By Fatchul Mu’in


Discussion on interference must be related to the use of two or m ore languages by the same individuals. This is to say that the use of those languages (or the languages are in contact) may result in interference phenomenon. So, bilingualism and bilingual have a close relationship to the language phenomenon.

As stated above, the concept of bilingualism has become broader and broader. It was regarded as the equal mastery of two languages, as explicitly defined by Bloomfield as “the native-like control of two languages”. When a speaker has the mastery of two languages whose bilingualism is in line with the Bloomfield’s concept, it seems that he will not make a linguistic deviation known as interference. Who will make such a deviation?

Bilingualism and Bilingual

According to Weinreich, bilingual is a person who involved in alternately using two languages. In this case, it can be said that before someone can be stated as bilingual, of course, he has to master two languages. Mastering two languages enables him to use two languages alternately. That is to say that in one situation he uses one language, and in the other situation he uses the language. Therefore, he, then, can be stated as a person involved in what is called as bilingualism, the practice of alternately using two languages (Weinreich, 1953: 1).

Haugen does not suggest that a bilingual is involved in the practice of alternately using two languages. The bilingual is necessary to use languages in the alternate way; he just understands one language other than his own language. However, Haugen suggests that the ideal bilingual speaker should understand more than one language and he has ability to internalize the productive language patterns and its lexical elements in two speech communities (Fishman, ed., 1972:20).

A bilingual is said to be a passive one when he has the passive knowledge of the other language. This concept is based on the bilingualism that is defined as “passive-knowledge” of the written language or any “contact with possible models in a second language and the ability to use these in the environment of the native language” (Mackey, in Fishman, ed., 1972: 555).

Bilingualism involves degree. By a degree is meant to differentiate the speaker’s performance in the second language. This degree refers to the language systems such as phonology, grammar, lexicons, semantics, and stylistics, represented in four language skills: listening, reading, speaking, and writing (Fishman, ed., 1972:556-557).


According to William F. Mackey, bilingualism is a relative concept. Being a relative concept, it involves the questions of degree, function, alternation, and inteference.

The question of degree is in line with: ”How well does the individual know the languages he uses? In other words, how bilingual is he?”. The discussion on the question of degree will determine whether he is a compound, coordinate, or subordinate bilingual speaker. This aspect of bilingualism (degree) will determine whether or not inteference phenomenon occurs in the language user.

Originally, the concept of interference referred to the use of formal elements of one of code with the context of another, i.e. any phonological, morphological, lexical or syntactic element in a given language that could be explained by the effect of contact with another language (Troike and Blackwell, 1986).

Mackey defines interference as “the use of features belonging to one language while speaking or writing another”. The description of bilingualism must be distinguished from the analysis of language borrowing (Fishman, ed., 1972:569). The language borrowing will be illustrated under the discussion of integration.

The use of languages in the alternate way may result in linguistic deviations in one language used by a given language user. This deviation is known as interference. In this relation, Weinreich says that the practice of alternately using two languages will be called bilingualism and the persons involved, bilingual. Those instances of deviation from the norms of either language either language that occurs in the speech of bilinguals as a result of their familiarity with more than one language, i.e. as a result of language contact, will be referred to as interference phenomena (1968:1).

In speech, interference is like sand carried by a stream; it occurs anew in the utterances of the bilingual speaker as a result of his personal knowledge of the other tongue (1968:11). The pattern and amount of interference is not the same at all times and under all circumstances. The interference may vary with the medium, the style, the register, and the context which the bilinguals to be using (Mackey, in Fishman, ed., 1972:570)

The description of interference requires three procedures: the discovery of exactly what foreign element is introduced by the speaker into his speech (in short, a source language), the analysis of what he does with it –his substitutions and modifications; and a measurement of the extent to which foreign elements replace native elements (Mackey, in Fishman, ed., 1972: 573).

The levels of interference may be cultural, semantic, lexical, grammatical, and phonological.

1. In cultural level, cases of interference may be found in the speech of the bilingual; their causes may be found, not in his other language, but in the culture that it reflects. The foreign element may be result of an effort to express new phenomena or new experience in a language that does not account for them. For instance, an Indonesian speaking English is ‘forced’ to use such words as sampan, kelotok, and ketinting because of no equivalent words in English language. The foreign element may result of the introduction of the custom of greeting and thanking in his own language. For instance, he may say ‘Good night’ instead of ‘Good evening’; or he may say ‘Thanks’ instead of ‘No thanks’.

2. In semantic level, interference occurs when a speaker introduces new semantic structures. Even though the semantic units may be the same in both languages, a foreign way of combining them may introduced as a new semantic structure. Both Indonesian and English, for instance, have comparable units for mengandungconsist of; but when an Indonesian language speaker uses a sentence Paragraf itu mengandung beberapa kalimat he introduces into his speech a foreign semantic structure based on the English model The paragraph is pregnant of several sentences instead of The paragraph consists of several sentences.

3. In lexical level, interference may involve the introduction of morphemes of language A into B. For instance, an Indonesian commentator using the words such as hand ball, kick off, off side, goal, keeper, etc in an Indonesian-language foot ball broadcast; the other speaker may say Banyak handicap dalam perjuangan ini or Dalam pembuktian kita perlu melakukan cross check, etc.

4. In grammatical level, interference may involve the use of grammatical patterns of one language in another. The grammatical patterns or categories may be morphological or syntactical. The possible examples are: (a) An English speaking Indonesian language does not know its word-formation (using the affixes me-kan) may say Dia meninggal tempat ini satu jam yang lalu” instead of Dia meninggalkan tempat satu jam yang lalu. In the other side, in making a plural noun, Indonesian language shows a different way from that of English language, (b) A student learning English may meet difficulties (and the same time, makes interference) when he wants to say many book instead of many books. This can be explained that he is influenced by the Indonesian language word-order banyak buku. Although, a word banyak is a marker of plurality, it is not followed by a plural noun buku-buku; (c) A student learning English may use say He go to school everyday instead of He goes to school everyday. This interference occurs as a result of no system of agreement or concord between noun and verb (subject and predicate) in Indonesian language; all the subjects are followed by the same predicate (verb) such as Saya pergi; Dia pergi, Mereka pergi, etc.

5. In phonological level, the problem of interference concerns the manner in which a speaker perceives and reproduces the sounds of one language in terms of another. This interference occurs in the speech of bilingual as a result of the fact that there are different elements in sound system between one language and another, or between native and foreign language. In some cases, the native and foreign languages have the similarity in sound system and in grammatical system. However, in most cases, both languages have different either in sound system or in grammatical system. Different elements in sound system between both languages may be of several kinds.

First, it is the existence of a given sound in the latter, which is not found in the former. Second, both languages have the same phonetic features but they are different in their distribution, namely: when and where they may occur in an utterance. Third, both have similar sounds that have different variants or allophones. Interference arises when a bilingual speaker identifies a phoneme of one language with that in another. For instance, an Indonesian speaking English may pronounce bag as [bæk] instead of [bæg]. This interference occurs because of the fact that /g/ never arises in the final position of Indonesian language words; so, /g/ is identified as /k/ in that position. In addition, he may replace /v/ with /p/, /f/ with /p/; he may not use a /p/ with aspiration.


According to Mackey, interference is “the use of features belonging to one language while speaking or writing another”. while integration is “the use of features of one language as if they were part of the other(Fishman, ed., 1972:555).

If interference occurs in the speech of bilingual, language borrowing (often related to integration) does not only occur in the speech of bilingual, but also in that of monolingual. In integration phenomenon, the elements of one language are used as if those are part of the other. In this relation, those elements are used by monolingual speakers who may not have knowledge about the source language or used by bilingual speakers who regard those elements as part of their habits (Fishman, ed., 1972:569 and Weinreich, 1968:11).

In this relation, Weinreich says: “we find interference phenomena which, having frequently occurred in the speech of bilinguals, have become habitualized and established. Their use is no longer dependent on bilingualism. When a speaker of language X uses a form of foreign origin not as an on the-spot borrowing from the language Y, but because he has heard it used by others in X-utterances, this borrowing element can be considered, from the descriptive viewpoint, to have a part of language X (1968:11).

Both interference and integration can occur in all of the language sub-systems: phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and stylistics.


A bilingual speaker may have the equal mastery of two languages. He may have the unequal mastery of two languages. He may make some deviations in using one language he is using for communication if he is not able to separate the systems existing in one language from the other. For example, when he speaks or writes in English language, in one case, he uses Indonesian language phonology, or morphology, or syntax, or the other language system. This is to say that his speech in English is interfered by the Indonesian language system. Thus, interference of Indonesian language system occurs in the speaker’s speech or writing.

A monolingual speaker may use some borrowing words; but he does not realize that those words are borrowed from the other languages. This condition results in integration. For instance, an Indonesian language speaker regard the words such as hamil, informasi, sepur are part of Indonesian language without knowing that those are the borrowing words.


A bilingual speaker may make some linguistic deviations of language patterns when using one of the languages. These deviations are referred to as interference. The interference occurs in the speech of the bilingual because of the unequal linguistic competence of one language to another, so, he may use one language with the other language system.


  1. How do you regard code switching, interference and integration phenomena? Can they call as deviations of using a language? Elaborate your answers!
  2. Observe the use of languages in your environment. Find out all of the types of interference the users make. Make a report based your observation!

1 Comment


    saya mau baca bahasa indonesia

    Baca saja buku Pak Nababan, pengantar sosiolinguistik. buku itu ditulis dalam bahasa indonesia. tak salah bila juga baca sumber yang berbahasa Inggris.

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