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Language labeling and ideology in Indonesia

Maya Ravindranath Abtahian ORCID logo EMAIL logo , Abigail C. Cohn ORCID logo and Yanti ORCID logo


As part of a large survey project designed to examine language shift in Indonesia, we examine speakers’ categorization and labeling of the language varieties in their repertoire with respect to language ideologies and the language ecology of Indonesia. This paper is both a methodological paper – arguing for the usefulness of surveys in the investigation of language shift scenarios – as well as an initial report of findings from those surveys, focusing on how speakers in different parts of Indonesia name language varieties. We demonstrate the benefits of a survey with open-ended questions about linguistic repertoire in investigating the use of particular language labels as markers of local and national identity and discuss these in terms of differences in local language ecologies on the islands of Bali, Java, and Sumatra. In addition, we report on how language labels are used in different communities in Indonesia in the context of different local ecologies, and against a backdrop of widespread reported language shift from the local languages of the Indonesian archipelago to the national language Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia), following decades of successful language planning efforts promoting Indonesian as a unifying language in a linguistically diverse nation.

Corresponding author: Maya Ravindranath Abtahian, Linguistics, University of Rochester, 503 Lattimore Hall, PO Box 270096, 14627, Rochester, NY, USA, E-mail:

Funding source: Fulbright Association

Funding source: Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies at Cornell University


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Received: 2021-09-17
Accepted: 2022-01-28
Published Online: 2022-08-11
Published in Print: 2022-09-27

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