Indonesian language

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Languages

Bahasa Indonesia
Spoken in: Indonesia, East Timor 
Region: Indonesia, Malaysia, East Timor
Total speakers: 200 million+ total 
Ranking: 39
Language family: Austronesian
   Nuclear Malayo-Polynesian
       Local Malay
Official status
Official language of: Indonesia
Regulated by: Pusat Bahasa
Language codes
ISO 639-1: id
ISO 639-2: ind
ISO/FDIS 639-3: ind 

Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia) is the official language of Indonesia. Indonesian is a standardized dialect of the Malay language that was officially defined with the declaration of Indonesian independence in 1945, and the two languages remain quite similar.

The language is spoken fluently as a second language by most Indonesians, who generally use a regional language (examples are Minangkabau and Javanese) at home and in their local community. Most formal education, as well as nearly all national media and other communication, are in Indonesian. In East Timor, Indonesian is recognized by the constitution as one of the two working languages (the other is English).

The Indonesian name for the language is Bahasa Indonesia (literally language of Indonesia); this name is sometimes used in English as well. The language is sometimes called "Bahasa" by English-speakers, though this simply means "language" in Indonesian.


Indonesian is a normative form of the Malay language, an Austronesian (or Malayo-Polynesian) language which had been used as a lingua franca in the Indonesian archipelago for centuries, and was elevated to the status of official language with the Indonesian declaration of independence in 1945, drawing inspiration from the Sumpah Pemuda (Youth's Oath) event in 1928. It is very similar to the official Malaysian form of the language. However it does differ from the Malaysian form in some ways, with differences in pronunciation and also in vocabulary, due in large part to the many Dutch and Javanese words in the Indonesian vocabulary.

It is spoken as a mother tongue by only 7% of the population of Indonesia (mainly in the vicinity of Jakarta), but altogether more than 200 million people speak it, with varying degrees of proficiency. It is an essential means of communication in a region with more than 300 native languages, used for business and administrative purposes, at all levels of education and in all mass media.

However, most native Indonesian speakers would admit that the standard correct version of the language is hardly ever used in a normal daily conversation. One can read standard correct Indonesian in books and newspaper, or listen to it when watching the news on television, but few native Indonesian speakers use formally correct language in their daily conversations. While this is a phenomenon common to most languages in the world (for example, spoken English does not always correspond to written standards), the degree of "correctness" of spoken Indonesian (in terms of grammar and vocabulary) by comparison to its written form is noticeably low. This is mostly due to the fact that most Indonesians tend to mix aspects of their own local dialects ( Javanese, Sundanese, Balinese, and even Chinese) with Indonesian when speaking, which results in the creation of various types of accented Indonesian, the very types that a foreigner is most likely to hear upon arriving in any Indonesian city or town. This phenomenon is exacerbated by the use of slang, particularly in the cities. A classic example of a speaker of accented Indonesian is former president Soeharto, whose Javanese dialect came through whenever he delivered a speech.

The Dutch colonization left an imprint on the language that can be seen in words such as polisi (police), kualitas (quality), konfrontasi (confrontation), kopi (coffee), rokok (cigarette), kantor (office), and resleting (zipper). There are also some words derived from Portuguese (sabun, soap; meja, table; jendela, window; and gereja, church), Chinese (pisau (匕首), knife or dagger; loteng, [upper] floor), Hindi (kaca, mirror) and from Arabic (khusus, special; maaf, sorry; selamat ..., a greeting; kursi, chair). There are also words derived from Javanese (aku, I (informal), and its derivative form mengaku, confess).

See also List of borrowed words in Indonesian


Indonesian is part of the Western Malayo-Polynesian subgroup of the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian languages. According to the Ethnologue, Indonesian is modeled after the Riau Malay spoken in northeast Sumatra.

Geographic distribution

Indonesian is spoken throughout Indonesia (and East Timor), although it is used most extensively in urban areas, and less so in the rural parts of Indonesia. It is also spoken by immigrants in countries such as The Netherlands and Australia.

Official status

Indonesian is the official language of Indonesia.



The following are phonemes of modern Indonesian.

Front Central Back
Close-mid e ə o
Open-mid (ɛ) (ɔ)
Open a

Indonesian also has the diphthongs /ai/, /au/, and /oi/.

Labial Apical Postalveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n
ɲ ŋ  
Plosive p b t d     k g ʔ
Affricate     ʧ ʤ      
Fricative (f) s (z) (ʃ)   (x) h
Liquid   l r        
Approximant w     j    

Note: The vowels between parentheses are allophones while the consonants in parentheses are loan phonemes and as such only occur in loanwords.

Learning pronunciation

Here are a few useful tips for the learner:

  • k, p, and t are unaspirated, i.e. they are not followed by a noticeable puff of air as they often are in English words.
  • t and d are dental
  • When k is at the end of a syllable it becomes a glottal stop, which sounds like it is cut off sharply e.g. "baik", "bapak". This is similar to a number of English dialects where the final t is glottalized ("got", "what"). Only a few Indonesian words have this sound in the middle, e.g. "bakso" (meatballs), and it may be represented by an apostrophe in Arabic derived words such as "Al Qur'an".
  • Stress is placed on the penultimate (second-to-last) syllable of each base word. But if this syllable contains a schwa then the accent moves to the last syllable.

For more, and to listen to examples, see SEASite Guide to Pronunciation of Indonesian



Indonesian language uses a lot of affixes (i.e. preffix, infix and suffix). According to the affix being used, a word could have different grammatical meanings (e.g. memakan means to eat something, dimakan means being eaten, termakan means accidentally being eaten). Often two different affixes are used to change the meaning of a word (e.g. duduk means to sit down, mendudukkan means to bring someone to sit down, menduduki means to sit on something, didudukkan means a person is being sat down, diduduki means something being sat down, etc).

Grammatical gender

Indonesian does not make use of grammatical gender, and there are only a few words that use natural gender; the same word is used for he and she or for his and her. Most of the words that refer to people (family terms, professions, etc.) have a form that does not distinguish between the sexes. For example, adik can both refer to a younger sibling of either gender; no distinction is made between "girlfriend" and "boyfriend". In order to specify the natural gender of a noun, an adjective has to be added: adik laki-laki corresponds to "brother" but really means "male younger sibling". There are some words that are gendered, for instance putri means "daughter", and putra means "son"; words like these are usually absorbed from other languages (in these cases, from Sanskrit through the Old Javanese language). In Jakarta and some other areas, abang may be used for "older brother"; kakak, "older sibling", is then used to mean "older sister".


Plurals are expressed by means of reduplication, but only when the plural is not implied in the context. Thus "person" is orang, and "people" is orang-orang, but "one thousand people" is seribu orang, as the numeral makes it unnecessary to mark the plural form. Besides expressing plurals, reduplication can also be used to create new words that differ in meaning before reduplication takes place, for instance hati means "heart" or "liver" (depending on context) whereas hati-hati means "to be careful" and it is often used as a verb. For foreigners who are learning Indonesian, reduplication is not as easy as it seems to be because one can say orang ("person"), orang-orang ("people"), or orang-orangan ("scarecrow").


There are two kinds of negation in the Indonesian language, which are tidak and bukan. Tidak is used for the negation of a verb. For example "saya tidak tahu" means I do not know. Bukan is used for to the negation of a noun. For example "Itu bukan seekor anjing" means that is not a dog. Another kind of negation is jangan, which is only used for the imperatives.


There are two forms of "we", kami or kita, depending on whether you are including the person being talked to. Kami is used when the other person(s) is not included, while kita includes the opposite party. Their usage is increasingly confused in colloquial Indonesian.


Verbs are not inflected for person or number, and they are not marked for tense; tense is instead denoted by time adverbs (such as "yesterday") or by other tense indicators, such as sudah, "already". On the other hand, there is a complex system of verb affixes to render nuances of meaning and denote active-passive voices. Such affixes include prefixes, infixes, suffixes, and their combinations; all of which are often ignored in daily conversations.

Word order

The basic word order is Subject Verb Object. Adjectives, demonstrative pronouns and possessive pronouns follow the noun they describe.


Indonesian as a modern dialect of Malay has borrowed heavily from many languages, including : Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese and many other languages, including other Austronesian languages. It is estimated that there are some 750 Sanskrit loanwords in modern Indonesian, 1,000 Arabic loans, some Persian and Hebrew ones, some 125 Portuguese (also Spanish and Italian) ones and a staggering number of some 10,000 loanwords from Dutch. The latter also comprises many words from other European languages, which came via Dutch, the so-called "International Vocabulary". The vast majority of Indonesian words, however, come from the root lexical stock of its Austronesian heritage.

Although Hinduism and Buddhism are no longer the major religions of Indonesia, Sanskrit which was the language vehicle for these religions, is still held in high esteem and is comparable with the status of Latin in English and other West European languages. Residents of Bali and Java tend to be particularly proud of the Hindu-Buddhist heritage. Sanskrit is also the main source for neologisms. These are usually formed from Sanskrit roots. The loanwords from Sanskrit cover many aspects of religion, art and everyday life. The Sanskrit influence came from contacts with India long ago before the time of Christ. The words are either directly borrowed from India or with the intermediary of the Old Javanese language. In the classical language of Java, Old Javanese, the number of Sanskrit loanwords is far greater. The Old Javanese — English dictionary by prof. P.J. Zoetmulder, S.J. (1982) contains no fewer than 25,500 entries. Almost half are Sanskrit loanwords. Unlike other loanwords, Sanskrit loanwords have entered the basic vocabulary of Indonesian, so by many these aren't felt as foreign anymore.

The loanwords from Arabic are mainly concerned with religion, in particular with Islam, as can be expected. Allah is the word for God even in Christian Bible translations. Many early Bible translators, when they came across some unusual Hebrew words or proper names, used the Arabic cognates. In the newer translations this practice is discontinued. They now turn to Greek names or use the original Hebrew Word. For example, the name Jesus was initially translated as 'Isa, but is now spelt as Yesus. Psalms used to be translated as Zabur, the Arabic name, but now it is called Mazmur which corresponds more with Hebrew.

Loanwords from Portuguese are common words, which were mainly connected with articles the early European traders and explorers brought to Southeast Asia. The Portuguese were among the first westerners who sailed east to the " Spice Islands".

The Chinese loanwords are usually concerned with cuisine, trade or often just exclusively things Chinese. There is a considerable Chinese presence in the whole of Southeast Asia. According to the Indonesian government, the relative number of people of Chinese descent in Indonesia is only 3.5%. Whether this is true or not is still a matter of debate, many think the number is much higher. But what is sure is that in urban centres the number can be as high as between 10–25%.

The former colonial power, the Netherlands, left an impressive vocabulary. These Dutch loanwords, and also from other non Italo-Iberian, European languages loanwords which came via Dutch, cover all aspects of life. Some Dutch loanwords, having clusters of several consonants, pose difficulties to speakers of Indonesian. This problem is usually solved by insertion of the schwa. For example Dutch schroef ['sxruf]=> sekrup [sə'krup].

As modern Indonesian draws many of its words from foreign sources, there are many synonyms. For example, Indonesian has three words for "book", i.e. pustaka (from Sanskrit), kitab (from Arabic) and buku (from Dutch). These words have, unsurprisingly, slightly different meanings. A pustaka is often connected with ancient wisdom or sometimes with esoteric knowledge. A derived form, perpustakaan means a library. A kitab is usually a religious scripture or a book containing moral guidances. The Indonesian words for the Bible are Alkitab and Injil, both directly derived from Arabic. The book containing the penal code is also called the kitab. Buku is the most common word for books.

In addition to those above, there are also direct borrowings from various languages in the world, such as "karaoke" from Japanese, and " modem" from English.

See also List of borrowed words in Indonesian

Spoken and informal Indonesian

In very informal spoken Indonesian, the ai and "au" on the end of base words is typically pronounced as /e/ and /o/. In informal writing (personal communication and "trendy" magazines and newspapers) the spelling of such words is modified to reflect the actual pronunciation. E.g.: capai becomes cape or capek, pakai become pake, kalau becomes kalo.

In verbs, the me- prefixes are often dropped, although the nasalized initial consonant is usually retained. E.g.: "mengangkat" becomes "ngangkat" (the basic word is "angkat"). the "-kan" and "-i" suffixes are often replaced by "-in". E.g.: "mencarikan" becomes "nyariin", "menuruti" becomes "nurutin".

Those behaviours are rarely seen in more formal speech environments.

Writing system

Indonesian is written using the Latin alphabet. It is more phonetically consistent than many languages—the correspondence between sounds and their written forms is generally regular.

Consonants are represented in a way similar to Italian, although <c> is always /ʧ/, <g> is always /g/ and <j> represents /ʤ/ as it does in English. In addition, <ny> represents /ɲ/, <ng> is used for the velar nasal /ŋ/ (which can occur word-initially), <sy> for /ʃ/ and <kh> for /x/. Both /e/ and /ə/ are represented with an <e>.

One common source of confusion for foreign readers, particularly when reading place names, is the spelling changes in the language that have occurred since Indonesian independence. Commonly-used changes include:

oe u
tj c
dj j
j y
nj ny
sj sy
ch kh

The first of these changes (oe to u) occurred around the time of independence in 1947; all of the others were a part of an officially-mandated spelling reform in 1972. Some of the old spellings, which were more closely derived from the Dutch language, do survive in proper names; for example, the name of a former president of the Indonesia is still written Soeharto, and the central Java city of Yogyakarta is sometimes written Jogjakarta.

Usage and Styles



Retrieved from ""