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The History of Sundanese Language : 8 Things You Should Know

by Yoga Adi

So, after telling you about the restaurants, the Sundanese ones in two different areas, Jakarta and Bali, we want to dig deeper into the culture of Sunda. This time, we’re gonna learn about the language that unites all West Java areas together, the Sundanese language. It’s one of the traditional languages you can find in Indonesia.

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Even though it’s a traditional West Javanese language, but in fact, some people in that province are not talking with it. They, especially the modern people, tend to use the Jakartan language, which is like an informal type of Bahasa. Even though that’s the case, Sundanese language is still an important asset to us. Let us take a closer look at the history of Sundanese language.

Sunda Tribe

In this first section of the history of Sundanese language, we want to introduce you to the tribe of Sunda lands. You may not familiar with the name Sunda. Many people would prefer the more familiar name, Sudan. Even though the name is the difference, the Sundanese people who live in West Java often preferred a Sudan people, who live in a far away country of Africa.

Based on the census held in 1988, the number of Sundanese people reached 33 million. At that time, the Sunda tribe is a whole thing before it’s divided into two main groups, Banten Tribe and Sunda Tribe. 35% of them are included as modern people who are capable of using media.

The Sunda tribe can be said to be the people who also helped Indonesia to reach its independence. It’s proven via the big kingdoms that were existed in the land of West Java such as Tarumanegara, Padjajaran, Sumedang Larang, and also Salakanagara. Some of them are even included as the Oldest Kingdoms on the archipelago.

The name of Sunda is also really meaningful. It’s believed that all people from Sunda tribe carry these unique characteristics that they always mentioned like Bageur, Cageur, Bener, Singer, and Pinter. Those characteristics are the ideal characteristics that all Sunda people should have, even today.

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About Sundanese Language

So let’s talk about the real deal here in the history of Sundanese language, which is the language itself. Like we may know already, the Sundanese language is a mother tongue of all Sunda people. They use it to communicate with others, even today, the people who born and live in West Java will understand this language in and out.

The exact date of when this language was born is still unknown. But, many believed that the language was first spoken in the 14th century. They understood the fact after finding a stone tablet written in the ancient Sundanese language. It’s one of the oldest stone tablets that was found in an area called Kawali in Ciamis, West Java.

From the description of the tablet, you can see some notable Sundanese language that carved on it. The writtings on the tablet will be mentioned in the next section of this article. The point is, the first history of Sundanese language started with this stone tablet. Let’s take a closer look to understand what it actually is.

The Stone Tablet (Prasasti Kawali Ciamis)

As mentioned above, the stone tablet was found in an area named Kawali in Ciamis West Java. The tablet was made from natural stone and carved with the old Sundanese letters. It’s believed that this tablet came from the Era of Prabu Niskala Wastukancana who ruled the land starting from the year of 1397 to 1475.

Even though the tablet is a proof that the Sundanese language existed at that time, but it’s believed later in the study that people who lived in that province already talked by using Sundanese language long before the tablet was even made.

The name of the language is not Sunda at that time. But it was Kw’un Lun language that believed to be used by people before the 10th century to communicate with others. You can also call it as Sunda Kuno or Ancient Sundanese language. A logical proof for this result is the writings that can be found in the old texts.

Sundanese Language That Written on Texts

So, the texts that we’re gonna talking about here are not written on a plain paper, just like we always use today. But then, they wrote the writtings on the leaves, any leaf that can absorb the black tint that was also made by natural ingredients. However, those writings believed to came from the 15th century to 18th century.

Imagine that people were using those materials for almost three hundred years. Because of how easy it was to write on leaves rather than carvings stuff on hard materials like stones, the writings contained on the leaves are said to be way more than the stones. The savings or archive of leave materials also way easier.

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However, one example on the text is a phrase made in the year 1518 with the title “Sanghyang Siksa Kandang Karesian. The phrase is like this, Jaga rang héés tamba tunduh, nginum twak tamba hanaang, nyatu tamba ponyo, ulah urang kajongjonan. Yatnakeun maring ku hanteu. It means “We should sleep when tired, drink alcohol to only get rid of thirst, eat to only get rid of hunger, do it necessarily. Remember the time when you don’t have anything left behind!”.

Influence of The Other Languages

You know, in those texts, the people found that Sundanese language s born also from the influence of the other languages. Not only the Indonesian traditional languages like Javanese, but also from other countries as well. In those writings, there are also some Indian languages and also Sanskrit Phrases which also show their influence.

After the people of Sunda studied about and had the religion of Islam for the first time, they also took some words in from Arabian language. For example, in the text of Sanghyang Siksa Kanda Karesian, there are four different Arabic words like Tinja from Istinja, Niat from Niyat, Selam from Islam, and also Dunia from Duniya.

The other words like Masjid, Shalat, Saum, can also be found within. As mentioned above, aside from Arabic, there’s also an influence from Javanese language. The history about this actually started during the Era of Sundanese Kingdoms where people wrote Javanese letters on the stone tablets during the 11th century.

Andries de Wilde

But there’s also a theory that Sundanese language actually stood on its own, not influenced by either Javanese or Arabian language. Or in fact, not related to any language. This famous theory was brought up by Andries de Wilde, a wealthy coffee business owner that covering area of North Bandung to the point of Manglayang.

He collected a lof of Sundanese phrases, starting from the words related to the business like farming, cultivating, or others, to the words that related to culture and arts. However, he then collected and included all those words into books or dictionaries. In a year or 1841, the first Sundanese dictionary by Andries de Wilde was born.

After having his first dictionary, Andries de Wilde didn’t stop there. He then created the other dictionaries from the year or 1862 to the recent one in 1943. The next dictionary in 1862 is called “A Dictionary of Sunda Language of Java”, a dictionary of Sunda and English. And the last one in 1943 is “Kamoes Soenda-Indonesia”, the first Indo-Sunda dictionary.

The Spreading of Sundanese Language

The Sundanese language was started to spread in the West side of West Java Province. Usually, the area where this language was first used is Tanah Pasundan. However, because of the influence of Galuh Kingdom in the West Side of Central Java province, the Sundanese language also used in some regions like Cilacap and Brebes.

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Also, based on some research, the language also influenced the name of one area in Central Java called Dieng. Dieng is believed to come from one word of Ancient Sundanese language, which is Dihyang. Along with the transmigration, the Sundanese language was spread to all areas in Indonesia like Sulawesi, Sumatra, Kalimantan, and others.

Difference in Sundanese Language

And the last one on the history of Sundanese language is the difference. There’s a difference with the Sundanese language in the area of Banten. They usually communicate with the Banten-type of Sundanese language or known as Bahasa Sunda Banten. Even though the relation between the Ancient Sundanese language with Banten is strong, but in some regions like Pandeglang, they usually use the informal version of Sundanese language.

The Sundanese language usually used in the Southern part of Banten such as Lebak or Pandeglang.

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