At the end of his abbreviated trip to Indonesia (cut short because of the volcanic eruptions of Mt. Merapi), President Obama gave a half-hour address at the University of Indonesia that finally showed off his skills in the Indonesian language, a subject we've been examining. Granted, it was a prepared speech, but Obama went out of his way to include Indonesian phrases and sentences that would resonate with the crowd (mostly composed of students and staff at UI), and he even worked in at least one ad-lib.
From the official transcript, here are the relevant Indonesian passages from the speech, accompanied by my quick analysis. (Video of the speech is available on C-SPAN here and on the White House site here.)
Terima kasih. Terima kasih, thank you so much, thank you, everybody. Selamat pagi. (Applause.)
Terima kasih is "thank you," which Obama had occasion to say several times on his Indonesian trip. (Thankfully, the transcribers have spelled it correctly this time, unlike yesterday.) Selamat pagi is "good morning."
Assalamualaikum dan salam sejahtera.
Assalamualaikum is the Arabic greeting of "peace be upon you," which, as I mentioned in yesterday's post, is a standard oratorical formula in Indonesia, extending beyond Islamic usage into a secular greeting (though some in Indonesia have questioned how secular it is). He follows this with "…dan salam sejahtera," Indonesian for "…and prosperous greetings." This opening, Reuters reported, "drew whoops of approval from a crowd clearly impressed by his surprisingly good accent and delivery."
Pulang kampung nih.
Roughly: "Hey, I came home!" Here Obama moves beyond standard discursive routines that one would expect from a high government official and surprises the crowd with some colloquial Indonesian. Pulang kampung is an expression referring to going home, specifically to one's old kampung, which can mean either an urban neighborhood or village. It's widely used in Indonesia during Lebaran, the celebration ending the month of Ramadan, when everyone heads home for the holiday. The particle nih at the end is the masterful touch here. As this page explains, Indonesian discourse particles like nih "form a link between the speaker and listener, functioning as intimacy signals or sharing devices, reinforcing the social links between speaker and listener." It worked like a charm for the UI audience. This was as close as Obama got to an Ich bin ein berliner moment.
Let me begin with a simple statement: Indonesia bagian dari diri saya. (Applause.)
This translates as "Indonesia is a part of me (lit. 'my self')." (The official transcript misspells diri "self" as didi. This could have been a mishearing of the trilled /r/ that Obama used for the word.) This statement introduces the section of the speech where Obama offers reminiscences from his childhood in the Jakarta neighborhood of Menteng Dalam, including the sounds of street vendors:
I still remember the call of the vendors. Satay! (Laughter.) I remember that. Baso! (Laughter.)
His imitation of the food-hawkers' cries was another crowd-pleaser. In Jakarta and other major cities, sellers of satay, ba(k)so, and other street food each have distinctive calls. This is as much a part of the urban soundscape in Indonesia now as it was in Obama's childhood. Not included in the official transcript is Obama's aside about the street food: "Enak, ya?" ("It's delicious, isn't it?") That was another very nice touch indicating both his linguistic ease (if not fluency) and his appreciation of the local flavors.
But I believe that the history of both America and Indonesia should give us hope. It is a story written into our national mottos. In the United States, our motto is E pluribus unum — out of many, one. Bhinneka Tunggal Ika — unity in diversity. (Applause.)
The national motto of Indonesia is a Sanskritic expression by way of Old Javanese. Its similarity to e pluribus unum has long been a favored touchstone for diplomats between the U.S. and Indonesia trumpeting the two countries' founding principles of social tolerance.
As a child of a different race who came here from a distant country, I found this spirit in the greeting that I received upon moving here: Selamat Datang.
Selamat datang means "welcome" in Indonesian. Obama finished with a flourish:
Sebagai penutup, saya mengucapkan kepada seluruh rakyat Indonesia: terima kasih atas… Terima kasih. Assalamualaikum. Thank you.
"In closing, I say to all the people of Indonesia: thank you for… Thank you. Peace be upon you." Obama stumbled a bit on this, his longest stretch of Indonesian in the speech. First, he pronounced the "c" in mengucapkan "to say, utter, express" as /k/ instead of the correct /tʃ/. (He had made this same mistake earlier when pronouncing Pancasila, the name for Indonesia's state philosophy.) Some local media reports transcribed the word with the nearly synonymous mengungkapkan, likely on the basis of his mispronunciation. Reading orthographic "c" as /k/ instead of /tʃ/ is a common error among Westerners attempting to read Indonesian, pointing to the limits of Obama's familiarity with the formal, written variety of the language.
He also seemed to have something longer originally written to follow terima kasih atas ("thank you for…") but then self-repaired to a simple terima kasih. (Or perhaps he was trying to go off-script, as he did with his earlier Enak, ya? aside, but decided not to be so ambitious.)
Despite these minor stumbles in pronunciation and delivery, it was a bravura performance that made a big impression on the audience and generated much praise in the local coverage. Though there wasn't a single phrase along the lines of Kennedy's Ich bin ein Berliner that will likely be remembered by posterity, it hit just about all the right notes, including the linguistic ones.
[Update, 11/11/10: Jeff Hadler alerts me to this interview Obama conducted with an Indonesian television news correspondent in Washington last March. He responds briefly in Indonesian (saying he only remembers a little of the language) and also reminisces about the satay and bakso sellers, as he would later do in the UI speech.
And welcome readers of The Atlantic!]
[Update, 11/12/10: I talked about Obama's use of Indonesian on WNYC's "The Brian Lehrer Show."]