"Mom speaks softly to me."
Translation:Ibu berbicara dengan lembut terhadap saya.
Why are we required to write "si ayah" but forbidden from writing "si ibu"? Is "si" a gendered term?
'si' is not a gendered term.
I've never used 'si ayah' or 'si ibu' to refer to my (or somebody else's) parents.
I think it doesn't show much respect to use it like that.
But let me emphasise that it's just my personal view.
OK, so it would be more usual with an occupation, like "si paneri" in another sentence?
Yes, that's how I use it myself.
In the other sentence it's used to refer a specific dancer, 'si penari'.
You can use it to refer to a person whose name you don't know.
There is also a sentence where it's used to refer to a person you already know, something like this I believe :
'si Tono anak yang baik'. = 'That Tono is a good kid'.
In that sentence it's used as a dimunitive.
It can be used like that when you refer to familiar people/friends.
I also use it to refer to my pet:
'si Happy gembira banget.' = 'Happy is very happy.'
(Happy was the name of my dog).
It can also be used to 'nickname' people.
'si Gendut' = the fat one, fatty
'si Gundul' = the bald one, baldy
'si [whatever]' = the list is endless....
Maybe that's why I never use 'si' to refer to my (or somebody else's) parents ☺
This may be the most specifically Indonesian word we have learned. I think I would have to live in an Indonesian context for quite a while or read a lot of Indonesian literature before I would feel comfortable using it.
It's like you mentioned in the other sentence, familiarity.
It's used to refer to someone familiar.
You may or may not know this person's name, and if you don't know the name, then you refer to this person by his/her job or appearance or whatever characteristic.