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Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia) 

Selamat datang – Welcome

Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia ‘language of Indonesia’) is a member of the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family. Bahasa Indonesia is a standardized dialect of Malay which had been used as a lingua franca in the Indonesian archipelago for centuries, and which achieved the status of an official language with the declaration of independence of Indonesia from the Netherlands in 1945. The two languages are very similar in their sound system, grammar, and vocabulary.


Indonesian is the statutory national language of Indonesia where it is spoken by close to 23 million people. It is a second language for another 140 million people (Ethnologue). Most Indonesians are bilingual, and many are proficient, to varying degrees, in three or four languages. They learn at least one of the country’s many local languages at home, and later learn Indonesian in school. Generally, Indonesian tends to be used in larger urban areas, while local languages are more widely used in small towns and Indonesia maprural areas. Besides Indonesia, the language is also spoken in the Netherlands, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and the U.S. (Ethnologue).

Indonesian is the official language of government administration and serves as the medium of instruction at all levels of education, although English textbooks are used in specialized university courses. It is the dominant language of the country’s mass media. Domestic TV programs are entirely in Indonesian, and almost all foreign programs are subtitled or dubbed into Indonesian. It is also the language of literature and popular culture such as TV melodramas and comedy, pop novels, popular songs, cartoons, and comics.


Indonesian has a number of dialects based on geography and on social status.

Regional variations
These dialects differ  mostly in pronunciation and, to a lesser extent, in vocabulary.


Social registers
Indonesian is characterized by significant differences between formal and informal registers.

  • The formal register is used in public speeches, formal writing, and in educational settings. It is characterized by a large number of borrowings from Sanskrit, Arabic and other foreign languages.
  • The informal register is used in everyday conversations. It is characterized by a significant number of borrowings from local languages.
  • Standard Indonesian is based on the formal variety of the language spoken in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia.



Sound system

The sound system of Indonesian is similar to that of Malay.

Indonesian has six vowel phonemes, i.e., sounds that can make a difference in word meaning.

  • /ə / = a in about.


The consonant system of Indonesian is fairly simple. Syllables in native words do not have consonant clusters and typically consist of an optional Consonant + Vowel or Vowel + Vowel. Loanwords frequently contain consonant clusters, e.g., struktur ‘structure’.

The table below shows the consonant phonemes of Indonesian. Consonants in parentheses occur exclusively in borrowed words.

Stops voiceless
Fricatives voiceless
Affricates voiceless
  • /ʔ/ = sound between vowels in uh-oh
  • /ʃ/ = sh in shop
  • /tʃ/ = ch in chop
  • /dʒ/ = j of job
  • /x/ has no equivalent in English
  • /ɲ/ = first n in canyon
  • /ŋ/ = ng in song


Stress does not distinguish word meaning since it regularly falls on the penultimate (next to the last) syllable in a word.


Indonesian grammar has many features in common with other Malayo-Polynesian languages.


  • Nouns are not marked for number, gender or definiteness. These categories are usually inferred from context, unless there is an important distinction to be made. For instance, plurality can be conveyed by reduplication of a noun, e.g., babi ‘pig’, babi-babi ‘pigs’, orang ‘person’, orang-orang ‘people’.
  • Definiteness can be represented by a demonstrative pronoun , e.g., babi itu ‘the, that, those pigs’. Indefiniteness can be indicated by the numeral satu ‘one’ abbreviated to se-, e.g., sebuah rumah ‘a house’.
  • Words such as ‘male’ or ‘female’ can be used to indicate gender. For example, adik refers to siblings of both sexes. To indicate the male gender, an adjective is used, e.g., adik laki-laki means ‘male sibling’.
  • Quantifiers normally consist of a numeral followed by a classifier. There were dozens of classifiers in Classical Malay, e.g., butir for small round objects, batang for stick-like objects, etc. However, in modern Indonesian, there are only three quantifiers, namely buah ‘fruit’ for inanimate nouns, ékor ‘tail’ for animate non-human nouns, and orang ‘person’ for human nouns.


Indonesian is rich in pronouns.

  • Personal pronouns are marked for person.
  • Most pronouns are marked for familiarity and formality.
  • There is an inclusive 1st person plural pronoun, i.e., one that includes the addressee, and an exclusive 2st person pronoun, i.e., one that excludes the addressee.
  • In all formal situations, personal names, kinship terms, or titles are used in place of 2nd person pronouns.



  • Verbs are not marked for person or tense. These categories are either inferred from context or expressed by adverbs, time words or clauses.
  • There is a three-way aspect distinction between action completed, action begun but not completed, and action not completed. These distinctions are represented by special markers.
  • Voice and transitivity are marked by affixes.
  • Mood is expressed by adverbs or other auxiliary words.


Word order
The neutral word order in Indonesian is Subject-Verb-Object. However, other word orders are possible, depending on emphasis and style. For instance, words constituting the focus of a sentence (part of the sentence that contains the most important, or new information) usually appear in initial position. Modifiers normally follow the noun they modify. Quantifiers usually precede nouns.


The vast majority of Indonesian words are of Austronesian origin. Indonesian shares over 80% of its vocabulary with Standard Malay. Most native Indonesian words consist of two syllables. Words are mostly formed by derivation, drawing on a set of about 25 derivational affixes. Reduplication is also very common, e.g., kuda ‘horse’, kuda-kuda ‘saw horse’. There are numerous borrowings from ArabicSanskritPortugueseDutch, certain Chinese dialects, and more recently from English. Here are some examples:

Indonesian word

Source of borrowing

bendera Portuguese bandera ‘flag’
bihun Hokkien (Minbi-hun ‘rice vermicelli’
dunia Arabic dunya ‘world’
buku English book
guru Sanskrit guru ‘teacher’
kuda Hindi kudh ‘horse’


Below are some basic words and phrases in Indonesian.

Good morning. Selamat pagi.
Good bye Selamat tinggal.
Please. Silakan.
Thank you. Terima kasih.
Excuse me. Maaf.
I am sorry. Maafkan saya.
Yes. Ya.
No. Tidak.
Man Orang
Woman Wanita


Below are the numerals 1-10 in Indonesian.



The earliest known inscriptions in Malay, found on the island of Sumatra, date back to 683 AD. They were written in the Pallava script, a variant of the Brāhmī script of India, and contained accounts of military expeditions and laws. When Islam arrived in southeast Asia during the 14th century, a modified form of the Arabic script known as the Jawi script, was adopted for writing Malay. The script was used until the first quarter of the 20th century in Indonesia, and until the 1950s in Malaysia. Jawi was replaced by the Latin alphabet in the 17th century during Dutch and British colonial rule. The Jawi script is still used today as one of two official scripts in Brunei, as well as in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, particularly in religious contexts.

Indonesian orthography underwent several reforms. The first one was in 1947 at the time of independence. In 1972, a spelling reform eliminated some of the spellings that were based on Dutch. For instance, oe became u (Soeharto became Suharto).

Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Indonesian.

Pasal 1
Semua manusia dilahirkan bebas dan samarata dari segi kemuliaan dan hak-hak. Mereka mempunyai pemikiran dan perasaan hati dan hendaklah bertindak di antara satu sama lain dengan semangat persaudaraan.
Article 1
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Did You Know?

English has borrowed a number of words from Malay (Indonesian).

amok from Malay amuk ‘attacking furiously’
bamboo probably from Malay samambu
batik from Malay mbatik ‘writing, drawing’
gecko from Malay gekoq, possibly imitative of the noise made by the lizard
gingham rendering of a Malay word ginggang ‘striped’
orangutan from Malay orang utan, lit. ‘man of the woods’, from orang ‘man’+ utan, hutan ‘forest, wild’
rattan from Malay rotan
sago from Malay sagu, the name of the palm tree from which it is obtained
sarong from Malay sarung ‘sheath, covering’


Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Indonesia?
Indonesian is more difficult than other Category I languages, requiring 36 weeks of instruction to reach ILR level 3 in speaking.

25 Responses to Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia)

  1. M. Fazle Rabbi

    Did not that amok, bamboo, gecko, gingham, rattan and sago are Malay words. The words ‘amok’ and ‘gingham’ seemed typical Anglo-Saxon to me. My mediocre horizon is a little wider now. Thanks a bunch.

  2. Patria sandy

    Malay is root of bahasa Indonesia

    Bahasa indonesia is the more famous than bahasa malaysia
    I am proud of that as an indonesian

    • Irene Thompson

      What is the basis for your comment?

    • Nevsky

      I’m an Indonesian too but I don’t think we can be proud of our language. Honestly I found that Malaysians speak Malay better than Indonesians speak Indonesian. Our TV and radio programs spread the use of incorrect language in daily basis. Politicians and artists speak Indonesian with wrong pronunciation and grammar. They even mix their language with foreign words especially English nowadays. There are only very few TV channel which use correct standard Indonesian for example DW Indonesian on TVRI. DW is from Germany and they teach us correct Indonesian which is almost uncorrupted. DW uses better Indonesian than other national TV. What a shame on us. Indonesians must see that their language is highly corrupted compared to many highly developed non-English speaking nations.

  3. Bayu Adiansyah

    Bahasa Indonesia is also borrow words from local language, like Javanese, Sundanese, and many other.
    No. Bahasa – Java – English
    1. enteng – enteng – easy/ligthly
    2. ayu – ayu – beautiful
    3. pamer – pamer – show off
    4. waras – waras – healty
    5. lucu – lucu – funny/cute

    Those are the example that I remember when I was a student.
    Bahasa Indonesia is language of unity, thats why it has many borrowed words from local language.
    For your note, my English grade is “C”, so I apology if my comment confuse you.

    By the way, thanks for “Malay words in English” I didn’t know that before..

  4. hidajat

    Is Indonesian an agglutinated language?

    • Irene Thompson

      Indonesian makes extensive use of prefixation, infixation, and suffixation, but the use of several affixes in a row is limited.

      • Danielle

        there are a few very commonly combined affixes – eg mem+per, and the ber- prefix can be added to many affixed words.
        many affixes are used in combination (eg: pe+an, per+an) and there are several circumfixes (eg me-kan, me-i), but infixes are rare (and generally words such as kerja / kinerja gigi/gerigi are taught as separate words rather than infixed words now.
        I’m not a grammar specialist though, so I’m not sure if Indonesian really counts as an agglutinative language.

  5. Grace

    Im not sure if this makes sense…
    can you please correct it for me :))

    Name + birthday
    Hai, nama saya grace tetapi nama penggilan saya graceie. Umur saya empat belas tahun. Hari ulang tahun saya pada tangall oktober dua puluh lima. Saya berasal dari Australia dan saya tingall di kota Sydney. Saya suka warna biru tetapi saya tidak suka warna hitam.

    • Family
    Ada empat orang di keluarga saya dan saya punya satu kakak laki-laki. Dia namanya tom dan tinggi dan bisanya cerewet.

    • Appearance
    Rambut saya lurus dan pirang. Mata saya biru.

    • Pets
    Saya dua anjing namanya sunny dan tyke. Mereka ramah dan pandai. Sunny dan tyke besar dan beratnya lima puluh lima kilogram.

    • My hobbies…
    Saya suka bermain hoki dan menonton film. Saya tidak begitu suka mengerjakan PR, saya lebih suka bermain olahraga. Kegemaran kesayangan saya mendayung. Mendayung saya pagi benar! Pada jam enam setengah??? Mendayung asoi sekali?

    • Food
    kesayangan saya makanan Nasi Goreng dan saya tidak begitu tomat. Saya suka sekali restoran makan malam dengan keluarga saya

    • School subjects.
    Saya duduk kelas sembilan satu. Saya pergi ke XXXX SCHOOL. Saya belajar di sekolah matematika, geografi, sejarah,bahasa inggis dan bahasa Indonesia. Penjas mata pelajaran kesayangan saya kerena ini sekali menyenangkan dan menarik.

    • Irene Thompson

      If you need help with Indonesian, you should find a contact through SEASE.

    • Adriansyah Ranggapasha

      1.Hai, nama saya Grace tetapi panggilan saya Graceie. Umur saya 14 tahun. Hari ulang tahun saya pada tanggal 25 Oktober. Saya berasal dari Australia dan tinggal di kota Sydney. Saya suka warna biru tetapi tidak suka warna hitam.
      2. Ada empat orang di keluarga saya. Saya mempunyai satu kakak laki-laki yang bernama Tom. Dia tinggi dan agak cerewet.
      3. Rambut saya lurus dan pirang. Mata saya biru.
      4. Saya memiliki dua ekor anjing. Namanya Sunny dan Tyke. Anjing saya ramah dan pandai. Sunny dan Tyke besar dan beratnya 55 kilogram.
      5.Saya suka bermain hoki dan menonton film. Saya tidak begitu suka mengerjakan PR. Saya lebih suka bermain olahraga. Kegemaran saya mendayung. Saya mendayung pada pagi buta! Pada jam enam setengah??? Mendayung asoi sekali?
      6. Makanan kesukaan saya adalah nasi goreng tetapi saya tidak menyukai tomat. Saya senang sekali makan malam bersama keluarga saya di restoran.
      7. Saya duduk kelas 9 1. Saya pergi ke XXXX School. Saya belajar matematika, geografi, sejarah, bahasa Inggis, dan bahasa Indonesia. Mata pelajaran kesenangan saya ialah pendidikan jasmani dan kesehatan karena menyenangkan dan menarik sekali.

      • Irene Thompson

        Please post in English, the language of this website. Thank you.

  6. Cecilia

    It seems that the Pronunciation of Indonesian vowels and consonants link is broken.

  7. Adriansyah Ranggapasha

    You said English borrowed from Malay (Indonesian)
    Indonesian had rooted from Malay but in modern era, Indonesian quite different from Malay. Indonesian was influenced not only from foreign languanges but also local languange such as Javanese, Madurese, Minang, Sundanese, Batak.

    1. samambu (Malay) – bambu (Indonesian)
    2. mbatik (Javanese) – batik (Indonesian) –> mbatik is not Malay

    • Irene Thompson

      It is. That is why it is considered to be a different language.

  8. Rof Bahroni

    so Ms. Thompson, do you speak Bahasa ?

  9. Sheema

    Hmm there seems to be some confusion here. Indonesian is actually a modern construct and should be considered a dialect of Malay, not the other way around. Malay is older than Indonesian. Indonesian is not spoken in Singapore, Malay is. The dialect of Malay spoken in Singapore is much closer to the dialect of Malay spoken in Malaysia (pretty much identical) compared to Indonesian.

    • Irene Thompson

      As we state on the Indonesian page Bahasa Indonesia is a standardized dialect of Malay which had been used as a lingua franca in the Indonesian archipelago for centuries, and which achieved the status of an official language with the declaration of independence of Indonesia from the Netherlands in 1945.” Does this conflict with the history of the development of Bahasa Indonesia?

  10. blah

    Your website is too hard to read. Small, thin medium grey text on either a white or light blue-grey background. Major eye-strain!!

    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you for your comment. We will certainly take it under consideration.

  11. Fred Maramis

    Indonesian is linguistically a dialect of Malay, not a distinct language.

    • Irene Thompson

      Linguistically you correct, however, not all decisions about what constitutes a language vs. a dialect are based on linguistic considerations.


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