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Bahasa Indonesia

Bahasa Indonesia (literally, language of Indonesia), also called Indonesian, the official language of Indonesia, is a remarkable language in several ways. To begin with, only a tiny fraction of the inhabitants of Indonesia speak it as a mother tongue; for most people it is a second language. In a certain sense it is very modern: officially it came into being in 1945, and it is a dynamic language that is constantly absorbing new loanwords. Learning Indonesian can be a rewarding experience for a foreigner, as phonology and grammar are relatively simple. The rudiments that are necessary for basic everyday communication can be picked up in a few weeks.

Bahasa Indonesia is based on Malay, 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. It is essentially the same language as Bahasa Malaysia, the official language of Malaysia. It is spoken as a mother tongue only by 7% of the population of Indonesia and 45% of the population of Malaysia, but all together almost 200 million people speak it as a second language 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.

The Dutch colonization left an imprint on the language that can be seen in words such as polisi (police), kualitas (quality), telpon (telephone), bis (bus), kopi (coffee), rokok (smoke) or universitas (university). There are also some words derived from Portuguese (sabun, soap; jendela, window), Chinese (pisau, knife or dagger; loteng, [upper] floor), Hindi (meja, table; kaca, mirror) and from Arabic (khusus, special; maaf, sorry).

Please see also below for an extended list of foreign loanwords in Indonesian.

See also Common phrases in different languages.

Table of contents
1 Phonology
2 Grammar
3 Foreign Loanwords in Indonesian
4 External link


Indonesian is written in Latin script and is phonetic, especially since the spelling reform of 1972, which changed spellings based on the Dutch language, such as tj for the sound ch. Another spelling convention that goes back to the Dutch, the use of oe for the sound u, had already been eliminated in 1947, but still survives in proper names, for example Soeharto.

There are six pure vowel sounds: a (similar to the sound in bus), e (as in get), i (shorter than in eat), o (shorter than in dawn), u (as in put), and a neutral vowel like the second vowel of water which is also spelled e; and three diphthongs (ai, au, oi). The consonantic phonemes are rendered by the letters p, b, t, d, k, g, c (pronounced like the ch in cheese), j, h, ng (which also occurs initially), ny (as in canyon), m, n, s (unvoiced, as in sun or cats), w, l, r (trilled or flapped) and y. There are five more consonants that only appear in loanwords: f, v, sy (pronounced sh), z and kh (as in loch).


Compared with European languages, Indonesian has a strikingly small use of grammatically gendered words; 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) brother or sister; there is no specific word for son or daughter, but only the equivalent of child; no distinction is made between girlfriend and boyfriend. In order to specify gender, an adjective has to be added: adik laki-laki corresponds to brother but really means male sibling. There is no word like the English man that can refer both to a male person and to a human being in general.

Plurals are expressed by means of reduplication, but only when not implied by the context; thus, orang-orang is people, but one thousand people is seribu orang, as the numeral makes it unnecessary to mark the plural form. (Reduplication has many other functions, however).

There are two forms of we, depending on whether you are including the person being talked to.

The basic word order is SVO. Verbs are not inflected for person or number, and there are no tenses; tense is denoted by time adverbs (such as yesterday) or by other tense indicators, such as sudah, meaning already. On the other hand, there is a complex system of verb prefixes to render nuances of meaning.

Foreign Loanwords in Indonesian

Indonesian as a modern dialect of Malay has borrowed heavily from many languages, among others: Sanskrit, Arabic, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese and many other languages, including other Austronesian languages. It is estimated that there are some 750 Sanskrit loanwords in modern Indonesian, 1000 Arabic (Persian and some 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?.

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. Especially many people in Bali and Java are 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 lives. The Sanskrit influence came from contacts with India long ago from the beginning of the Christian Era. 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. Circa 12.600 or almost half of it 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. In addition to that the phonology of Sanskrit doesn?t differ that much from the phonology of Indonesian.

The loanwords from Arabic are mainly concerned with religion, in particular with the Islam as can be expected. Many early bible translators when they came across some unusual Hebrew words or proper names, used the Arabic cognates. But in the newer translations this practice is discontinued. They now turn to Greek names or use the original Hebrew Word. For example Jesus was translated ?Isa. It 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.

The Portuguese loans 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 the cuisine, the trade or often just exclusively things Chinese. There is a considerable Chinese presence in the whole of Southeast Asia. According 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 for debate, many think the number is much higher. But what is sure, in urban centres the number can be as high as between 10-25%.

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

As modern Indonesian draws many of its words from foreign sources, there can be no doubt for the existence of many doublets. For example, Indonesian has three words for ?book?, i.e. pustaka (from Sanskrit), kitab (from Arabic) and buku (from Dutch). These words have, as can be expected, slight 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 word for the Bible is Alkitab, thus directly derived from Arabic. The ?book? containing the penal code is also called the kitab. Buku is the most common word for books.

From Sanskrit
aksara letter
bahasa language
bakti, bhakti homage, devotion, service etc.
berita news
budi reason
bumi earth
cahaya light
cakram, cakra disk, sphere etc.
cakrawala horizon
dana alms
dharma, darma duty, good deeds (i.e. charity), truth etc.
desa village
guna use, purpose
guru teacher, ?guru?
jasa merit, service etc.
karma karma
karya work, oeuvre
kepala head
kerja work (same origin as karya)
mantra mantra
menteri minister (head of a government department)
nama name
negara country
negeri city (lit.)
pahala merit, reward (for moral conduct)
paksa to force
pustaka book
rasa emotion, feeling, taste
sastra literature
utara north
warna colour
warta news (same origin as berita)
warta berita news broadcast

From Arabic
akal reason
akhir end
akhlak moral
badan body
kitab book
kursi chair
ma?af sorry, to apologise
maksud meaning, purpose
masjid mosque
murtad apostate
musim season
pikir to think
waktu time
zakat alms
zaman, jaman era

From Dutch
anggar fencing (from French en Garde!)
arde ground (Dutch. aarde = earth)
ban tyre (Dutch band)
baskom, waskom washbasin (Du waskom)
bengkel workplace (Dutch winkel = store, originally angle)
bioskop cinema
bruder Roman Catholic friar (Dutch broeder = brother)
buku book (Dutch boek)
dak roof
ember bucket (Dutch emmer)
engsel hinges (Ducth hengsel)
handuk towel (Dutch handdoek)
hanger hanger
kabel wire
kamar room (Dutch kamer)
kantor office (Dutch kantoor)
karcis ticket (Dutch kaartjes = plural for diminutive of kaart, card or ticket)
kartu card (Dutch kaart)
kelar ready, finished (Du klaar)
kosen window frame (Du kozijn)
laci deskdrawer (Du laatje, diminutive form of la)
lampu lamp
oom, om uncle
pabrik factory (Du fabriek)
plafon ceiling (Du plafond, from French)
potlot pencil (Du potlood)
sekrup screw (Du schroef)
sepeda bicycle (most probably from French velocipede)
slang waterhose
tante aunt
tegel floor tile
telat (too) late (Du te laat)
wastafel sink
zuster, suster nun, nurse, sister

From Chinese, mostly from Hokkien_(dialect)
amoi Chinese girl
bakmie noodle
bakso meatball
dacin balance scale
hoki luck, lucky
kecap soybean sauce, ketchup
mesiu gunpowder (not clear whether of Chinese descent or not)
singkek Chinese newcomer (derogative), pure blooded Chinese, i.e. not of mixed ancestry
tahu tofu
teh tea
Tionghoa Chinese
Tiongkok China

From Portuguese
belanda Dutch, Holland, any westerner (Port. Holanda)
beranda veranda
biola violin (Port. viola)
gardu to guard, watch post
gereja church (Port. igreja)
gubernur governor
keju cheese (Port. queijo)
kemeja shirt
kereta chariot
lemari case (cognate with English armoury)
meja table
mentega butter (Port. manteiga)
minggu Sunday (Port. Domingo)
sepatu shoe (Port. sapato)
tempo time
terigu flour (Port. trigo)

Recent borrowing from English
gosip gossip
pensil pencil
solusi solution
target target
topik topic

See also: Malayo-Polynesian, Language families and languages, Demographics of Indonesia

External link