Monday, May 23, 2011

On a quiet change of inter-personal appellation

Did you notice that recently I started to use the more colloquial first person pronoun 'gw' in lieu of all-time tested 'aku' on virtual channels recently? Strangely enough, this change is neither voluntary nor involuntary. 

Not voluntary, because in my mind I described the whole thing as "I deign to use 'gw'" and thus signaling rejection on my part. But it's not involuntary either, as I find that I like how egalitarian it sounds--which probably is why other people use it in the very first place. 

You might wonder exactly what is up with my resistance to the ubiquitous 'gw'. And you won't wonder alone. 

Because to be fair, nothing is inherently wrong with 'gue' or its variants 'gua', or 'gw' and 'g' for SMS. My objection was that only it's different, and it's also inconsistent to boot. Dewi Lestari in one of her Supernova novels offers regional differences to explain the different inflection. 

And maybe my reluctance has its root to regional difference as well. As Adhitia Mulya noted in one of the footnotes in Jomblo, the Javanese girls in Bandung stood out for their use of 'aku' instead of the more popular casual 'gua'. Two anecdotal observations from two friends (Puspa, via IMs, and Firman, via tweets) assured me that I am not alone, albeit in a minority. For what it's worth, Puspa went to the same high school with me and lives only a kecamatan away. Firman is from Malang, I think: valid generalization for the following point. 

That said, the best explanation that I can offer is this: raised in Javanese-speaking culture, I already have not one, but three first person pronouns: 'kula' to use with teachers, elders, older strangers; 'saya' as its Indonesian equivalent; and 'aku' for everyone else, family and friends included, in both Javanese and Indonesian. Naturally, the last easily dominates both the former in term of frequency of use, and it serves all purposes just fine. 

So I have a pronoun that works fine. Very fine. And I don't see why I should change something that works so. 

But as with every other things in the world, other inhabitants sometimes have this bizarre idea of running things differently than you intended to. And conveniently for them, there are more of them than you. 

And just like those who espouse extremist values or ridiculous religious belief (cf. May 21st Rapture), one finding oneself in a situation where one do not have the advantages of number, one would resort to make up for it by ferociously clinging to such belief.

If (Principle is True) then Go. Else Stop. 

I would not touch 'gue', not even with a ten feet pole. Particularly because I can never remember how many meters is in a ten-feet and I also do not have a pole. 

Oh, fine, I touched it, all right. But in the past my use of 'gue' is restricted either for ironic and sarcastic abuse (e.g. Guweh habis makan mi ayam pinggir jalan! Mak nyuss!) or to remain faithful when conveying other people's words (e.g. "Ta, si Bunga bilangnya sih 'gw ga mau kalo keluar duit mahal',").

So it should come as no surprise then that I acquire winding casual speaking style, avoiding direct mentions of first and second person pronoun whenever possible (change 'gue' and 'aku' to 'elo' and 'kowe/kamu' in preceding paragraphs and you'll get the gist). 

And then I get to know English. Oh joy!* As English doesn't care whether you're talking to peers, teachers, parents, or your local hobo, it allows you to use the singularly useful 'I' everywhere. Imagine that. No need to give a damn about social structure. Best of all, it's also the same way for the second person pronoun. With very little modification such as appending 'Sir' or 'Professor', you can use 'you' for anyone. 

Is it any wonder I am glad for debating and SEF ITB? They strip daily communication in English at Indonesia off its pomp and let me celebrate egalitarian value in my own personal way. Or you can call the aforementioned value as resistance to change, if you so inclined. 

The next question to be addressed is why do I finally, timidly embrace this change? After all, I'm not living in Indonesia at the moment, you'd say. 

Well, for one, after English, now I get to know Japanese. Oh joy!** A language that is if not as stratified than Indonesian and Javanese, more so than both languages. An antithesis of egalitarian values if I ever knew one. 

'Watashi', 'boku', 'ore', 'atashi' are there to trip you off. Casual '-ru' verbs and formal '-masu' ending aggravates one's insecurity, making one constantly wondering if the local sees a foreigner--albeit with a brown face--as stand-offish. 

Not that I'd have any problem described as stand-offish, mind you. I've had my share of seeing 'stoic' and 'non-expressive' used to describe me. None would puzzle me in a bit. Though I'd have to honestly admit that 'warm' and 'beaming smile' never fail to make me double take then roll my eyes heavenward when they are used to describe me. 

But back to personal pronouns: me stopping to cling to 'aku' would be consistent with me generally saying principles-with-less-than-fundamental-reasons-to-espouse be damned. If you know me well, you'd know what principles I'm talking about. The rest of you, you'll just have to take my words for it. They're good words, if I may say so myself. 

On a more practical level, I figured a relaxation in stance will help me immerse myself in using the ever confusing Japanese. As I get the hang of using and mixing 'gue' with 'aku', so should I get the hang of referring to myself with 'boku'. 

Which is just about time. 

*genuine happiness here. 
** less-than-genuine happiness here. 

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