Local Pragmatic Norms in Students’ English: Extent to Which It is Possible


(Fragment of a presentation paper; by one NEB)

Adopting Aziz’ (2001) areas in which signs of Indonesian English may be traced, we can easily say that students’ presentate, I am agree, I have to take my mother to the hospital, and I am flu are examples of mistake in grammar; students’ I want to go to the bathroom, I want to explain…, are examples of mistake in lexis; and students’ where are you going?, I want to thank God for the opportunity given to me to present this essay…, I am sorry if I made mistakes in my presentation. Mistakes are from me, the truth is from God…are examples of ‘mistake’ in discourse strategies.

The question is: which ones are to be corrected and which are to be understood as pragmatically typical of Indonesian and therefore to be tolerated? I would argue that mistakes in grammar and lexis must be corrected no matter how easily they persist to occur. Given the above examples, the teacher should explain that the correct forms are present, I agree, I had to take my mother to the hospital (the use of past tense), I am having a flu (the use of have a + illness), and I need to go to the bathroom and I would like to explain…(the use of want vis a vis need and would like).

As for the ‘mistake’ in discourse strategies, depicted in students’ where are you going?, I want to thank God for the opportunity given to me to present this essay…, I am sorry if I made mistakes in my presentation. Mistakes are from me, the truth is from God…, they should be understood as typically pragmatic (that is, of Indonesian—even Asian—norms and values of culture) and therefore tolerated and accepted. But the teacher should explain that it is not commonly spoken by native speakers of English. The teacher should continue explaining that educated native speakers of English will understand it and students should therefore not feel uneasy about it.

Concerning that, Kirkpatrick (2000) asserts that speakers of a new variety of English will want to preserve their identity, and the reflection of their pragmatic and cultural norms in the local variety of English is an important way of doing this. He renders an example of English-translated Minang dialogue, provided by Rusdi Thaib, an ex PhD student at Curtain University, Perth, Australia who is a Minang.

A female (A, aged 40) wants to invite a friend (B, aged 41) to a wedding party. A goes to B’s house.

A: (knocks at the door). Assalamua’alaikum

B: Wa’alaikum salaam. Please come in

A: Are you alone?

B: Yes. I am always alone during the day

A: Where are your children?

B: My son is helping his father in the rice field and my daughter is studying at school

A: What are you growing at the moment?

B: Rice. Earlier we grew chilli. What about your children?

A: Oh, he is still in Jakarta. I haven’t heard from him for months now. But I believe the saying ‘no news is good news’

B: What is he doing in Jakarta?

A: He is a tailor in Tanggerang. He works for his uncle

B: Has he married?

A: Yes. He married a Javanese girl

B: That’s good

A: Oh, what I would like to tell you is this…do you know Hassan’s daughter?

B: I vaguely know her

A: She is going to marry Chairil’s son. The wedding party will be next Friday. We hope

You can come

B: Insyaallah I will come

A: I think I should be off now. Assalamu’alaikum

B: Wa’alaikum salam

Kirkpatrick contends that this kind of dialogue, in which one does not directly get to point of what he or she wants to say, but instead talks about something else before he or she hits the point, might well represent a cultural norm typical of Asian people at large and so should not be considered as peculiar. It should in fact be seen as appropriate given the context of the region.

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