Be careful on the way

When Javanese people speak English with me, sometimes I get a glimpse inside their own grammar in the way that they translate directly. In some cases, the semantics is the same as the Javanese word, but it doesn’t necessarily work that way in English. In other cases, Javanese use English vocabulary but Javanese syntax. (And I’m doing the opposite….haha!)

For example, one time a girl said to me, “I saw you swimming yesterday.” But I was so confused because I didn’t go swimming one day earlier! Instead, I had gone swimming 3 days before. Another time, my friend told me, “I am going to Yogya tomorrow”, when I knew clearly that her scheduled trip was for the week later. In these cases, I think that the Javanese speakers are using ‘wingi, yesterday’ and ‘seksok, tomorrow’ as a past marker or a future marker respectively, whereas as in English, the meaning of ‘yesterday’ is constrained to only the day before today and cannot refer to further past dates, and the meaning of ‘tomorrow’ is similarly constrained to only the day after today and cannot refer to further future dates.

The use of ‘ever’ is also interesting. I cringe every time someone uses ‘ever’ in a non-downward entailing environment: “I ever went to Yogya” from “aku tau reng Yogya”.  AH! Here, people are using ‘tau’, which in grammar books is translated as ‘ever, once’, but people don’t use ‘once’, they are always saying ‘ever’, and it drives me nuts. It’s okay if it’s in the scope of negation: ‘I didn’t ever go to Yogya’, or in a question: ‘Did you ever go to Yogya?’ but in a sentence like ‘I ever ate omelette before’, I just cannot do.

Then on the syntax side, I’ve noticed some nice examples. I’m teaching English at a high school every Saturday afternoon, and one session we were working on making questions. One question I got was

‘What you like rice?’ from ‘Opo sampeyan doyan sego?’. Here, Javanese speakers are directly translating ‘opo, what’, which also may be used sentence-initially as a question marker in yes-no questions. But then in English, ‘what’ signals that you are asking about the object, but then the object slot is filled (with rice)! It takes me a minute to process those questions, because it really throws you off. A easier one to handle is if the question word is left in-situ, instead of sentence-initially. In English, all wh-question words are sentence-initial, and if they are not, it signals some kind of echo-question, like you didn’t hear before, or you’re surprised: ‘You will go back home when?’ from ‘Sampeyan ape balik kapan?’. That’s easier to handle.

Also, when you answer the question, “How many siblings do you have?’, do you count yourself? I come from a family of 3 children, myself included. So I would say 2 in English. But here, people count themselves as a sibling, and so in Javanese I should say 3.  I don’t know why.

‘Thank you before’ for reading this post. :)

p.s. Many of these phenomena also occur in Indonesian too…


One comment on “Be careful on the way

  1. nina says:

    hallo mbak jozi! :D

    my name is nina, and i am a javanese. im interested in what you have written on javanese modals. i am now using it as one of the references for my paper i am going to present on a seminar next july.

    i wonder if we could have a discussion sometime. to me modality is interesting but it is confusing sometimes.


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