US nonprofit is bringing together experts to create multimedia materials to save threatened Balinese language and endangered script.
The Project in a (coco)Nut Shell
In collaboration with linguists, anthropologists, videographers and language software specialists, from Bali and elsewhere, we (an American non-profit organization) are developing the first multi-media materials for the Balinese language. Balinese script is already endangered and the spoken language is dramatically changing. These materials, which will be donated to nonprofit organizations, will provide a record of where the spoken and written language is now and will encourage the use of Balinese for the future.
The materials will contain two sections: conversational Balinese and Balinese script.
The conversational parts of the materials are primarily geared to Balinese living outside of Bali, children of mixed marriages who generally tend to speak Indonesian or English, and non-Balinese interested in learning the language. These materials will be based on a series of video of dialogues (see a video on our site, www.basabali.org) that one might typically encounter in Bali. The dialogues and accompanying exercises will be carefully created to teach grammar, pronunciation, and appropriate word choice (extremely tricky in Balinese which has multiple registers depending on social status, age and context of the speakers and the subject matter). A series of notes will help users understand the cultural context of the dialogues so that learners not only learn how to speak, but learn to speak appropriately.
The program will also include a chapter on Balinese script which native speakers will find as helpful as those just learning the language. A whole series of activities will help users master this beautiful, but difficult, writing system.
In an island of 3.1 million, the Chief of the Balinese Culture Agency recently announced that less than one million can speak Balinese. Despite recent efforts to cultivate the language, the use of Balinese is at a critical crossroads due to a number of factors:
- Indonesian is the lingua franca of public schools, newspapers, and television. Increased interaction and intermarriage with Indonesians from other islands, principally with the Javanese, requires speaking in the common language of Indonesian rather than in Balinese.
- Increased tourism and interaction with the international community along with greater participation in the world market puts a premium on English, further diminishing the use of Balinese. Expats living in Bali tend to learn Indonesian rather than the very complex, but beautiful, Balinese.
- Some of the younger generation prefer to use the egalitarian Indonesian instead of the stratified Balinese.
- The pervasive use of Facebook tends to encourage Indonesian rather than Balinese since groups often involve non-Balinese speakers and because of the awkwardness of using a language which requires identifying the caste of the speaker to the listener on the often anonymous internet.
- The number of loan words (words borrowed from other languages) often overwhelms speech, even when both speakers are Balinese.
Our goal is to bring together the best thinking we can find on the Balinese language along with linguists specializing in effectively teaching non-Western languages and language software folks.
We are deeply appreciative of the people who have shared their insights and wisdom, including members of our own Board (Prof. Wolff, for example, developed language materials for five Southeast Asian languages, Prof. Amrih Widodo and Putu Suasta taught Indonesian using dialogue methodology, and Prof. Maxim and Prof. Kammen are Southeast Asian experts), Udayana University Professor of Linguistics Windhu Sancaya and Udayana University Professor of Letters Made Suatjana, Donny Harimurti of Yayasan Bali Galang, Cultural Anthropologist Rucina Ballinger, Linguist Professor Edmundo Luna, Linguist Laetitia Knight, Videographers Maria Doukeli and Agus Putu Pranayoga, language software specialists,Valerie Earl and Chuck McGonagle of Transparent Language and the amazing people of Bale Banjar Bali and Belajar Basa Bali Bersama...
Why We Need Funds
Although Transparent Language has very generously donated the language software for our use, and so many people are donating their time and talents free of charge, we still need funds to cover in-BALI costs of producing the videos and dialogues. The staff of BASAbali is unpaid. We need your help for this relatively modest budget to create high quality materials that we hope will have a high impact. Donations are tax deductible within the U.S.
Two reasons. First, although we are very concerned about the endangered state of the script, the sad fact is that it is hardly used anymore. Except for priests, the vast majority of Balinese use Latin script almost all of the time. Newspapers, books, magazines, etc. are all written in Latin script. Government signs, however, are required to be written in Balinese script (for historical cultural reasons) and Latin script (so that the average Balinese can easily read the signs). When people take notes, write letters, etc. they use Latin script. You can still find Balinese script on old lontar leaves which captures so much culture and history of Bali -- and Balinese school children are required to learn the script so that they don't lose their traditions -- but as a practical matter, it just isn't used anymore. Very sad, because the script is as beautiful as it is interesting (for example, there are characters that signify that the word is holy, characters to signify a glottal stop, etc.). We offer a chapter on the script because it is part of the Balinese heritage and culture that should be learned to get a fuller understanding of the language and the people, but not because you need it to communicate, even in writing.
The second reason we wanted to include instruction on Balinese script is that although the materials are geared primarily to those wanting to learn to speak Balinese, Transparent Language, whose software we are using, has a fabulous facility to teach nonWestern scripts in a captivating, fun, effective way. We thought that Balinese school children -- who are required to learn the script at school as a cultural matter since nowadays, few learn it at home -- could benefit from this program, so we also included it as a resource for them.
This is just a video of a demo. The actual program will have sound in addition to more videos (you can see an example of a video, with sound, on our website, http://www.basabali.org/ -- see if you can understand the Balinese!), cultural and linguistic notes, historical resources and more.