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A Principle of Text Coherence in Indonesian Languages

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 March 2011

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The logic of Indonesian subjectless and tenseless expressions appears to have cultural implications, just as the use of tenses in English scientific writing entails much more than grammatical minutiae. A. L. Becker has pointed out that tense in English functions in a “coherence system” that pervades and transcends grammar. A parallel coherence system is suggested for Indonesian, based not on tense but on topic. Paul Ricoeur's distinction between LANGUAGE and DISCOURSE is the basis of the claim that Indonesian sentences cohere on the bond between grammatical subject and discourse topic. Examples are drawn from a number of contexts that call forth passive sentences in Indonesian. The article concludes on another suggestion by Becker. The Indonesian topic may be part of a larger deictic category of person, which may be related in discourse to orientation in space—both physical and social—of participants in the speech event. If this suggestion is correct, then the contrast between English and Indonesian coherence systems may be found in the opposition tense/time vs. person/space.

Copyright © The Association for Asian Studies, Inc. 1985

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