Veeramalla Anjaiah, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Indonesia's potential to become a global language is hampered by diminishing interest abroad and competition from other languages, foreign linguists say.
"During the last few years, the number of students who want to learn Bahasa Indonesia in North America and Australia have declined rapidly," Uri Tadmor, a linguistic expert on the Indonesian language from the U.S., told The Jakarta Post in Jakarta on Friday in connection with Youth Pledge Day, which falls on Oct. 28.
Seventy-nine years ago, Indonesian men and women pledged that there would be "one homeland (Indonesia), one nation and one language (Bahasa Indonesia)."
North America and Australia used to be the biggest centers for learning Indonesian outside Indonesia.
Tadmor said the decline could be related to Indonesia's global stature after the 1997 economic crisis and increasing interest in other Asian languages like Mandarin, Vietnamese and Thai.
He said that Indonesian had the potential to become an international language but this was highly unlikely to happen in the near future.
"Why not? The Indonesian language is spoken by a quarter billion people. It could become an international language or UN language. Indonesia should do something to lift its global stature," Tadmor said.
Interest in learning Bahasa Indonesia has declined in Europe as well, another linguist said.
"We have a similar situation in Europe, with the exception of Italy. The interest in the Indonesian language as well as Indonesian studies is declining among European students. In countries like France, Germany and Britain, the universities are struggling to get students," Antonia Soriente, an Italian who studied at the University of Indonesia and now works as a linguist in Jakarta, said.
Both Tadmor and Antonio, who have devoted their careers to learning about Indonesian languages and Indonesia, are currently working at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology's Linguistic Field Station in Jakarta.
As a consolation, Italian students are increasingly showing a special interest in Indonesia and its language.
"Last year, we had 35 students joining the Indonesian language course at the University of Naples 'L'Orientale'. This was a very big number. Currently, there are 70 students learning Bahasa Indonesia at all levels," said Antonia, who conducted research on the dying Kenyah languages in Kalimantan for her PhD.
But she said Indonesia needed to do more to encourage foreigners to learn the language.
"If you want to make the Indonesian language a global language, you must attract foreign students to study in Indonesia. Before, a large number of Malaysians used to study in Indonesia. Now it is the reverse. More and more Indonesians are going to Malaysia and Singapore to study," Antonia said.
But the Education Ministry says that foreigners are showing more interest in learning Indonesian.
"We have Indonesian language programs at 129 language schools or higher educational incitations throughout the world," Dendy Sugono, head of the language center at the Education Ministry, told the Investor Daily Indonesia on Wednesday.
Dendy said 500 students from 67 countries are currently studying the language in Indonesia.