Translating Pronouns and Proper Names: Indonesian versus English
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article presents the differences in the pronominal
systems of the Indonesian and English languages, the
secondary senses of certain pronouns in their use,
and the ambiguities caused by culture-based given
names. Detailed discussion of each is provided with
some examples that commonly occur in written texts.
Some ways on how to deal with these problems are also
recommended in each topic discussed.
pronouns and proper names from Bahasa Indonesia (hereinafter
referred to as 'Indonesian') into English and vice
versa requires a translator to have an adequate understanding
and command of both linguistic and non-linguistic
aspects of both the source language and the target
language. Most words, including pronouns, have more
than one meaning. These meanings are often
called secondary meanings. The secondary meaning
of a pronoun is determined on the basis of its use
in the target language and not on the basis of its
form in the source language. It is dependent on the
communication situation or on the context in which
a pronoun is used. Culture-based
proper names in both Indonesian and English introduce
ambiguities when translated. Indonesia is a multi-ethnic
country having a variety of culture-based given names
which must be carefully studied by the translator
to ensure that he uses accurate third-person pronoun
substitutes when translating into English. Animal
names, particularly, pet names using human names,
require an extra effort from the translator to ensure
that the names in the translation are indeed pet names. Pronouns Indonesian
has a pronominal system that is different from English.
Such differences must be taken into account by the
translator because they present a real challenge.
The following table shows the differences between
the two systems.English
Table 1 Indonesian
saya / aku
kamu / anda
Ia / dia
that Indonesian distinguishes between inclusive
and exclusive. English has simply one subject
pronoun for FIRST PERSON PLURAL, we. We
may at times be talking only about the speaker
and someone else other than the hearer, and at
other times about the speaker and the hearer.
In Indonesian, there are two first-person plural pronouns.
Kita means we and you; that is,
it is inclusive of the hearer.
Kami means we, but not you; that
is, the HEARER is not included and this form is, therefore,
called exclusive. Inclusive means that the
hearer is included in the FIRST PERSON PLURAL
form and exclusive means that the hearer
is not included. Thus, before an English sentence
like 'We believe we can do this'
is translated into Indonesian, a translator has to
find out if we means kita
(inclusive: both writer/speaker and reader/hearer)
or it means kami (exclusive: only writer/speaker).
In order to discover the correct meaning the translator
must study the paragraph or the whole text and the
communication situation in which this sentence exists.
By so doing he can come up with only one of the following
contrast, translating Indonesian pronouns kita
or kami in a particular context
into English the translator simply uses we.
The meaning component of either inclusive or
exclusive would be lost when translating from
Indonesian into EnglishThe
secondary sense of kita in Indonesian
dialects of Engrekang (South Celebes/Sulawesi) and
of Minahasa (North Celebes/Sulawesi) violates the
Indonesian Usage Standard. For Engrekang, kita
means 'you' SECOND PERSON SINGULAR and/or SECOND
PERSON PLURAL whereas kita in Minahasa
means 'I' FIRST PERSON SINGULAR. Thus, when
translating an Indonesian sentence like 'Kita
harus menelepon isteri kita', a
translator should first ensure the meaning of kita
is we, you or I. If the source text
is from Engrekang the accurate translation would be
You must call your wife and if
it is from Minahasa it would be I must call
my wife. This is also important for an
interpreter that when interpreting an oral speech
he must find out whether the speaker is from Engrekang
or from Minahasa. Also, kami in the first clause of a sentence
in an Indonesian formal letter such as Bersama
ini kami memberitahukan bahwa......(Literally:
Herewith we advise you that .........)
is accurately translated as Herewith I advise
you that....when the writer is not representing
a group of people. In this case FIRST PERSON SINGULAR,
I should be used because kami
(we: exclusive the reader) is always used
in each Indonesian formal letter as a formal and polite
way of a writer expressing himself. In contrast, an
English text like I am very pleased to advise
you that.... should be translated as kami
dengan senang hati memberitahukan bahwa...
Thus, if the translator discovers that kami
is used to represent a group of people in
a formal letter it should be translated as we,
whereas I is always translated
as kami in every formal letter. Larson (Larson, 1984 : 126) mentions that,
in English, it is not uncommon to hear a speaker begin
a talk by saying "Today we are
going to talk about such and such." The speaker
then begins to do all of the talking. This form is
called editoral "we" in English.
The editoral "we" is a secondary
sense of the pronoun we in which the
plural form is being used with a singular meaning.
English also uses the pronoun we when
the object being referred to is really you:
that is, SECOND PERSON. Notice the following examples
(data from Eunice Pike):
yakin kami bisa melakukan ini.
yakin kita bisa melakukan ini.
yakin kita bisa melakukan ini.
yakin kami bisa melakukan ini.
we had been used in its primary sense,
then the nurse would be taking the medicine, the mother
would be quiet, the teacher would not shout, and the
person who found the child would be frightened. We
know that this is not the case. In each of these examples,
we is being used in a secondary or extended
usage. The component of SYMPHATHY is being added by
using the FIRST-PERSON pronoun rather than the SECOND
PERSON. Larson further indicates that an American
politician will often use I , FIRST
PERSON SINGULAR, when addressing an audience even
though you, SECOND PERSON, would seem
more correct. For example, he might say : "If I don't pay my taxes....." It takes
the audience out of focus and is a way of being stern
without being too direct. "If you
don't pay your taxes," would be too direct
you into Indonesian from a formal letter,
an announcement, a formal speech script and some other
written messages needs to be carefully studied. An
English clause like Herewith I advise you
........ may be translated into Indonesian in
It's time for us to take our
Shall we take our bath
Let's be quiet, shall we?
We' re not going to shout, we'll
walk quitely to our places.
a child is lost, the one who finds him will say
to his mother: We couldn't find mother.
We couldn't find Daddy and we were so frightened."
If the addressee is either an adult male or an adult
female with a higher social status you
is translated using the second person familiar
form bapak or ibu (see
Table 2) the primary meanings of which are father
and mother, respectively, while saudara
means either brother or sister in its
primary sense and is used if the addressee has a similar
social status with the writer and/or if the writer
is in a higher status. Although kamu (anda)
is a formal form of the second-person pronoun
in the Indonesian pronominal system, it is considered
impolite to use these pronouns to address adult readers
except younger ones. So, bapak, ibu, saudara
in a second person familiar form are preferably
used to replace kamu (anda) to show
politeness in addressing adults. In English there
is no component of meaning which distinguishes familiar
from formal in the second person. So, if
one is to translate into Indonesian every time the
English pronoun you occurs, the translator
has to decide which Indonesian form he should use,
bapak, ibu, saudara or kamu in
singular or bapak-bapak, ibu-ibu, saudara-saudara
in plural . He will have to
make this decision on the basis of the use in Indonesian
(as the target language) and not on the basis of the
form in English (as the source language). In contrast, when a translator translates
an Indonesian sentence like 'Kami mengundang Bapak/Ibu/Saudara
untuk menghadiri pernikahan anak kami' into English
an inaccurate and unnatural translation will result
if the translator does not know the use of bapak,
ibu, and saudara in this context. He will
then produce a translation like this 'We invite
Father / Mother / Brother / Sister to attend our son's
wedding' The accurate, clear and natural translation
should be We invite you to attend our son's
- Bersama ini kami memberitahukan kamu (anda)
- Bersama ini kami memberitahukan bapak...
- Bersama ini kami memberitahukan ibu
- Bersama ini kami memberitahukan saudara
Third-Person Pronoun In translating a third-person pronoun from Indonesian
into English a translator faces the problem of whether
ia (dia) (-nya) is translated
as he (him) or as she
(her) because Indonesian only has ia
(dia) without distinguishing gender. For example
in the sentences like:
These sentences can be translated into English as
- Saya mengundangnya.
the two Indonesian sentences are standing alone without
context, any of the above translations is acceptable.
However, if they are parts of a paragraph in a discourse,
a translator must discover which version is the accurate
and natural one. On
the contrary, when translating a third-person pronoun
from English into Indonesian, the component of meaning, masculine or feminine, would be lost
when using Indonesian pronoun ia (dia).
In English it is clear that he ( him)
refers to a male person and she
( her) refers to a female person but
this is not the case for Indonesian.
paid his debt (Sentence #
paid her debt (Sentence #
paid her debt (Sentence #
paid his debt (Sentence #
invited her (Sentence # 2)
invited him (Sentence # 2)
Proper Names In
two Indonesian sentences like (1) 'Mananir
merayakan hari ulang tahunnya and (2) 'Amazane
lupa undangan yang diberikan kepadanya' it is difficult to tell whether Mananir
or Amazane refers to a male
or a female name and -nya as a possesive
or object. Possible translations for Sentence 1 are:
(a) 'Mananir celebrated his
birthday party'; (b) 'Mananir celebrated
her birthday party' whereas Sentence
2 are: (a) 'Amazane forgot about the
invitation given to him'; (b) 'Amazane
forgot about the invitation given to her'.
If the above Indonesian sentences are parts of a text
like: Mananir merayakan hari ulang tahunnya. Isterinya
menghadiahkan sebuah dasi untuknya. Amazane
lupa undangan yang diberikan kepadanya sehingga
ia dan suaminya tidak hadir (Mananir
celebrated his birthday party. His wife
gave him a tie as a present. Amazane
forgot about the invitation given to her
so she and her husband did not show
the translator can easily and accurately identify
Mananir as a male name or a husband
because the supporting phrase isterinya (his
wife) provides him a clue to do the translation as
in Sentence 1a. Also, Sentence 2b is the right one
because of the phrase suaminya (her
husband). A given name to a person in some particular
places in Indonesia is usually a local, culture-based
name. Such a name always forces the translator to
decide whether it is a male name or a female name. However,
this is not a problem for translating all substitute
words that refer to the proper names from English
into Indonesian because Indonesian has only one word -nya as object or posessive and ia (dia)
as a subject in a clause or a sentence. In
addition, names of domesticated animals cause ambiguities
in translation work. Notice the following sentences:
The names of Bruno, Jakob, Manis are
referring to the pet names. These are only three out
of hundreds of names found in different parts of Indonesia.
In English there are also pet names which are similar
to human names. If a translator does a literal translation
or word-by-word translation without reading a text
thoroughly he can translate ia in Sentence
1 as he or she, -nya
in Sentences 2 as him or her,
and -nya in Sentence 3 as his
or her. Basically, Bruno
is a dog's name, Jakob is a
bird's name, and Manis is a cat's name.
These pet names are commonly found in Indonesia (Papua
Province) and they are used to name either male or
female pets. Bruno and Jakob are
basically male human names and Manis commonly
refers to a female human, but, these names are always
used to name pets without distinguishing gender. Thus,
the translation for each of the sentences above should
menghabiskan makanan di atas meja karena ia
menjatuhkan pisang yang diberikan kepadanya
tidak mau makan di piringnya
However, if the pets are personified by a writer
in a paticular text, the use of he, she,him,
her or his is acceptable in
the translation. If this is the case, the translator
should be very careful to study a text in order to
avoid ambiguities in using proper names for the pets
in Indonesian texts. Accordingly, it is important that a translator be
aware of the use of a proper name and its cohesive
devices or substitute words in a particular communication
situation or cultural context. He will then look for
the appropriate devices of English for use in the
translation. A careless literal translation from Indonesian
into English will almost certainly destort the meaning
intended by the original author. Conclusion Indonesian and English have the following differences
which affect translation.
ate up the food on the table because it
dropped the banana given to it.
did not want to eat on its plate
Indonesian first-person plural pronoun distinguishes
between kita (inclusive) and kami (exclusive), but English has simply one word, we.
From their usage kita and kami are
not merely referring to we but kita may
also refer to either I or you (both
singular & plural) and kami may refer
to I when they are used in different communication
situations. Similarly, in English the first-person
pronoun we may have the meaning of I and
you in some contexts.
Indonesian second-person pronoun has two forms,
familiar (bapak, ibu, saudara) and
formal (kamu) when translating the
English pronoun you into Indonesian. In English
there is no distinction between the familiar
and formal forms of the pronoun.
- The Indonesian third-person pronoun
has two exchangeable words with the same meaning
ia/dia without distinguishing between masculine
and feminine, whereas English has
two words he and she which distinguish
- A name given to either a person
or a pet is mostly a local, culture-based name in
Indonesian. English also has different way of naming
a person or a pet. Such an unfamiliar proper name
brings ambiguity for the translator to decide if
a particular proper name is for a male person or
a female person and/or a pet, particularly, when
translating Indonesian substitute words ia/dia,
-nya into English. But, this is not the case
for translating either pronominal or pet substitute
words from English into Indonesian.
a translator should compare carefully differences
in the pronominal systems, discover the secondary
senses of pronouns in their use, and identify the
proper names of both the source and the target languages
in order to provide an accurate, clear, and natural
translation. Bibliography Barnwell,
Katharine. 1975. Bible Translation. Jos, Nigeria:
Nigeria Bible Translation Trust.________________.
1980. Introduction to Semantics and Translation. Horseleys Green, England: Summer Institute of Linguistics.Catford,
J.C. 1965. A Linguistic Theory of Translation. London
: Oxford University Press.Djajanegara,
Soenarjati. 1982. On Some Difficulties in Translating
from English into Bahasa Indonesia. In Ross, 81-89.Frantz,
Donald G. 1970. Translation and Underlying Structure
II: Pronominalization and Reference. Notes on Translation
Del.H.1968. The Ethnography of Speaking. Readings
on the Sociology of Language. E. By Joshua A.
Fishman. The Hague: Mouton.Larson,
Mildred L. 1984. Meaning-Based Translation.
A Guide to Cross-Language Equivalent. Boston: University
Press of America, Inc.
This article was originally published at Translation Journal (http://accurapid.com/journal).
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