The #1 Secret of Writing Indonesian Novels: Write in English ;-)

Gw sih jelas-jelas bukan novel writer, not even close. (= “tidak bahkan dekat”? oh… “nggak sedikit pun”?)

(Note: the parenthesed sentence at the end of a paragraph illustrates what would have been if I had written the sentence in Indonesian. I wouldn’t even dare to have the slightest thought had I written this entire message in Indonesian!)

But since I first started trying to write blogs… the first dilemma I had was… language. What language should I use? Actually it’s easy to decide, if my audience is Indonesian then I’d write Indonesian, else English. However, if my articles actually get read, I expect that Indonesian readers won’t actually “give me anything”. This is, of course, talking about AdSense. (= “ini, tentu saja, berbicara mengenai AdSense”)

Writing an English article is beneficial for several reasons. It’s officially supported by AdSense, and related context ads will show up on your page. With Indonesian article this is not always the case, and as far as I know AdSense actually forbids exclusively Indonesian language sites. English readers generally are larger markets than Indonesian readers. Of course this brings competition, but hey, no competition won’t give you any advantage if nobody gets something! English visitors are more likely to click on ads and actually buy products they like, even cheap products for $5 or so, since they have a credit card at hand that to them shopping online is already the norm, not something you’d think twice or seven thousand times like the case here in Indonesia. (= “bukan sesuatu yang kamu akan berpikir dua kali atau bahkan 7000 kali seperti kasus di sini di Indonesia”?)

Another thing is… expressiveness. I’ve heard that Greek and French are the best languages to write a poem in (why bother counting the number of words you can express in Greek, if you could just get a pile of books on medicine, science, botany, zoology, biology, in ANY language and you can be sure more than 50% of the words there are Greek?). I’m not sure if that’s the case, but I’m pretty sure that Indonesian language lacks many things that English have. I’m much more fluent in Indonesian than English (of course, it’s my native tongue), but I have to say that I have lots more difficulty expressing something in Indonesian than English. No, it’s not just technical terms, where a sentence like “plug the joystick into the server’s port and install the driver” is understandably impossible to be translated to Indonesian “properly”. But overall. How many words can *I* think when saying I love someone? Cinta, sayang, suka. “kasih” doesn’t even in the list since “aku mengasihi kamu” doesn’t really fit well into any novel. Same goes for “peduli”, “aku peduli banget ma kamu, nggak ada orang lain di dunia ini yang kuinginkan untuk hidup bersama” really can’t beat the simple “I truly, deeply care about you, there’s no other person in the world I’d desire to spend my lifetime with”. There are words like sophisticated, intricate, delicate, fragile, brilliant, supreme, adorable, hilarious, escalating, fuzzy, … I can’t believe how much time I’d need to express these words in Indonesian, then deliberately trying to fit it in to a sentence, then endlessly rephrasing until it sounds “good enough”… if it’s even remotely possible to be accomplished at all in the first place. (=”bila itu bahkan sedikitpun mungkin untuk dicapai sama sekali sejak pertama kali”?)

Other than expressiveness, that Indonesian severely limits, I really think it’s just very difficult to properly construct a “good” Indonesian sentence than English. Individual’s mileage may vary, maybe someone spending 23,5 hours per day to study Indonesian will say exactly the opposite. But I have this kind of experience. I’d be very interested in your opinion on this. (=”saya akan sangat tertarik dengan pendapat Anda mengenai ini”?)

I know that my English grammar is far, far from good. Yeah, my grammar sucks. So does my pronouncyatioun. But considering the fact that it’s hard to spel English correctly (but very easy to misspell) and write a proper English grammar, I find it hilarious (as well as ridiculous) that to me English is easier to write than Indonesian? (=”saya menemukan bahwa sangat lucu (dan juga sangat konyol) bahwa bagi saya Inggris lebih mudah ditulis daripada bahasa Indonesia?”)

When developing software, I sometimes tried to write identifier names (functions, variables, etc.) in Indonesian and also the comments, and also file names & directories. Guess what? They never work out (and no, I won’t tell you why, because I don’t have time to analysis such stupid kid stuff, but I surely strongly suggest anyone majoring “Sastra dan Bahasa Indonesia” to consider “Why Indonesian language sucks at software projects and why this final paper is written in English” as the topic of their final paper). Just naming these things Indonesian alone gives me more headaches than the bugs the program has. Now, even though if I’m developing a project specifically for Indonesian people/company, I use English exclusively for everything (including column names in database tables) except for user interface elements (of course) and maybe some in-line documentation. Some people wonder why “Kode Karyawan” in the form dialog maps to “EmployeeId” in the database table, but that’s the way it’s convenient for me. (=”tetapi itulah jalan yang bagi saya nyaman”)

There’s no way you could write an Indonesian novel without first banging your head against the wall. “Tidak ada jalan kamu bisa menulis novel berbahasa Indonesia tanpa sebelumnya memukulkan kepalamu ke tembok.” See? I don’t have to think twice to write the former, English sentence, but to translate that to Indonesian, at first it was ugly, very ugly. You might be able to do better. I also might be able to rephrase that so it reads better, but that takes too much time and effort. Forget it. (=”tapi itu menyita terlalu banyak waktu dan usaha. Lupakan saja”?)

I’m not sure if other people has the same dilemma/complaints. Do you? Do other Indonesian novelists? I know that some novelists intentionally put non-Indonesian words & sentences in their novels. Some are truly understandable, like in your first novel since, well… the story doesn’t even take place in Indonesia. But I’d also consider it fair if a novelist get so frustrated trying to write something in Indonesian, that she (preassumption, eh? It seems that most novelists are female) decides to write the whole goddamn idea in English. Sometimes, it just wastes too much time & effort to try to write that perfect Indonesian sentence, that you’d be better off writing English (or some other language that’s far more expressive that you’re familiar with) in the first place. After that you’ll get frustrated again because you’re afraid your readers won’t understand even the slightest tiny bit about what you’re talking about. But at that point you’d think to yourself “Ah, nowadays Indonesian readers are smart… There can’t be possibly even 1 in a zillion chance that they don’t understand this simple English sentence…” And you continue to finish the novel written entirely in English. (=”Dan kamu meneruskan menyelesaikan novel tersebut ditulis seluruhnya dalam bahasa Inggris”?)

Come on, if Microsoft with their Windows XP Indonesian Language Pack and Google can’t write decent Indonesian sentences, it just means that you have truly extraordinary talent if you actually can create attractive, immersive novels using _only_ Indonesian. You should probably work for Google or Microsoft, for they’d most probably pay you much more in a day than you can afford to earn here for an entire month. (=”karena mereka mungkin akan membayar kamu lebih banyak dalam sehari daripada yang bisa kamu dapatkan di sini selama sebulan penuh”?)

So much for complaining… 😉 (=”Banyak sekali hanya untuk protes?”)

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