Everyday Balinese By I Gusti Made Sutjaja

Everyday Balinese is a concise and user-friendly guide to the Balinese language targeted to anyone who wishes to learn colloquial Balinese. There are 23 lessons (not exercises) in this course book, each with a dialog that centers around daily life. These realistic beginner conversations are a great way to learn Balinese as it is really spoken. Though tending to be a bit dry, the dialogs are easy to follow and cover realistic situations.

The dialogs are presented twice in two different speech levels consisting of almost entirely different words. Depending upon whom you are talking to, separate vocabularies are   used in Balinese. The first version, denoted “A,” represents the lumrah or common tongue. The second, denoted “B,” is alus or refined Balinese.

There are actually six different speech levels from the highest alus singgih used to address priests and rajas down to the lowest forms, Bahasa Kasar (common languages), which includes not only lumrah but the andap and wake everyday languages used all over Bali by children, young people and for some reason by the inhabitants of northern Buleleng District. Each lesson on food, greetings, shopping, money, finding your way, etc. contains a list of words in both lumrah and alus forms, followed by their Indonesian and English translations. In these sections, you’re able to compare the different words and expressions of the two speech levels in column format. These vocabulary lists repeat and reinforce the words and expressions used in the dialogs.

The most difficult part of learning Balinese are the different speech levels, even though they follow much the same grammatical rules. The differences lie in word choice. For example, there are three different words for “eat,” depending upon the circumstances and who you are addressing. In the most refined language (alus), it is ngerayun. In the second level (lumrah), it is ngajeng. In the lowest speech level, the word for “eat” is ngamah. Lumrah words are used when participants of equal social status are conversing. It reflects intimacy and informality among its users. Alus words are associated with distance and formality among users. If you talk with a friend or sibling, you use lumrah and when you speak with someone you know but not closely, you also use lumrah. But if you talk to a priest or a high government official, you use alus to show respect. Since Westerners mostly deal with young hotel staff, warung proprietors, transport providers, villagers but not mayors, rajas, judges, etc., they should put the emphasis on mastering lumrah because it’s easier to learn, you can use it everywhere and everyone understands it. A Westerner will even be forgiven for using lumrah when addressing royalty. On the other hand, not every Balinese understands the alus speech level.

The book is not without its inconsistencies that confuse alus, lumrah and other speech levels. In Lesson 4, be is referred to as a common Balinese word meaning meat (be pusih-fish; be celeng-pork; be siap-chicken, etc,). Yet in Lesson 3, the table of animal names indicates that be is a high Balinese word. In one lesson, cicing (dog) is classified as common but in another, it’s considered high Balinese; katak (frog) is listed as both alus and lumrah words but actually the more common lumrah word for frog is dongkang. In Lesson 7, paek sajan is more usual than paek pesan. Sik (one), dua (two), nem (six), pitu (seven) and sia (nine) are more widely used than a number of words for those numbers listed in the Ordinal Numbers section of the Appendices.

Though Balinese is difficult to learn, if you are highly motivated and apply yourself, you are able to master at least a working knowledge of the language. The best and easiest way is to engage in conversation with Balinese with the aid of Everyday Balinese. This holistic approach of actively going into the field and learning with the people is highly effective if it’s done on a daily basis. You need only to commit to learn a minimum number of words each day, always taking note of the way to pronounce each word. For example, the words Dija? (From where?) sounds similar to Kija? (Where are you going?) but their meanings are quite distinct from each other.

Not a dauntingly thick book, the page design is neat with a clean serifed typeface that’s easy to read. There are no pictures or photographs cluttering the pages. The book has a one-page pronunciation guide in the front and a handy 20-page dictionary at the end arranged alphabetically by Balinese, followed by Indonesian and English translations.

For anyone who is going to spend any length of time on Bali or who is keen on really connecting with the people, Everyday Balinese is a worthwhile investment that will pay for itself time and again in the quality of your experiences.

Everyday Balinese: Your Guide to Speaking Balinese Quickly and Effortlessly in a Few Hours by I Gusti Made Sutjaja, Tuttle Publishing 2009, ISBN-978-080-484-0453, 192 pages, dimensions 13.5cm x 20.5cm.


Review by Bill Dalton

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