Crimson Publishers Publish With Us Reprints e-Books Video articles

Full Text

Novel Research in Sciences

Local Language and Cultural Conflict in Flores Island Society A Critical Linguistics Study on Cross Cultural Communication in the Middle of Cultural Conflict in Flores Island Society

Dori Gobang JKG1*, Edmondus Iswenyo Noang2 and Frans Salesman3

1,2Lecturer at Communication Science Study Program, Indonesia

3Lecturer at Health Science Study Program, Indonesia

*Corresponding author: Dori Gobang JKG, Lecture at Communication Science Study Program, Indonesia

Submission: June 22, 2021;Published: July 01, 2021

DOI: 10.31031/NRS.2021.08.000686

Volume8 Issue3
July, 2021


Flores Island is one of the diverse places despite its small size as the part of Indonesian East Archipelago and Lesser Sunda Island. We all know that regional language or local language is an intellectual and cultural property. Local language lives and develops in an area or community. There are many regional languages accustomed to be used as a means of communication. The use of local language with its different meanings in a region or community that is no longer homogeneous can be a trigger to cultural conflict. The causes of conflict among residents or cultural believers are assimilation and mixing of heterogeneous local language-speaking communities. This study aims at revealing the existence of cultural conflicts as a result of the meaning differences of local languages used by the people on Flores Island. This study uses a critical linguistics approach with a cross-cultural communication paradigm.

Keywords:Local language; Cultural conflict; Critical linguistics


Nusa Tenggara Timur recently being one of the prominent travelling destination in the world, especially Flores and Komodo Island. The Province of archipelago with 566 islands located in Lesser Sunda Islands with Bali and NTB, with an area of about 14,300km2. Flores as the most heterogeneous island in the Province have some regional or local languages which are different from one regency to another even. However, inside the beautiful and the diversity, their local languages in the practice of heterogeneous social life would possibly turn into the cultural conflicts. The reality that cultural conflict triggered by the different sense or meaning of a statement in local language practices becomes the research objective with cross-cultural communication paradigm. Therefore, it is crucial to view the reality of cultural society living on Flores Island.

Flores comes from Portuguese language which means flower. Flores population reached 1.6 million people in 2017. The highest peak is Mount Ranakah (2350m) which is the second highest mountain in East Nusa Tenggara, after Mount Mutis, 2427m in West Timor. Flores, with Timor Island, Sumba Island and Alor Island are fourth large islands in the Province which is one of the archipelago provinces in Indonesia with 566 islands. Flores, with its sufficient size, population and natural and human resources, is now preparing to become a new province in NTT. Flores is surrounding by the group of little islands and small archipelagos. On the eastern part of Flores, there are respectively Solor Island, Adonara Island, Lembata Islands, and Alor small archipelago. Alor and its small islands around, are the most far east in this Flores archipelago. The border is near the Banda Sea, which part of Mollucas archipelago. The western side are the islands of Komodo and Rinca. To the far west of Flores Island, at the border with Nusa Tenggara Barat, there are Sumbawa Island which famous with the Mount of Tambora. On the southeast side, there are Timor Island that also being the location of Republic Democratic of Timor Leste. Sumba Island located in the southwest, Sawu Sea in the south, and Flores Sea in the north.

Flores, as one of the big four islands of the Province of Nusa Tenggara Timur (with Timor, Sumba, and Alor) divided into eight regencies from west to the east respectively; Manggarai Barat Regency which capital city is Labuan Bajo; Manggarai Regency whose capital city is Ruteng; Manggarai Timur which capital city is Borong. Based on Peta Bahasa Kemendikbud released by the Ministry of Cultural and Education, all three Manggarai regencies are mostly dominated by language of Manggarai, with the majority on Manggarai Regency. The distribution of local language (Manggarai) then followed by Komodo and Rongga, respectively. Ngada with the capital city in Bajawa, dominated by language of Ngada, Soa, Riung and lesser Namut. Nagekeo with the capital city in Mbay, then part of Ngada Regency, mostly dominated by language of Nage, followed by Ndora and Soa. Ende which capital city is Ende is mostly dominated by language of Lio. Sikka which it’s the capital city is Maumere, also dominated by language of Sikka. Flores Timur which it’s capital city is Larantuka, dominated by language of Lamaholot. Based on the geography condition, diversity of ethnic groups, languages, religions and histories, the cultural conflicts may be occurred among the community whose have different of cultural believers living in the island, which previously known as Dragon or Nusa Nipa.

Theoretical Framework

In the field of Intercultural Communication Studies, there have been a number of challenges made to the major approach adopted in the foundation of the discipline which tended to equate ‘culture’ with nation, geographical region or ethnic group in a static manner. According to Fowler, Hodge, Kress & Trew (1979), the world view comes to language users from their relation to society and the institutions that it is made up of. This world view is underpinned and strengthened by a language use which is affected by the ideology of society. Consequently, the ideology in discourse is something natural to an ordinary uncritical reader who has already been socialized into his/her society’s mode of thinking. There is no discourse which does not embody the world view of the society in which it is written. The appropriateness of forms of language is established by societal factors outside the control of the language users, and the process of choosing an appropriate form of language is governed by socialization. In other words, sociolinguistic competence is something that has been imposed on language users by society. Whenever they exercise their sociolinguistic competence, their linguistic performance is under the control of social norms [1].

In the second area of focus of research on language conflict, the attention shifts from a focus on conflict at the intra-linguistic level to the study of conflicts related to language use in interaction. At the centre of attention here is language conflict both in situations of interpersonal language contact in which persons use different languages belonging to different diasystems as well as in situations of interpersonal language contact in which persons use varieties belonging to the same diasystem [2].

Language conflict at the level of society is without any doubt the area of focus research on language conflict is mostly associated with. Case studies that come to mind are the French-English language conflict in Québec (Larrivée 2003), the Basque-Spanish language conflict in the Basque Autonomous Community (Urla 2003), the Irish-English conflict in Northern Ireland (Muller 2010) and the French-Corsican language conflict (Fabellini 2010). These (and other) conflicts have received quite some attention in literature exploring the links between language, nationalism and ethnic identity. By contrast, macro-level research on language conflict in societal settings where historically grown ethno linguistic tensions played little or no role did not really gain momentum [2].

Literature on societal language conflict emphasizes that language conflict at the societal level comes about in situations of societal language contact (Haugen, 1980). These situations are characterized by asymmetrical rather than symmetrical multilingualism. This means that the differences in prestige, status, power, social organization, values and beliefs as they exist between a speech community A and a speech community B are reflected in the prestige, status, legitimization and institutionalization of language [2].

Cross-cultural aspects of interaction and language (communicative) personality are the subject of current research in sociolinguistics, pedagogy, sociology, culture sciences etc. Our work is based on the studies by Verhoeven and Vermeer (2002) of the communicative competence; on Boccio and Beaver (2016) idea about the association between multilingualism and psychopathic personality traits; on Dewale and Stavans (2014) research reflecting the peculiarities of Israeli multilinguals; by Chang, Kyungil & Chung (2007) research on the relations between personality and language use; by Piatkowska (2012) ideas on the relationship of personality types and foreign language learners’ perceptions of other cultures. As the core idea of the behavior, we used Habermas (2000) approach to the explanation of human action and the origin of communicative action. Cross-cultural communication deals with a particular type of person - language personality. Language personality is a nationally specific communicant type that has a culturally caused worldview and value system and is capable of cross-cultural transformation [3].

Gudykunst [4] proposed some approaches to positing culture in the communication theories. There are at least five approaches stated by the two authors in their work. First, culture can be a point of view of communication process in some theories. Gudykunst and Lee cited some examples to explain the first approach, namely: the cultural approach to constructivist theory proposed by Applegate and Syper in 1983 and 1988. In addition, another example is the cultural approach to coordinated management of meaning theory as reviewed by Cronen, Chen, and Pearce in 1988. Second, communication can be an approach to cultural creation or invention. This was further explained clearly in chapter 3 of their book, particularly in the discussion of cultural communication written by Philipsen. Third, theories are designed in one culture and can be generalized to other cultures, or culture can be applied as a condition of boundary of the propositions constructed by theories. Fourth, theories can be used to explain communication among people from different cultures. Fifth, Gudykunst and Lee explained that theories can be designed to explain how communication changes the tracer of cultures. Gudykunst and Lee started the explanation by presenting the extent of which culture can be used theoretically to construct theories of communication. Thus, it can be said that culture gives the contribution to the effort of finding the communication theory on the one hand. On the other hand, the existed theories of communication may provide perspectives in intercultural relation or dialogue by which the authors called it as a “dialogue of life”.


Ferguson (1962) promoted the idea that studies based on a profile of the broad social environment in which a language is used allow for a better judgment of the changes in the status and function of that language. Haugen soon picks up this idea and pleads for a multidimensional and interdisciplinary approach to the interplay between language and its environment. He labels this approach “the ecology of language” (Haugen 1972). In his writings, he emphasizes that the ecology of language wants to cover “abroad range of interests within which linguists can cooperate significantly with all kinds of social scientists towards an understanding of the interaction of languages and their users” (Haugen 1972: 328-329) [2].

The attention that qualitative research devotes to context reminds us that human experience takes place in very clearly delineated social spaces, in such a way that events and phenomena cannot be adequately understood if they are separated from those spaces. This is why the qualitative researcher focuses his or her attention on natural contexts, trying to remain as faithful as possible to those contexts. The “contexts” in which qualitative research develops should not be considered, however, as “a cultural” space. Culture explicitly or implicitly impregnates the events, experiences, and attitudes that form the object of the research [5]. The method of this research is qualitative, with the data collection is from literature studies and our experiences in the field. The result of research is presented in descriptive way and the tables.


Flores has a population of nearly two million as of the 2010 Indonesian census, and these people all speak Austronesian languages of the Central Malayo-Polynesian (CMP) group. Linguistically, Flores can be divided into three approximately equal sections: West, East and Central Flores. West Flores is dominated by Manggarai (with a few poorly known languages similar to Manggarai spoken on the peripheries) while East Flores is populated by speakers of Sikka and Lamaholot. Across Central Flores stretches the Central Flores Linkage: Lio, Ende, Nage, Keo, Ngadha and Rongga. Blust (2008) finds some evidence the languages of Central Flores subgroup with West Flores (Manggarai) and the languages of nearby Sumba and Hawu, in a primary branch of CMP dubbed ‘Flores-Sumba-Hawu’, while East Flores (Sikka, Lamaholot on East Flores plus Kedang, Alorese on neighbouring islands) belongs to a separate branch of CMP dubbed ‘Flores-Lembata’. Fricke (2019) presents evidence that Flores-Sumba-Hawu and Flores-Lembata form a higher-order subgroup along with Bima, a group called ‘Bima Lembata’ [6]. Generally found in all languages, Sex Differentiable Terms (SDT) are words, functioning as nouns or adjectives and often as both, that distinguish humans and nonhuman animals according to sex or gender. For animals, obvious English examples include ‘bull’ and ‘cow’, ‘stallion’ and ‘mare’, and ‘cock’ and ‘hen’. Whereas English SDTs are numerous and display a marked particularizing tendency, however, Malayo-Polynesian languages employ relatively few, and these are accordingly applied to large numbers of quite diverse creatures. One example is Malay (also Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malaysia), where jantan and betina distinguish sex among animals of various kinds and, contextually in some dialects, male and female humans as well [7].

The word of SDT also found in Flores languages with the difference function. For the example word meo (cat) is an honourable name in Nagekeo and Ngada, but it’s forbidden to use the word in Sikka to named someone. Word nono also an honourable name in Ngada but it means rude for everyone in Sikka due to the rude meaning intimacy which tends to animal sexual activity. The dominant concept found in the Flores culture is collectivism concept. This is triggered by natural factors, which are geographically hilly with savannah areas that are not large enough for traditional livestock businesses except for agriculture livelihoods with a shifting cultivation system. The collectivism pattern is strongly felt in Flores culture as its capability to unite the people that they (the members of a certain sub-culture) are able to survive. In addition, it is also able to overcome challenges, threats and disturbances, predominantly those come from nature.

There are various local languages spoken by people in Flores, even though the distance is close. In a sub-district area, there are different languages spoken by its society. This can lead to conflict among cultures because the same word may have completely different meanings. Intercultural conflict can be triggered by the mistaken interpretation of meaning of the word being uttered. Therefore, speaking Bahasa Indonesia is imperative in almost all areas in Flores. Even in the most remote areas, people try to learn Bahasa Indonesia (people often associated Bahasa Indonesia with “Bahasa Melayu”). The schools developed by the Church mission are very helpful in promoting the use of Bahasa Indonesia. Language is a reflection of culture. The greater the cultural differences, the greater differences in communication both in verbal speech and nonverbal cues. The greater the difference between cultures (and, therefore, the greater the difference in communication), the harder communication can be made. These difficulties may lead to, for example, more communication errors, more sentence errors, more misunderstandings, more misperceptions, and more trespasses (bypassing) (Tubbs and Moss, 1996: 236-238).

An example of a “word” which has the same in pronunciation (verbal) and literacy (written) but having an extremely different meaning is the word: mena. Mena, for the people in Nagekeo means “over there” but for the people in Lamaholot, it heard as an insulting word for women. It is dreadful as for the people of Lamaholot, if women are “insulted”, it may be a trigger for war. A cultural custom to legitimize the power is through such rite made by the ethnic group winning over another in the perang tanding war to seize particular land or territory. The conception of perang tanding war has shifted from power legitimacy to a more tribal sentiment or conflict among the members of tribes living in certain areas. They are typically neighbouring tribes whose territories are separated by rivers or mountains, rocks or certain large trees. In this way, natural factor also plays its role in the inter-ethnic communication system of Floresnese culture. In this modern age, perang tanding rarely found for the sake of language conflict (Table 1).

Table 1:Conflict of language in flores by regency.

There is also a symbol used by the people on Flores Island revealing that they are a certain ethnic group or clan which lead to cultural conflict. In the west part of Floresnese community, a wooden symbol that unites the so-called peo (Nagekeo) and ngadu (Ngada which is an altar of offerings for traditional ceremonies). People from these two tribes give names to their descendants after the names of plants or animals which are believed to be the “incarnations” of their ancestors. In this manner, names like: meo (cat), lako (dog), kaju (wood), watu (stone) becomes their honourable names. Conversely, in their neighbouring areas, such as Ende and Sikka, these names may not be pronounced to or named after a human as it is considered as Pamali (forbidden). Each tribe on Flores Island has such honourable family name for the ethnic group, Table 2 based on their beliefs, tradition, and social status.

Table 2:Conflict of cultural symbols.


The language conflict literature dealt with in this contribution is mainly rooted in traditional macro-sociolinguistics and the sociology of language which tend to focus on language problems in pre-defined social groups (for example “speech communities”; “majorities”; indigenous, immigrant, affluent or other “minorities”, etc.). These language problems concern the corpus, the status, the acquisition and/or the prestige of a “named language” used by the pre-defined social group(s) in a supranational, a national, regional and/or a local setting (Truchot 2008; Darquennes 2010; Plasseraud 2012). This approach contrasts with the approach that marks research that is rooted in the ethnography of speaking. That kind of research takes a view on language as being dynamic, personal, free, creative, open, and constantly evolving as a starting point (Shohamy 2006) and focuses on the intricate interplay of different “repertoires”, “styles” and “registers” that color much of everyday interpersonal communication in the “transnational” and “hyperdiverse” urban “communities of practice” or “networks” as they emerge in contemporary society (Keim 2006; Blommaert & Rampton 2011) [2].

Kecskes (2014) defines ‘interculturality’ as the development of shared understandings or focus between interlocutors from different cultural backgrounds during an interaction. It is ‘a situationally emergent and co-constructed phenomenon that relies on relatively definable cultural norms and models as well as situationally evolving features’ (Kecskes, 2014, p. 97). Kim (2009, p. 395) also mentions the creative potential of interculturality which involves converting ‘challenges and insights into innovation processes and into new forms of expression [8]. It is both interesting and challenging when an attempt to “read” this Floresnese culture occurs in the vigorous changes of era and civilization. This is interesting since the elements of Floresnese culture are still in existence particularly on the symbols resembling the system of meaning from each region on Flores Island. The challenging part is that these cultural elements of Floresnese are becoming vanished gradually by the vigorous changes of era or civilization in itself.

Marsel Robot noted that people in the western part of Flores, particularly village women, are no longer using traditional buckets made from bamboo known as loran, jenggok, laduk. Some of the houses are put clocks on their walls. It signifies that they have already given value on time, work based on time, decide when to go to and back from their field, and when to feed the livestock. The clock has cut off the shadow of dadap tree living by the house which used to be an aid of telling time to work in the field. It has eliminated the whistling of kaka totok bird (a kind of grassland bird) which has always been a sign of dusk. It has removed the fifth cloud from signaling the farmers should go back as evening comes. As these changes have turned out, the oddness takes its place.

The opportunities can be made to expand such cross-cultural dialogues in Flores island are the Flores cultural value systems referring to the school of thoughts about: social-collective, cosmos-mystic, religion-magic, symbolic, and moral-religious. The school of thought happens to be the strength of unity for regional development (take account of developing NKRI). Some practical values to support the development are the strength of kinship, spirituality, integrity, and hospitality that have already been wellmannered in the social interaction among the people, and they are sustainable up today. Geographically, Flores Island reveals a peculiar color in the lives of its people economically, politically which is very strategic in the eastern part of Indonesia and roles as the gateway to the South Pacific and Australia. This geostrategic condition is supported by the natural resources, for instance mineral and energy resources which have not been well organized, flora and fauna, also various ethnical cultures. These factors are considered as the hidden treasures that take into account as the strength to the growth and development of economical asset for the social life of Flores Island people.

Along with the geographical factor, the results of material and immaterial developments have already broken through the geographical, social, and psychological isolation among ethnics in Flores Island. This proves the success of implementing the concept and cultural values through beneficial dialog (Cross-cultural communication). The positive impact of the urgent cross-cultural dialogue for the Floresnese may stimulate civilization development in every aspect of life for its people. Envisioning that the region with the mountainous topography has no living interaction among ethnics would bring negative consequences such as civil war, high primordialism, disharmony relationship among ethnics, and suspicion may occur among them. Another thing that should be taken into account by people supporting the cultural preservation in Flores Island is open-minded thinking to learn from other ethnics’ achievements, either ethnic in the same Flores Island or those outside of Flores Island. In this way, keeping an open mind is considered a creative and dynamic innovation.


  1. Lemmouh Z (2017) A critical linguistic analysis of the representation of muslims in the new york times. Journal of Language and Communication Studies 40(1): 217-240.
  2. Darquennes J (2015) Language conflict research: A state of the art. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 2015(235): 7-32.
  3. Davidovitch N, Khyzhniak K (2018) Language personality in the conditions of cross-cultural communication: Case-study experience. International Education Studies 11(2): 13-26.
  4. Gudykunst WB, Mody B (2001) Handbook of international and intercultural communication. (2nd edn), Sage Publication, London, UK.
  5. Aneas MA, Sandín MP (2009) Intercultural and cross-cultural communication research: Some reflections about culture and qualitative methods. Forum: Qualitative Social Research 10(1): 1-19.
  6. Elias A (2020) Are the central flores languages really typologically unusual? Academia pp. 1-51.
  7. Forth G (2018) Sex differentiable terms in languages. Oceanic Linguistics 57(1): 101-122.
  8. Brownlie S (2018) Using cultural categories for opposition and brokering in conflict mediation. Language and Intercultural Communication 18(1): 90-106.

© 2021 Dori Gobang JKG. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and build upon your work non-commercially.