In Indonesia, there are approximately 713 regional languages that are valuable assets of the Indonesian nation. The Rejang language is spoken by many communities in the province of Bengkulu, particularly in the districts of Kepahiang, Rejan g Lebong, Lebong, North Bengkulu, and Central Bengkulu.
According to the hypothesis of Mc Ginn, the Rejang language originated from three places: the Austronesian group and the Malay-Polynesian sub-group, descended from the ancient parent language, namely Old Malay-Polynesian. The Rejang dialect is a member of a small subgroup in Sumatra called Old Rejang. The Rejang language (ancient) is a member of the Bidayuh subgroup and descended from the parent language called Old Rejang-Bukar-Sadong-Bidayuh. Meanwhile, the ancestors of the Rejang people are believed to come from North Kalimantan. These hypotheses still require further study, as each assumption or researched fact carries its own strengths.
The Rejang language has its own script compared to other regional languages in Bengkulu or Indonesia. Only a few regional languages in Indonesia have their own language and script. The Rejang script is well-known as Ka Ga Nga. The Ka Ga Nga script resembles the Lampung script from Lampung province and the Batak script from North Sumatra province.
The current population of Rejang language users is estimated to be around 100,000 individuals (Wikipedia, 2009). However, this number may be lower if we consider active users who utilize it in daily interactions, both with their parents and peers.
Many parents have encouraged their children to use Indonesian or Malay in their conversations and communication with their parents (Barbara F. Grimes). This is because they feel insecure and lack confidence when using the local language (Rejang) in everyday conversations with family members or the general public. This situation contributes to the decreasing population of Rejang language users in the future.
Furthermore, environmental factors that do not support the use of the Rejang language, natural disasters, and migration from the region are also causes of the language’s extinction.
The extinction of a regional language greatly depends on the willingness of its speakers. If the speakers continue to desire the language’s existence, its extinction can be hindered. This means that parents and the environment play a significant role in the language’s preservation. Students and young people today tend to use “slang” language rather than their own regional language.
Therefore, the involvement of parents, the local government, and the community is crucial in language preservation. Through collaboration between parents, the government, and the community, the extinction of a language can be minimized.
In the next five years, the Rejang language is still considered safe. However, if we do not address the decline in Rejang language speakers now, it is possible that in 15 or 20 years, it will be difficult to find people who can speak the Rejang language. In other words, the Rejang language is on the brink of extinction.
The author is a teacher at SMKN 1 Rejang Lebong, Province of Bengkulu.