The M-D Law and The D-M Law Between English and Indonesian

There is always a stage of “PDKT” (pendekatan—approach) in every couple’s journey. There is always a stage of studying hard all night before the national exam at school. The similar phenomenon can also be found in the translation process: There is always a stage of understanding the system of the source language and the target language. In fact, in the translation process between English and Indonesian, the translators must understand the M-D law in English—or in Indonesian it is referred to as “Menerangkan-Diterangkan”—and the D-M law (“Diterangkan-Menerangkan”) in Indonesian language itself.

“I believe the correct term is “sosial media”, not “media sosial” in Indonesian,” said a friend one day. We were having a long discussion when it came to translating a script. This friend of mine believed that the term “sosial media” was the correct translation in Indonesian of ‘social media’ in English, instead of “media sosial”.

My offer of translation into the form of “media sosial” was flatly rejected. In fact, in the book of Tatabahasa Baru Bahasa Indonesia, Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana has noted the existence of the D-M law. The principle of this law is that in compound words or sentences, everything that explains is always behind what is explained. This rule applies in Indonesian, but not in English which uses the opposite law, namely the M-D law.

D-M law distinguishes Indonesian from English or other languages ​​of the same family, such as Dutch. In a translation process from English to Indonesian, we are expected to be able to obediently change the use of the M-D law into the D-M law.

An example of changing the use of the M-D law to the D-M law is the moment when Soekarno, for the first time, in the 1960s, decided to change the name of the police special forces. The initial name of the troops was Mobile Brigade (Mobrig), before it changed to Brigade Mobil (Brimob). Some other examples are: “new book” becomes “buku baru”, not “baru buku” and “black hair” becomes “rambut hitam”, not “hitam rambut”.

Even so, we need to remember that there is one characteristic of languages: “A language can be consistent with its inconsistencies.” This is also unavoidable in Indonesian. Although Alisjahbana has explained about the D-M law since 1949, there are still some conditions in which the Indonesian language puts words that explains (Menerangkan) in front of the words that are explained (Diterangkan). However, this rule only applies to:

  1. Numerals: one, every, all, etc.
  2. Prepositions: in, from, to, etc.
  3. Adverbs: already, have, will, actually, actually, etc.
  4. Compound words that are absorbed from foreign languages, such as prime minister, microbiology, etc.

In the end, my friend and I were finally able to resolve the debate that I mentioned above by understanding more about the M-D law and the D-M law. The process was certainly not as fast as you read this article. So, I hope you can keep this information, remember it well, and learn more about it even after you have read all the writings on this page!

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