Brave new wordsby Bruce Gale Senior Writer Ngapain? (What's up?) Well, not much actually, especially if you happen to be a foreigner trying to learn the Indonesian language. Ngapain isn't listed in any of the standard dictionaries. The reason? It is slang, and such non-standard forms are officially frowned upon. They are certainly not taught to foreigners. As a result, it is possible to become sufficiently fluent in the language to carry on a conversation with educated Indonesians in a formal setting, but find street language almost impossible to understand. Learning Indonesian ought to be easy. After all, unlike European languages such as English or French, there are no difficult verb conjugations or tenses to memorise. And unlike Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese, there are no tones. Also, the system of affixation used to create nouns, verbs and adjectives in Indonesian is remarkably consistent. But don't let this apparent simplicity fool you. When it comes to language, the inventiveness of the Indonesian people knows no bounds. Even in standard Indonesian, words are abbreviated or forced together to form new ones in ways that leave the Singaporean love for acronyms (MOE, AYE, COE, etc) way behind. Polisi Republik Indonesia (Indonesian Police) becomes Polri, Badan Perencanaan dan Pembangunan Nasional (Indonesian National Development Agency) becomes Bappenas, Menteri Luar Negeri (Minister of Foreign Affairs) becomes Menlu, and so on. Indonesian slang takes this a step further. Ngapain is derived from mengapa-apakan. Other contractions include gitu for begitu (like that, such), nelpon for menelepon (to telephone), and mikirin for memikirkan (to think). Then there are the mysterious transformations involving the merger of two or more words. Often this involves a combination of English and Indonesian. For example, jaga image (to safeguard one's social standing) becomes jaim. My personal favourite is ilfil. This strange expression is a combination of hilang (lost) and the English word "feeling". It means "no mood". Such expressions are ubiquitous among local teenagers. The term bahasa gaul (slang) was first coined by local actress Debby Sahertian in 1999 when she published her dictionary on the subject. Before this, most observers tended to use the term bahasa prokem, which derived from preman (hooligan or thug) in recognition of the fact that many of the slang words started out as the secret language of street kids and local gangsters. Ms Sahertian said that she collected many of the words for her dictionary from the local transsexual community, with whom she spent a lot of time. She also made the point that many communities in the country had developed their own distinctive slang in an attempt to ensure that others could not understand their conversation. Bahasa gaul varies considerably, according to region. In Bandung, local slang is influenced by Sudanese, while in Jakarta, it is heavily influenced by Betawi and English. English derivatives likely to be heard in the streets of Jakarta include pren (friend), sori (sorry) and suer (swear). Most of the slang in Medan, on the other hand, is influenced by Hokkien and the Batak languages -- for example, amang for father and inang for mother. The equivalents in Jakarta are bokap and nyokap. Indonesian slang is evolving so quickly that it is difficult for adults to keep up. Indeed, the popularity of bahasa gaul among the young and trendy makes such rapid change almost mandatory. Most visitors to Jakarta soon learn, for example, that local residents regularly use the non-standard words gua (I, me) and lu (you). In many teenage oriented publications, however, gua has now become gw. Slang is widely used on billboards and in radio and television advertisements throughout the country in an attempt to make them sound lively and keren (cool). This is particularly so in the case of advertisements aimed at the nation's youth. Serious newspapers such as Kompas avoid using slang in their news reports. But slang can be found in youth-oriented magazines such as Majalah Hai and Majalah Kawanku, as well as in some of the nations's more sensationalist dailies. Indonesians of all ages delight in making up new words. In the recent gubernatorial elections in East Java, for example, the Indonesian language press regularly referred to the Soekarwo-Saifullah candidate team as Karsa, while the opposing Khofifah-Mudijono pair was known as Kaji. Foreigners can also join in the fun. On a recent visit to Medan, for example, my hosts and I entertained ourselves each morning by avoiding the standard selamat pagi (good morning) in favour of "good pagi". Later I realised that I could make a further contribution to the development of Indonesian slang by merging the two words to create a new expression: goopag. The word hasn't caught on yet, but I'm working on it. Bicara Bahasa Indonesia yang baik dan benar (speak correct Indonesian) admonishes a standard textbook on the language. But why would anyone want to do that?