – just to be confusing this is indeed one of the elements, and something you can’t live without. Do you breathe it? No, of course not. It means water.

Get mind-body-spirit alignment and top up your mobile phone credit at the same time?

Get mind-body-spirit alignment and top up your mobile phone credit at the same time?

Are – a way to measure land, it is a hundredth of a hectare (10m x 10m). [note: I just found out that this word also exists in English. Who knew!?]

Ban – a tyre and one of several car-related words on this list.

Cap – the first word in the ubiquitous stir-fried vegetable dish, cap cay, it comes from Chinese.

Cat Oven (or Cat Open) – despite the images this name conjures, it is not a place where kittens are baked (or opened). It means a place that can redo your car’s paint job.

 

A variation on the baked kitten is the open cat (creative spelling at its best). And what could the Poles Body be all about? The mind boggles.

A variation on the baked cat is the open cat (creative Indonesian spelling at its best). And what could the Poles Body be all about? The mind boggles.

Gang – why are there so many gangs in Bali? They even have their own sign posts. Gang means small street.

Got – we have one of these across from our house. A nice big drain.

Jam – I love strawberry jam, mango jam, guava jam. But in Indonesia it’s a different kind of stickiness, it means hour.

Helm – you don’t actually need one of these if you’re at the helm of a boat or plane. But you sure should wear one on a motor bike on these streets. Yep, it’s the underutilised helmet.

Lima – if you resided in the Peruvian capital a situation might conceivably arise where you have to give your address and confusion ensues. At a stretch. But anyway, lima means five.

Big bags of...? Cement. Obviously.

Big bags of…? Cement. Obviously.

Made – one of the most popular names in Bali, you really can say Made in Bali and it would be accurate each time

REM – yep, kind of cheating here with all capitals but otherwise it wouldn’t have made much sense. Rem is another car part, this time it means brake.

Rad – that’s totally rad, man! No it’s not. In Indonesia it means council.

Resort – why are the police in Indonesia always going to resorts? Signs saying Polis Resort are not uncommon but it only means a local division of police. It doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t sun lounges and happy hours though…

Sari – it’s a piece of clothing in India but in Indonesia it means essence. This leads to hotel names like Alam Sari (essence of nature), restaurants named Sari Organik and even health foods like Sari Korma (essence of date).

Yoga sign in Bali

Now, those are two words you don’t normally think of together.

Semen – cement, obviously. Hence the big bags of it.

Tang – ooh yes, that pair of pliers has a nice tang to it.

Tas – in Australia this could be the a shortened form of the picturesque state of my birth. But in Indonesia it’s just a bag.

Yoga – Ubud is well known as a place with more yoga mats per square kilometre than anyway else in the world. But why do all these other little shops have signs with Yoga on them? Some of them are even selling mobile phones. Yoga is a name.

There are sure to be many more that I haven’t thought of. What is your favourite?

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The power of punk (and other music) for language learning

Fransoa

A few months ago I came across a song called ‘Aku Lapar’ from Fransoa, a Frenchman living in Bali. Sung to the tune of seventies hit ‘Ca Plane Pour Moi’, he gives a list of 40-odd Indonesian foods accompanied by a punk parody film clip made in a Seminyak restaurant. From nasi goreng to bakso to pepes the list is quite impressive. In place of the original chorus, which means ‘it’s alright for me’, he sings aku lapar (I am hungry).

This song, and the video that goes with it, made me laugh out loud. Why do I like it so much? Many reasons. For a start, the original song by Plastic Bertrand was one of the few foreign language pop songs that was played in Australia in the eighties (it reached number 2 on the Australian charts in 1979), so I have fond memories of it. And it’s already so camp. You couldn’t really take the line ‘I am the king of the divan’ seriously, could you?

The hidden educational value

Also, there’s something about a list song that appeals to me. I’ve written a few myself. One lists 16 fruit and their attributes (in Indonesian); one gives 20 ways to use bamboo. And another gives the names of the major Indonesian islands and cities found on them, in a kind of ‘I’ve been everywhere’ song. I have even written a song for yoga teachers to help them learn the names of poses in Sanskrit. I think the appeal for me is the hidden educational value. If the song is catchy you’ll remember the words. And if you remember the words you’ll have learnt something. I’m pretty sure I learnt some history from Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’.

Fransoa Aku Lapar Xtra PedasIn the case of ‘Aku Lapar’ you could learn the names of some Indonesian food. But even more than learning words I admire Fransoa’s creative spirit and his willingness to write and sing in another language. Indonesia could do with more foreigners being creative in Indonesian instead of so often sticking with English (or another language).

Multilingual music

I also like song that’s sung in more than one language. Let’s face it, I’m a language geek so I get a kick out of hearing pop songs sung in other languages, like ‘Las Cosas de la Vida’, an Eros Ramazzotti song which has Italian, Spanish and English versions (the last a duet with Tina Turner no less).

Tarkan Simarik

‘Kiss, Kiss’ was much better in the original Turkish, by the way (Simarik by Tarkan).

A song that mixes languages, an interlingual song you could say, is also something I’m very fond of. Manu Chao does it better than anyone. A well-known example from the early nineties is ‘Amigos Para Siempre’, which was the theme song for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. It featured three languages but it took me until I started studying Catalan at La Trobe University to realise that. I was singing along like everyone else: ‘amigos para siempre means you’ll always be my friend. Duh da da da means our love will never end.’

And if you’re wondering just what those missing words are? Amics per sempre. Yep, exactly the same words as the Spanish (friends forever) just sung in that hard-to-understand-flat-vowels-closed-mouth Catalan way.

Kita Australia

Some years back I was part of a latin choir in Canberra. That’s latin as in viva la fiesta, not as in Gregorian chants. One of the songs we sang was ‘I Am Australian’ by Bruce Woodley and Dobe Newton… in Spanish. Yo soy, tu eres, somos Australianos. I loved singing that. It really felt like we were showing diversity in our community and demonstrating solidarity with all Spanish-speaking Australians.

Indonesian would be a great language into which to translate that song. The chorus fits quite well: ‘Saya, kamu, kita Australia.’ Has anyone done it? Maybe the time is right.

Words I’ve learnt from subtitles

Picard Laksanakan

Like pretty much everyone in Indonesia I watch a lot of subtitled television. Most of it is in English with Indonesian subtitles but occasionally I stumble across something more exotic. My semi-regular indulgence is when the boys go to sleep and I’m alone in the living room. That’s when I get to watch my favourite Latin American soapies or telenovelas.

My favourite is Corazon Indomable (Wild at Heart) from Mexico. I get to listen to Spanish and read the Indonesian. It’s like eating a fluffy pavlova with some salsa on top, and sambal on the side.

But, more often than not, I’m reading Indonesian subtitles for an American show and this has helped me somewhat in my language acquisition. Not, I have to say, as much as actually talking to people, but seeing the same words used over and over has aided my memory.

One word I would never have learnt were it not for subtitles is astaga. Many exclamations and expressions of surprise – Good heavens! Crikey! and so on – are translated as astaga! But I have never ever heard someone use this in real life. I feel like I’m on an Indonesian sinetron (soap opera) myself when I use it so I tend not to.

Check out the very funny How to Act Indonesian – 5 signs it’s a sinetron to get an idea of what a sinetron is like.

Check out the very funny How to Act Indonesian – 5 signs it’s a sinetron to get an idea of what a sinetron is like.

Adil is another word I’ve learnt from the subtitles. It means fair. And the phrase ‘it’s not fair’ must get used a lot in American dramas as I’m pretty familiar with its equivalent, tidak adil. This phrase I count as a useful acquisition.

Brengsek is just about the closest thing to a swear word that I know in Indonesian. I think it’s my gender, maybe my age, and certainly the circles that I mix in, but I don’t seem to be picking up swear words. Brengsek means jerk so I occasionally use this when there’s a particularly good example of mindless motorbike riding right in front of our car.

I can’t leave out sial though. It’s the word that is used in subtitles whenever people swear in English. Damn, drat, shit all translate as sial. Do people actually use it? Not that I’ve heard. It means unfortunate.

Another word I have to thank American TV for is laksanakan. We grew very fond of this phrase through watching Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the starship Enterprise point to the monitor and say … laksanakan (see image at top). That’s a rough translation of make it so, in case you don’t remember. For a while my husband got a kick out of jumping in the car and saying to our driver: ‘The office! Laksanakan!’ Sadly other people just looked at him strangely if he said it and it hasn’t caught on. Not surprising when you realise it also translates as implemented. Now that’s an English word lacking romance.

I haven’t even started on the staggering eccentricities of pirated DVD subtitles. Sometimes they seem to belong to another movie altogether. And often everything is literally translated including names like Pat and Bob.

As I’m still trying hard to improve my Indonesian, every bit of Indonesian language around is useful, even if I do have to be careful before I start talking like subtitles.

What words have you learnt from television subtitles?

Best and worst of Indonesian picture books (continued)

In contrast to the books in the previous post, the following books were published first in Indonesia though not all were written in Indonesian. Petualangan Anak Indonesia coverDespite its publisher having an English name (Great! Publisher) Petualangan Anak Indonesia is currently published only in Indonesian, though (just to confuse you) the author is Australian. Its English title is Indoventurers and there is an English version that the author Nicholas Mark has offered to email upon request. He has also developed a Teacher’s Guide and worksheets.

This book is much longer and is for more advanced readers of Indonesian. Along with plenty of action in the three separate stories and the vivid illustrations, the book has plenty of local content. The Monkey Forest in Ubud is featured in the Bali story and Borobodur is featured in the Yogyakarta story where the race is on to save the city from an eruption from Mount Merapi. There is also a story set in Sumatra. Indoventurers page

All three are fantasy stories set somewhere in the realm, or fringe, of Indonesian myth, making them an interesting read. Apart from the fantasy elements, the stories are set in contemporary Indonesia and portray familiar characters and scenes. Another interesting note is that the author wrote it while on a university exchange in Yogyakarta when his story written for an assignment caught the interest of a local publisher.

Publishers website: galangpress.com Or contact Nicholas Mark on nicholaspetermark@gmail.com

Sea garden covers

The Sea Garden Series of books by Papa Ine is in two languages with the stated aim of helping Indonesian children learn English. Unfortunately, the translation from Indonesian has not been very successful and the poor English badly lets down the books.

The books have very bright and engaging illustrations and all the characters are animals that can be found in Indonesian waters. I was interested to see a sun fish character, not often seen in children’s stories. Some of the names are based on Indonesian words, such as Kepit being the name for the crab character (kepiting).

Sea Garden pagesPublished by PT Bumi Aksara Group bumiaksara.co.id

Murti Bunanta books

Murti Bunanta is an institution in the world of children’s books in Indonesia. She has written more than 30 books and has received many awards. Many of her books are Indonesian folk tales such as Princess Kemang (Putri Kemang), a folktale from Bengkulu. This is a lovely example of a bilingual book. It features beautiful illustrations from Hardiyono and a story of the adventures of a princess set in some mythical time in Indonesian history. Putri Kemang pagesIt is quite long but I do like this story for several reasons, one of which is that the main character is a princess who is independent and very physically capable and ends up choosing her own husband. The English translation is also very good, thanks to Margaret Mead MacDonald, herself a well-known author and storyteller, who was the English language consultant on the book. Plus the illustrations make it a delight to read.

Published by Grasindo, part of PT Gramedia. www.grasindo.org

The Tiny Boy and other tales from Indonesia is not a bilingual book but I included it as another example of Murti Bunanta’s work. This has been published by Groundwood in the US and is a beautiful book, also with illustrations by Hardiyono.

Bunanta dictionary  page

Another book she published locally is My first dictionary – colour, published by the Murti Bunanta Foundation and illustrated by Aldriana A. Amir. With only nine colours, it’s not quite long enough to be a stand-alone book and may have been better sold with the others in the First Dictionary series. Another 21 titles by Murti Bunanta are listed in the back.

Maggie Dunkle books Penyu dan Lumba LumbaCerita Monyet dari Bali – Monkey Tales from Bali is by Maggie Dunkle, an Australian children’s author who lived several years in Bali until she passed away in 2012. This is set in the Ubud Monkey Forest and I really like the story of the family of monkeys and the simple black and white illustrations by Asroel. It is aimed at beginner readers and the way the words are arranged on the page. The Indonesian translation below each phrase makes it easy to follow the translation.

Maggie Dunkle also wrote Penyu dan Lumba-Lumba, Turtle and Dolphin, a book in the Clean Bali Series (there is one other in the series). In this book the animals worry about the rubbish in their oceans and on their beaches and are then surprised when they witness a group of children cleaning up a beach. It is a book in three languages as it includes Balinese. The illustrations by Margiyono are colourful and the message is a good one, but it is not a book I read over and over.

Penyu page Both are published by Saritaksu. Saritaksu.com

Our Jakarta Series booksOur Jakarta Series is a set of 30 early readers written by Australian teacher Michelle Dudley while she was living in Jakarta. Originally only in English, they have been translated and published as bilingual books. The series consists of 10 books in each of the three levels. One of these was the very first book my five-year-old son read in Indonesian. Initially I wasn’t sure what to make of titles like My Driver and My Cook. But after thinking about it, it makes sense to have these books for expat children. Reading them with my children while we are living in Indonesia works fine. If we were reading them in Australia having never lived in Indonesia, some might feel a little out of place but the majority would be perfect for young children wherever they may live. Overall they give a good look at life in Jakarta through the eyes of a small expat child. The Car Trip is something Jakartan residents know all too well. What’s in my Lunchbook is cute and shows the variety of cultures at an international school through the contents of kids’ lunchboxes.

Available by emailing jakartaseries@gmail.com

What we can learn from Esperanto speakers

Esperanto tapeThe first language I started to learn was Esperanto, using a kit that dated back to the 1960’s. It was very interesting, this concept of a man-made language, though I did wonder who I would speak to with it. In the end I didn’t get much past 1 to 10. And porko = pig. So the problem of conversation partners didn’t arise.

I moved onto other language learning, eventually. First I had to leave country Tasmania and move to Hobart before I could take a language course in college, which in Tasmania equates to senior high school. Over the next few years I studied Italian, Spanish and Catalan and didn’t think any more of Esperanto.

Until I met Brian. A polyglot American who was hitchhiking around Europe learning languages, Brian had recently arrived in Turkey and was already speaking a bit of the language and living with a Turkish family.

Among the many lEsperanto numbersanguages Brian spoke was Esperanto. So naturally, when he arrived in Ankara he made his way to the Esperanto conversation group and struck up a conversation which resulted in Brian getting a free place to stay.

I was very impressed. I don’t think I had met an American who spoke more than two languages at that point. And for someone to learn languages just for the sake of it was impressive to me. Plus being able to talk his way into staying with a Turkish family.

Brian spoke reasonable Spanish and Italian. Probably German too. And most recently he had picked up some Polish after being given a ride by a Polish truck driver who told him his town had no English teacher. Brian was glad to help out and gave lessons in exchange for board and Polish conversation. After that he made his way to Turkey which is where I met him.

This was 1997 and, while I was keen to learn Turkish and did some study with the help of a teach-yourself Turkish book, I was putting more effort into socialising, going out and working at the Turkish Daily NewsEsperanto

I was living with my Australian best friend who was studying at university through a student exchange, and her Turkish housemate, Mine. My Turkish didn’t get past basic conversation but Mine’s English improved to the point that she later won a job with the UN.

Brian, of course, was serious about learning Turkish. Living with a Turkish family where Esperanto was the only common language pretty much forced him to learn. But he wasn’t stopping there and was also taking classes in Kurdish which was illegal at the time, and is still very difficult to do.

I lost track of Brian and his underground Kurdish classes but I am often reminded of him. He is an example of how our minds have the capacity for learning that most of us don’t bother to find. Minds can handle multiple languages without, for the most part, getting confused. He also showed me that learning languages gets easier, at least quicker, as you learn more, as long as you’re in the right environment.

Brian also had an open mind to all languages that is worth emulating. Languages are worth studying just for themselves, just for fun, just to learn. Even if you don’t have anyone around you to practice with. And sometimes you get great friendships from that, and other rewards that are impossible to predict.

And maybe I was just a little envious I hadn’t stuck with my Esperanto kit. Who knows where I would have ended up? Esperanto animals