Juli 13, 2020

The Development of Sundanese Speech Level and Its Usage in the Sundanese Language Wikimedia Projects

Presentation on Lightning Talks, Wikimania 2019, Stockholm.

The Development of Sundanese Speech Level

The Sundanese language is spoken by more than 30 million people in Indonesia and is concentrated in the western part of Java island. Therefore, Sundanese ranks the second largest spoken language in Indonesia after the Javanese. Written records that use Sundanese can be dated back to around the 14th century, carved on inscriptions in the Kawali area, West Java. That is what scholars refer to them as the old Sundanese language. More traces of Sundanese language are found in old Sundanese manuscripts written from around the 15th to 17th centuries. From the texts obtained in the manuscripts, the structure of ancient Sundanese has many similarities to the modern Sundanese language used today. But, the vocabulary and pragmatic use of the language have more differences.

The speech level in Sundanese began to enter rapidly at around the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century when the rule of the Mataram kingdom (1591-1645) extended to the Sunda region. At that time the Sundanese, especially the aristocracy were increasingly intensely in contact with Javanese culture. From that connection, then the Sundanese nobles imitated the use of a variety of rough (ngoko) and polite (kromo) languages likes Javanese Mataram nobles called the “undak-usuk basa”. Then, the use of speech level became a kind of measure for the social classification of the Sundanese community. If there were people who use abusive or wrong language, they will be labeled as uneducated, unfriendly and uncivilized people.

At the beginning of speech level development, it was known 6 levels of Sundanese language: basa kasar (rough), sedeng (medium), lemes (polite), lemes pisan (very polite), kasar pisan (very rough), and basa panengah (intermediate). But since the 1988 Congress of Sundanese Language in Bogor, the speech level has been narrowed to only two parts: basa hormat (respectful) and basa loma (fair). Besides that, the term was changed to “tatakrama basa” (language manners), although the substance remained the same. The hormat variant is a subtle language to respect, while the loma variant is fair, neutral and familiar use. This variety of loma language is then used as a kind of “standard” variety of written languages in Sundanese society. Sundanese magazines, newspapers, literary books and theses, mostly using the loma variant. This loma variant then also suggested as the common language in Sundanese Wikimedia projects.

Usage in the Sundanese Language Wikimedia Projects

The development of the Sundanese language manners is quite long. Currently, Wikipedia, Wikiquote, and Wiktionary projects are directed to use the loma variant of Sundanese languages. The spelling, writing, and rules for term formation used are based on the Palanggeran Ejahan Basa Sunda book published by the Indonesian Education University in 2008. This book contains Sundanese spelling rules and grammar that is officially used in the Sundanese language education curriculum in West Java until now.

For the contents of the Wikipedia article (su.wikipedia.org), there are still articles that use both variants. This is not an obstacle in article writing and editing, because it is considered as part of the diversity of languages. If such articles are found, it will be directed to one of the dominant languages so as not to confuse the reader. As for the conversation page, the variety of languages used is freer and more relaxed. Some speak in polite language, but not a few also speak in the fair language. The point is the message from the conversation can be understood by every Wikipedian.

The Sundanese Wikiquote (su.wikquote.org) is still in the development stage. The passages contained in it are mostly taken from Sundanese proverbs and idioms where the Sundanese proverbs and idioms have naturally used loma language. Likewise, the explanation of the meaning of proverbs is presented using the loma language. Sundanese Wiktionary (su.wiktionary.org) is also still under development. The word list and its explanation use the loma languages.

The use of loma language variant is expected to make it easier for Sundanese language users to edit Wikimedia projects, without having to consider the difficult choice of polite vocabulary.


This article was part of the Wikimania Conference 2019 in Stockholm. Presented on a Lightning Talks session. Detailed information can be found here.

Ilham Nurwansah

Admin website Kairaga.com. Senang membaca dan mengkaji naskah Sunda kuno. Wikipediawan Sunda, penikmat musik, pemerhati budaya dan sejarah. Beberapa tulisannya dimuat di surat kabar Pikiran Rakyat, majalah Manglé, Pasundan, Cupumanik dll.

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