Indonesian High Context Culture – Communication – Tradition

Hi! Welcome back! Do you know that every language in the world could not be separated with their context, especially in terms of communication. They related to when, where, who as well as the culture itself. As a diverse country, of course there is general Indonesian High Context Culture and some specific one.

Indonesian High Context Culture

Mostly, it would cause confusion to the non-local speaker or society because the ambiguity of its meaning. Hence, we should learn more about it. Before we do, let’s take a look some useful articles about Indonesian Culture through language.

Implying the ‘Harsh’ Word

One thing you should learn, which I believed happened in many languages, is makes the ‘taboo’  words as implicit as it can. Not all is Indonesian Bad Words and Meaning, but people sometimes embarrassed to say it out loud (e.g. pregnant) because it is consider improper. Here are the examples.

  • ke belakang
    – literal meaning = go to the back(side) of a place
    – other context = go to the toilet
    Example =
    – Dia lagi ke belakang ambil barang (He is going to the back taking something)
    – Permisi, saya mau ke belakang (Excuse me, I need to go to the toilet)
  • saya isi/berisi
    – literal meaning = I’m filled
    – other context = I’m pregnant, I’m fat
    Example: Mas, aku isi (Hubby, I’m pregnant)
  • berpulang
    – literal meaning = going home
    – other context = die
  • BAB [be’a’be] (buang air besar)
    – literal translation = throw huge amount of ‘water’
    – the meaning = poop
    *It is the less harsh word for poop. Even usually people just mention ‘ke belakang’
  • Buang air kecil
    – literal translation = throw small amount of water
    – the meaning = pee
    *It is the less hars word for pee. People usually use ‘ke belakang’
    Check also Indonesian Acronyms
  • terlambat/telat
    – literal meaning = late
    – other context = pregnant/late in terms of menstruation period (woman only)
    Example :
    – Kamu selalu terlambat ke kantor (You are always late to the office)
    – Bulan ini aku telat (This month my period is late)
  • berhalangan
    – literal meaning: not available because some reason
    – other context = has period (menstruation)
    *Because of the majority of Indonesian people is Muslim that prohibit woman that in her period time to do the routine prayer, people are usually implied it with the word ‘berhalangan’ (not available). Moreover, because menstruation still has a taboo and personal sense, some people also implied it with the phrase ‘datang bulan’ which has literal translation as ‘the moon/month is coming’, but actually means ‘monthly period’.
    – Indah berhalangan hadir karena sakit (Indah could not make it today for gathering because she’s sick)
    – A: Indah sholat? (Indah, are you praying today?)
    B : Nggak, berhalangan (No, I’m not [available])
    *even ‘No’ only is also implying a woman in her period time
  • tidur bareng
    – literal meaning = sleep together
    – other context = having sex
  • ranjang/kamar/hotel
    – literal meaning = bed/room/hotel
    – other context = having sex
    – Ibu membeli ranjang baru (Mom bought a new bed)
    – Mereka sudah naik ke atas ranjang (They have done it [sex])

Further reading: Indonesian Dirty Words

In more local sense, in Javanese speaking region, which is the majority is Muslim that consider pork and dog meat are unclean as well as prohibited by the Quran, most people has special terms about it. As you know dog which is translated as ‘anjing’ or ‘asu’ is also the most popular swear words in Indonesia. The dog meat (which is exist) is implied as ‘B1’ (Be satu) while the pork is implied as ‘B2’ (Be dua). So, if you are go into Yogyakarta, do not confuse with the terms B1 and B2

Further readings: Indonesian Numbers and Learning Indonesian Alphabets

Same Words, Different Meaning

When you travel around Indonesia, you may found cultural shock, because one word could means many things in different context and area. One of the most popular one is the word ‘enak (delicious for food). It has many meanings depends on the context. Here are those.

  • Makannya enak (The food is delicious)
  • Sepatunya enak (The shoes are comfortable)
  • Suaranya enak (The sound is nice to listen)
  • Enak aja kamu makan sendirian (How could you became so selfish ate everything by yourself)
  • Lukisan tersebut enak dipandang (The painting is breathtaking)
  • Aku tidak enak badan (I’m feeling not well)
  • Dia sih enak-enakan (She does everything she wants)
  • Hidupnya sudah enak (He has a happy life now/He has succeed)
  • Filmnya enak (The movie is great) – For Sumatra dialects only
    *Because the Malay Heritage, in Sumatra there are some words that have different meaning. Other is ‘siap’ (which means ‘ready’ in Bahasa Indonesia) that translated as ‘finish’ and kereta (train) that translated as ‘car’

Read also : Main Differences Between Bahasa Indonesia and Malaysian Language

Others happened because of the abbreviation. Here is the example in the word ‘pagi’ (morning)

  • A: Kapan dia datang? (When did she come?)
    B: Pagi (At the morning)
  • A: Pagi! (Good morning!)
    B: Pagi juga! (Good morning, too!)

Read also: Good Morning Greetings

Kemarin (Yesterday), Nanti (Later) and Besok (Tomorrow)

Maybe this is the most ambiguous word in Bahasa Indonesia and might be the cause why Indonesian people known as ‘ngaret’ (late) people. Even though ‘kemarin’ means yesterday, it is not always means ‘yesterday’, but something that happened at the past. But, usually people reduplicate the words as ‘kemarin-kemarin’.

However, in terms of ‘nanti’ (later) and ‘besok’ (tomorrow), the two words are more ambiguous. It might range from 1 second later or some time in the future that might not happened. Here are the examples.

  • (Besok = Tomorrow)
    – A: Kapan kamu ke Bali? (When will you go to the Bali?)
    – B: Besok (Tomorrow)
  • (Besok = Not now) – usually to avoid something
    – A: Tolong aku ya sekarang (Please help me now)
    – B: Besok ya/Nanti ya (Later)
  • (Besok = Later in the future) – usually to people who like postpone things
    – A: Kapan kamu mau kirim suratny? (When will you send the letter?)
    – B : Besok/Nanti (Later)

Read Also How to Say Time in Bahasa Indonesia

Pragmatic sentences

Furthermore, there are also pragmatic sentence, could be statement or questions. Usually it is used to mock someone (especially because they’ve done a mistake). Here are the examples.

  • Jam berapa sekarang? (What time is it?)
    – Usually asked by someone to another person that came late
  • Kamu sibuk sekali ya? (You have been very busy, haven’t you?)
    – To someone that never comes to meeting/gathering
  • Aku lapar (I’m hungry) – It could means
    – I’m really hungry
    – Do you have any food?
    – Do you want to eat?
    – Could you give me your food?
    – Buy me some food (especially to birthday party person)
    – Let’s wrap this meeting (used as an polite excuse to finish)

It is interesting right to learn about Indonesian High Context Culture? Then, you could also check