Style and Intersubjectivity in Youth Interaction, by Dwi Noverini Djenar, Michael C. Ewing, and Howard Manns

In: Bijdragen tot de taal-, land- en volkenkunde / Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia
Nurenzia Yannuar Universitas Negeri Malang Indonesia Malang

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Dwi Noverini Djenar, Michael C. Ewing, and Howard Manns, Style and Intersubjectivity in Youth Interaction. Boston / Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2018, xvii + 255 pp. ISBN: 9781614517559, price: EUR 99,99 (hardcover).

This book focuses on the way young people speak and interact in Indonesia. Using both spoken and written data that are authentic and fresh, the book combines several approaches such as interactional linguistics, stylistics, and conversation analysis. This is invigorating to the field of youth language studies and adds to the increasing number of studies on youth language in Southeast Asia. The youth languages of this region have not been described as extensively as those of Africa and Europe.

Potential readers might be intrigued by the technical terms mentioned in the book’s title: intersubjectivity, style, and youth interaction. Their connected definitions are described in the beginning of Chapter 1. According to the authors, intersubjectivity is a state of being aware of oneself and others at once, which can be achieved by shared communicative practices. These practices, comprising linguistic and semiotic practices, result in conventional signs. Comprehension of such practices creates common ground, described as the entirety of joint knowledge among speakers. The authors underline that “while common ground provides a basis for interaction, it also through interaction that common ground can be negotiated and expanded” (p. 3).

In section 1.3, the authors provide a straightforward definition of style, that is “a socially meaningful way of doing things” (p. 5). Style is an act of distinctiveness, and since it depends on shared semiotic resources and is rooted in common practices and experiences, it does not occur in isolation. Style is constructed intersubjectively, as it is a form of dialogic process involving subjects and ideological resources. Drawing from Jaffe (2009), Du Bois (2007), and Eckert (2012), the authors link style to stance, that is the simultaneous evaluation of objects, positions, subjects (self and others), and sociocultural dimensions. By repeating stances, stabilized repertoires linked to situations and social identities can be created from styles. In fact, each chapter of the book is dedicated to explore how styles and stances can contribute to youth and sociability.

The authors open the discussion in section 1.4 by mentioning how language and other semiotic resources are used by the youth to form friendships, contest authority, and define their participation in social life. Quoting Rampton (2011), “intense sociability” becomes the main dimension of interaction among young people. This book focuses on the youth interaction in Indonesia because sociability—or being gaul—is a self-conscious goal for many young Indonesians. The popular Indonesian youth language since the 1990s, bahasa gaul (‘language of sociability’), has been misunderstood as a single language variety that falls into a bounded category, according to the authors. The word gaul is more useful in understanding the characteristics of Indonesian youth languages in general if viewed from the perspective of youth sociability.

Moving on from theoretical discussions, section 1.5 explores different language resources accessible to multilingual young Indonesians. Aside from speaking regional languages, which are often viewed as ethno-local identity markers, they also speak Indonesian as a national language. While Standard Indonesian is closely associated with development, education, and authority, its regionally defined colloquial varieties are quite common. Speakers move fluidly between registers; accordingly, standard Indonesian features often appear in daily conversations, and the other way around. Both of them are regarded as one language of different registers, and the label ‘Indonesian’ is used in the book to refer to both. Speaking regional languages are sometimes seen as kampungan (‘rustic’ or ‘hickish’), but it also indexes intimacy and local identity. Foreign languages have positive nuance—for example, English represents coolness and modernity, while Arabic helps project religious identity and an alignment to the international Islamic community. The section effectively addresses the linguistic complexity of Indonesia and successfully contextualizes the book.

In section 1.6, the authors describe the varieties of data used in the book, which include conversation transcriptions, discussion forums on the Internet, and teen fiction, as well as comics. The decision to combine datasets from sources with different natures was made because each data provides unique perspectives to youth styles and generates distinctive youth interaction. This resonates with my own experience. Back in 2019, at the International Conference on Youth Languages in Leiden, a question was asked during a roundtable discussion, inquiring about the most effective method to explore youth languages. The interactional approach employed in this book might be an answer to that question.

Chapter 2 focuses on how young people in Indonesia refer to themselves and others. It discusses how a variety of pronouns, names, titles, and kinship terms are used to index different identities. I was particularly interested in the form agan or gan, clipped from the word juragan ‘merchant, boss’. It is a second person reference that indexes membership in the Kaskus community, an online platform popular in the early 2000s. The pronoun is no longer popular today and was never widely used outside of Kaskus, but it shows that looking at different datasets gives a more complete picture of different styles in youth interaction.

In Chapter 3, discourse markers or interactional particles are described as a means to form a certain relationship between speakers and maintain common ground. Each particle, including kan, sih, deh, dong, has specific meanings based on the conversations’ discourse and interpersonal context. The discussion is valuable to add to the description of Indonesian discourse particles.

Chapter 4 contrasts two different grammatical styles: allusive or implicit structures, and expository style. Numerous dialogues are discussed to illustrate that the omission of elements does not hinder communication when it is based on intersubjective common ground. Expository style, with its elaborated structures, complements allusive structures by establishing authority and social distance, and is employed in long or monologic narrative.

In Chapter 5, ‘voice presentation’ is used instead of ‘reported speech’ to refer to the utilization of other people’s words in order to achieve interactional goals. Voice presentation, which can be either framed or frameless, is an important strategy for speakers to place themselves. When using framed voice presentation, speakers identify the voice of other people by linguistic resources mainly to create common ground. Frameless voice presentations, on the other hand, “are used to index positioning and epistemic claims” (p. 191).

Chapter 6 emphasizes the importance of playful interaction to form youthful sociability. Several examples of language play are discussed to show how young Indonesians take pleasure in using language in creative intersubjective alignment. Both verbal and non-verbal resources can produce humor, which can build a sense of camaraderie and further lead to ‘intense sociability’, an important element in youth interaction.

The final chapter is Chapter 7, labeled ‘Concluding remarks’. Here the authors restate their findings that there are heterogeneous styles used by young Indonesians, ranging from colloquial Indonesian, standard Indonesian, local or regional languages, and foreign languages. In terms of regional languages, I was happy to see the inclusion of youth practices in Bandung (featuring Sundanese) and Malang (featuring Javanese) in the book, while regretting that the book did not look at youth languages in the eastern part of Indonesia.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in Indonesian studies, or (youth) languages in general. Theories on intersubjectivity, style, and interaction are clearly described, and the interactional methods as well as the wide-ranging data can be applied to research on youth languages elsewhere.


  • Du Bois, J.W. (2007). The stance triangle. In R. Englebretson (Ed.), Stancetaking in discourse: Subjectivity, evaluation, interaction (pp. 139–182). John Benjamins Publishing Company.

  • Eckert, P. (2012). Three waves of variation study: The emergence of meaning in the study of sociolinguistic variation. Annual Review of Anthropology, 41(1), 87–100.

  • Jaffe, A. (2009). Introduction: The sociolinguistics of stance. In A. Jaffe (Ed.), Stance: Sociolinguistic perspectives (pp. 3–28). Oxford University Press.

  • Rampton, B. (2011). From ‘Multi-ethnic adolescent heteroglossia’ to ‘Contemporary urban vernaculars.’ Language & Communication, 31(4), 276–294.

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