What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)
Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the secret of style.
Mathew Arnold (1822 – 1888) said Shakespeare got it wrong.
A spade is never so merely a spade as the word spade would imply.
Christopher Fry (1907 – ) said he got it right.
Jakartass (1946 – ) thinks he got it half wrong. Or is that half right?
The joy of living languages such as English or bahasa Indonesia is that they are ever-expanding and mutating. It is possible to be precise or poetic; problems arise, however, when language is used to obscure or confuse.
My concern is that language is used to hide true meanings. Consider the term ‘human resources’. Presumably everybody knows that humans are people, so let us define ‘resources’. My Webster’s dictionary defines them as “something that a country, state, etc. has and can use to its advantage“. This is a similar definition to ‘tool’ or ‘implement’, which are “devices to be used in a given capacity.” It follows, therefore, that ‘human resources’ are to be used as tools to the advantage of countries, states etc.
Webster’s defines a ‘citizen’ as “a member of a state or nation, esp. one with a republican government, who owes it allegiance and is entitled to full civil rights either by birth or naturalization.” This, by implication, is a reference to people. Other creatures are entitled to animal rights.
The use of the word ‘human’ is obviously at odds with ‘resources’. Being taken advantage of does not accord with civil rights. The right to be useful does not equate with the ‘right’ to be used. It seems that within the bureaucracies of government and the corporate world, people, by whom I mean employees and workers with specific job titles, are being dehumanized through the use of incorrect language.
Bank Universal used to have a Human Capital section within its HRD. Perhaps its successor, Permata Bank, has Human Revenue and Human Assets sections as well. The notion that people can be traded or spent is surely abhorrent. Shouldn’t people be saved?
So, is a human resources department a personnel department in disguise? ‘Personnel’ sounds right; it is such a personal word. It is appropriate, so why has it been changed?
Could it have been a self-defence mechanism? “I don’t actually know what I’m doing but if I blind you with jargon, neither will you. And if you don’t like it, I am a staff.”
In all my dictionaries, a staff is defined as a long stick used either as a weapon or as a symbol of authority. Staff, meaning a group of workers in a company, is an uncountable noun. A member of the staff in a company is an individual worker. So here we have another problem, that of mistranslation or misuse of a language.
The English travel writer Norman Lewis, who died on 22 July 2003 aged 95, described his travels in Indonesia some ten years before in An Empire of The East (Jonathon Cape 1993). In it he wrote about bahasa Indonesia thus: “Indonesian is the supreme example of a language proving that on the whole grammar is unimportant, and that human communication can be maintained without conjugation of verbs, past or future tenses, case endings, genders, definite and indefinite articles, and the rest. … All the foreigner has to do, is to pick up as many words as possible, string them together, and bring the meaning into clearer focus, when required, by adjustment of the context.”
Well, this certainly describes my proficiency in bahasa, but I occasionally wonder why it is necessary to add group words. For example, a direct translation of Buku ini berwarna merah would be This book is (a) red colour. Surely red is red is red.
If there is a linguistic need to be both specific and to reflect accepted usage, then I urge the City Government to redefine the Indonesian translations of sidewalk. Trotoar, jalan pinggir and kaki lima are plainly inadequate, especially the last one which refers to the legal right of way for pedestrians, a width of five feet, at the side of a road, and also a ‘meals-on-wheels’ vendor.
Here are some Jakartass suggestions:
1. jalan (road)
2. toko (shop)
3. bengkel (workshop)
4. tempat parkir (car park)
5. rumah makan (restaurant)
6. kebun bibit (plant nursery)
This is the second draft of an article and photo essay to be published in PRObiz, a new monthly business magazine published by KADIN – Jakarta, the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce – Jakarta branch.