Threats to Indonesian Language? Gaul and Alay Language as Products of Urban Culture in Jakarta


Guest Teacher of Indonesian Language and Culture at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”


Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian) is used in the Republic of Indonesia as national language. Indonesian is derived from Malay, the lingua franca in Indonesian archipelago comprising over 700 living languages. Nowadays, the use of Indonesian language in urban community of Jakarta has had lots of modification in its form and use. The use of Gaul language whose characteristic is mainly with messing the sounds and Alay language mainly with messing the forms have been seen by many as threats to the existence of Indonesian language, many have seen them as variations of language use. This paper attempts to examine the characteristics of Gaul and Alay language and whether they are threats to Indonesian.


Indonesian Language, Lingua Franca, Gaul, Alay, language use, variation, threats.

 Indonesian at a Glance

Bahasa Indonesia (in English ‘Indonesian’ not ‘Bahasa’) is the official language of the Republic of Indonesia. It is derived from Malay language, an Austronesian family used as lingua franca and trading means of communication in Nusantara archipelago (Southeast Asia) back to Majapahit age thousands years ago, later people living in what nowadays is Indonesia register it into standardized Indonesian. Indonesian is a unifying factor of all Indonesian multiethnic and multilingual society, it is mentioned as national language in the Youth Pledge ‘Sumpah Pemuda’ declaration when all young people from all around Indonesian gather in Jakarta on October, 28th 1928 to proclaim three ideals one motherland, one nation, and one language.

Almost all Indonesians are born bilingual, they speak one of more than 700 indigenous local languages as their mother tongue like Javanese, Bataknese, Balinese, etc. and Indonesian as the national language to communicate with people from different ethnic group, to grasp knowledge in formal educational institutions, and to update news from national media.

Interesting Facts about Indonesian

Indonesian is relatively simple, this may be is the reason why Indonesian was very successfully learnt by Indonesians in the short period of when it was mentioned in the Youth Pledge in 1928 to its official establishment as national language during the proclamation of independence in 1945 (17 years).

The characteristic of Indonesian cited from are:

  1. Latin alphabets. If you speak English or any other languages using Latin alphabets, you jump to the second level. In facts, none of the indigenous local languages in Indonesia use alphabets.
  2. Simple phonology and orthography, one letter represents one sound and the letters are pronounced as they are written.
  3. Simple SVO sentence structure.
  4. No case inflection.
  5. No grammatical gender, the word ‘dia’ is for ‘He’ and ‘She’, no male nouns or female nouns.
  6. No plural form, enough to mention the number of the nouns, tiga meja, banyak meja, and for explicit plural, use reduplication ex. gelas-gelas (glass), mobil-mobil (car).
  7. No verb conjugation, the word ‘belajar’ (study) will not change nevertheless it is attached to the first person, second person, or third personal person.

Word Structure of Indonesian

Simple                           = Paman membeli baju di Pasar

S                V       O              K

Continuous   = Paman sedang membeli baju di Pasar sekarang

Past                = Paman membeli baju di Pasar kemarin

Future                            = Paman akan membeli baju di Pasar besok

Perfect                           = Paman sudah/telah membeli baju di pasar

 Urban Community in Jakarta

Cities are defined by some urbanists as a place where everything happening within it is called „Urban“ (Gilfoyle, 1998), “Urban” is related to the moving of people from rural areas to cities (Setijowati (Ed), 2010). Meanwhile, urban culture is forms acquired by city or town inhabitants manifesting the way they live, act, speak, respond, and express their feeling in the middle of multicultural and multilingual society. The birth of new urban culture which takes overtimes is utilized either as means of adaptation or means of survival. The great number of different people living in a limited space will build up a vast array of subcultures close to each other, although certain communities strive to control and manage their lives (Gilfoyle, 1998), but the mixing of identity is inevitable.

Urbanization leads to considerable shifts in social life, economy, politics, and of course, language, involving contact and use (Ivanova, 2013). The blending of various communities from different cultural backgrounds influence communication patterns between them, this phenomenon leads to the birth of a modification to language. We often learn about slang, based on Miriam-Webster dictionary slang is an informal nonstandard vocabulary composed typically of coinages, arbitrarily changed words, and extravagant, forced, or facetious figures of speech. The question of how slang spreads has occupied linguists and anthropologists for decades. When it comes to the mechanics of new word distribution, it’s been tough to measure with any precision (Kolowich, 2014). Slang develops in a contact situation where two or more languages, usually of different status, are spoken, i.e. in a multilingual society (Mojela, 2002).

In Jakarta, with a population of 10.196.173[1] migrating from various areas across Indonesia, there is a unique communication form. The communication of young people often involves nonstandard Indonesian, so-called Gaul. This language is initially used by certain exclusive and marginalized groups such as street gangsters, transvestites, and women’s groups. In its development, this language transforms into Alay language making it go to the second level of nonstandard Indonesian. Media plays a very big role in the wide spreading these languages to every corner of Jakarta. Gaul and Alay languages today have not only become a trend for young people but, more than that, part of the Indonesian linguistic diversity.

Gaul Language: Its Origin and its development

Language evolves within the community. The evolution of Gaul language is generated from the mixture of different cultures in one big city and influenced by western culture, mainly American-English. Betawi language, the language of ethnic group living in Jakarta is the base from which the Gaul language is developed, it is consequently modified by other languages coming from other areas of Indonesia. The young people mostly teens then use them as their means of communication with modifications that are way too far from its origin. This phenomenon for some linguists is seen as linguistic virus threatening the existence of the formally standardized Indonesian language, but for some others is seen as a creativity enriching the variety of Indonesian language. The philosopher Aristotle said that language is something inherited and is a tool to express human thoughts and feelings. Experts hesitate if Gaul language will be inherited to the next generation as they see it just as a ‘trend’, however the use of this language to express feelings is an apparent reality.

The word Gaul literally means ‘mingle’. Its variations include ‘bergaul’ to mingle, ‘peregaulan’ commingling. This language initially evolves in the communication pattern of street gangsters, followed by transvestite groups, and other exclusive groups of people utilizing it as a secret means of communication between them. However, due to the constant use in the community, the people who are around them began to understand the language, it goes viral on TV and internet.Here is how Gaul language usually formed. The most expressions in Gaul language is rooted in Indonesian language or in Betawi language. However, there are numbers of expressions that are invented without any root from any languages in Indonesia. Those words are modified with strange, invented, and irregular affixes.

The followings are examples of Gaul expressions:


No Indonesian language Gaul language
1 Kemarin aku beli sepatu

(Yesterday I bought shoes)

Kemarin Akika belalang separatus
2 Kamu lama, deh!

(You took so long!)

Yey lambreta, deh!
3 Hi teman, kamu di mana?

(Hi friends, where are you?)

Hai cin, di mandose?


4 Hati-hati di jalan ya

(Take care)

Titi DJ ya

In the first example, ‘Akika’ is the modification of ‘Eyke’ which is derived from the Dutch language ‘ik’ meaning ‘I’. ‘Belalang’ and ‘separatus’ are from ‘beli’ to buy and ‘sepatu’ shoes with irregular affixation, so to say that the transformation from ‘beli’ to ‘belalang’ is not how verbs conjugations are, also ‘sepatu’ to ‘separatus’ is not the plural forms or anything. In the second example, ‘Yey’ comes from the English ‘you’, the word ‘lambreta’ is modified from the Indonesian ‘lama’. In the third example, ‘cin’ is the clipping from ‘cinta’ means love, this is how close friends call each others. ‘di mandonse’ is from ‘di mana’ meaning ‘where are you?’ again without regular affixation rule. While in the fourth example, ‘Titi DJ’ is from ‘TTDJ’ that is an acronym for ‘Hati-Hatidi Jalan’, and TTDJ is actually a popular abbreviated name of Indonesian diva, Titi Dwijayanti.

Alay language: Beyound Slang

Unlike Gaul that is meaningful in its term. Alay does not possess any literal meaning, it is not even derived from any basic Indonesian word. However some people regard it to ‘Anak Lebay’ meaning ‘the exaggerating kid’. Even the word ‘Lebay’ is not a standard Indonesian, it is derived from ‘berlebihan’. The term Alay or ‘anak lebay’ is labeled to those young people who are exaggerating their ways in speaking, writing, and in their fashion.

Alay language is mostly dealing with written form manifesting how Alay group of young people who are exaggerating their appearance and gesture into written forms. Alay language combines abbreviation, small and capital letters, and numbers are used sporadically. The paradoxical rule of placing capital letters and how numbers are for calculations are fluid in Alay’s horizon.

The emergence of Alay language cannot be separated from smart devices and social media. Akhmad Budiman underlined in his article that Alay is mostly used on smart phones. The courage to be socially accepted together with the practicality of smart electronic devices is supporting the birth and the widespread of Alay.

Some examples of Alay expressions:

Jan64n 4d4 Du5t4 dI 4ntar4 Kita k4L4u b3nC1, b1l4ng b3nC1. K4l4U CiNt4, b1l4Ng C1Nt4. J4N64n B1ArK4n hatimu tertU5uK 53mBiLu… hE3x

Formal Indonesian: Jangan ada dusta di antara kita. Kalau benci, bilang benci. Kalau cinta, bilang cinta. Jangan biarkan hatimu tertusuk sembilu.. he he he..

English: No lie between us, If you hate me, say it, if you love me, say it. Don’t hurt your heart.

Akoh tau, Cmuah ni p4sti da Hiqm4hny4h. M3sKipUn h4t1 n1ee C4kittzz N6etTzz.. T4p1 4koh T4oo, 4Kohh P4zzTi3 ‘k4n B4h46ia CeL4Lu C3LaM4nY4 S4mP41 MaTeEEEkkK!!

Formal Indonesia: Aku tahu, semua ini pasti ada hikmahnya. Meskipun hati ini sakit sekali tapi aku tahu, aku pasti akan bahagia selalu, selamanya, sampai mati.

English: I know, there is a message from all this mess. Though, this heart is hurting so much but I know I will be always happy, forever, till I die.

P4k mA4f 54y4 G4 b15a m45uk h4R1 Ini k4R3n4 5Akit

Formal Indonesian: Pak, maaf saya tidak bisa masuk hari ini karena sakit

English: I am sorry, Sir. I will not be able to come today because I am sick

This style of writing for some experts is viewed as destructive and is threatening the existence of Indonesian writing system. The fact that the most users of this style are young people, those whom the future of Indonesian language is relied on, those whom the existence of Indonesian writing system is depended upon, raises worries among numerous linguists if they will finally be incapable in writing standard Indonesian. For some others, this is a creativity to appreciate. Nothing of this phenomenon but merely a trend among young people and should not be worried about. This trend is like any other trends in human culture that will be washed ashore by the coming of new trend.


The mixing of people from various cultural backgrounds in Jakarta Metropolitan City results in many life shifts including language. Gaul and Alay languages as products of urban culture in Jakarta have become parts of language diversity in Indonesia. Though these styles are seen as to threaten Indonesian Language, but their real existence and constant use among Indonesian people determine the creativity and way of expression that formal Indonesian language does not offer. Other than that, the use of these languages determines the quest of self-identity of the users.

One of J.A. Fishman’s views (via J.B. Hari Kustanto) on the relationship between language and culture is ‘language as a symbol of culture’. Based on that, it can be affirmed that the Gaul and Alay languages are movement of language and conflict of language, ​​using language as a symbol of a community to defend (or attack) and accept (or reject) the culture associated with them.“(J.B. Hari Kustanto). Related to this opinion, Claire Kramsch stated that ‘the language symbolizes cultural reality’, the speakers identify themselves and others through the use of their language; they regard their language as a symbol of their social identity. (J.B. Hari Kustanto).

Gaul and Alay languages have been so popular in the social circles of Indonesian society. And it is not impossible these languages will be accepted in the future in the language repertoire of Indonesian national language. Dictionary of Gaul language has been almost ten years on the market (since 1999 by artist Debby Sahertian), and according to Dendy Sugono as Head of Language Department of Education „There is a chance for Gaul and Alay terminologies to be new entries in Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia (KBBI) (the Big Dictionary of Indoensian Language)“. Endy M. Bayuni on his article “View Point: Is Bahasa Indonesia stagnating the nation’s progress?” cited Anis Baswedan, the Minister of Education of Indonesia that as much as Indonesian words are derived from Malay, Sanskrit Arabic, Dutch, and Potugese, why not allowing slang (Gaul and Alay) to be added to the official dictionary of Indoensian?


  1. Bayuni, Endy M. 2015. View Point: Is Bahasa Indonesia stagnating the nation’s progress?, the Jakarta Post, Jakarta, an article
  3. Budiman, Akhmad.                                 . “Pengaruh Bahasa Alay Terhadap Bahasa Indonesia”
  4. Gilfoyle, Timothy J. 1998. White Cities, Linguistic Turns, and Disneylands: the New Paradigm of Urban History. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  6. Kustanto, Hari J.B. ______. “Bahasa dan Kebudayaan”. ______ : _______.
  7. Kolowich, Lindsay. 2014. The Evolution of Language: How Internet Slang Changes the Way We Speak:
  8. Mojela, V.M. 2002. The Cause of Urban Slang and its Effect on the Development of the Northern Sotho Lexicon.
  9. Setijowati, Adi dan Kawan-Kawan (Ed). 2010. Sastra danBudaya Urban dalam Kajian Lintas Media. Surabaya: Airlangga University Press.