Address Terms and Pronouns in Javanese

Authors: Yoshimi Miyake (Akita University, Japan)
Speakers: Yoshimi Miyake
Strand: Anthropological Linguistics
Session Type: General Session


Javanese, a local language of Indonesia, whose speakers are almost 100 million people, has been known for having complex speech levels, which have traditionally differentiated classes based on historical feudalism (Lestari 2020, Utsumi 2020). Such a linguistic system would naturally come under pressure to change in response to modernization and the new media and symbolisms associated with it. This paper shows how this is happening with Javanese address terms and pronouns, analyzing the relationship among address terms, pronouns, and social situations, and showing that in recent times Javanese personal pronouns have shifted from social class markers to social-distance markers, in the same sort of process as was described in Brown and Gilman’s 1960 study of pronouns of power and solidarity. The data are taken from online usage in social media, dialogues in Javanese films (2014-20), and my own interviews with the residents of Jogjakarta and its vicinities. I will argue that Javanese address terms have become independent from the speech levels and that they are productively being supplemented with non-Javanese address terms like Indonesian sayang ‘darling’, American English bro, and maestro; thus the new symbolism of internationalism is replacing the traditional symbolism associated with the Javanese court and class system. Kinship address terms of high Javanese origin, bapak and ibu, have become extended address terms crossing all the speech levels as well as social distance, and they have also expanded across Java, being integrated into the national and official language, Bahasa Indonesia. On the other hand, mas and mbak, address terms for older siblings (male and female respectively), have also expanded across all the speech levels and social distances, although they have not expanded to Bahasa Indonesia. In this way, address terms for the generation of parents and seniors (younger than the speakers) can also function as stable politeness markers which are added to the names for occupations and titles associated with modernization, such as in Ibu Presiden (Ms. President), Bapak Becak (Mr. bike taxi driver), and Mas Ojeg (Mr. motor cycle driver). On the other hand, analysis of the current situation of various address terms in dialogues in Javanese films shows that age difference is a significant factor for choice of speech level as well as the second person pronouns. Thus the paper shows that in recent years Javanese speakers have been replacing an honorific system associated with the feudalistic hierarchy with a system of politeness-oriented address terms.

Keywords: Javanese, Address term, Speech level