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Sugeng rawuh – Welcome

Javanese is a member of the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family. Its closest relatives are MalaySundaMadura, and Bali. It is the second most spoken Austronesian language after Indonesian, and the fourteenth most widely spoken language in the world. Javanese is considered to be one of the world’s classical languages, with a literary tradition that goes back over a thousand years. The oldest inscription in Javanese dates back to 804 AD.


Javanese is the spoken language of over 75 million people in the central and eastern parts of the island of Java, in Indonesia (Ethnologue). It is also spoken in Malaysia, the Netherlands, and in Singapore (Ethnologue). In addition, there are Javanese settlements in PapuaSulawesiMalukuKalimantan, and Sumatra.Indonesia mapJavanese is also spoken in Suriname and New Caledonia. It was originally spoken there by Javanese plantation workers brought from Indonesia by the Dutch. Their descendants still speak a variety of Javanese that differs from the one currently spoken in Java.

Although it not an official language of Indonesia, Javanese is recognized as a regional language in three provinces of Java with the largest concentrations of speakers of Javanese, namely, Central Java, East Java, and Yogyakarta where it is taught in schools, used in religious practice and in electronic and print media. Javanese is also used as a literary language in MaduraBaliLombok, and West Java.  Javanese is used as a spoken and communal language in suburban and rural areas of Java, and in some parts the urban communities. Indonesian is used in media such as TV, newspapers and magazines, while Javanese is used only on certain programs on the radio or television and in certain newspaper columns.


There are three main dialects of Javanese that are more or less mutually intelligible. Each consists of sub-dialects. The principal differences among dialects have to do with pronunciation, and, to a lesser extent, with vocabulary.

  • Western Javanese is spoken along the northern coast of West Java. It is influenced by Sunda.
  • Central Javanese is considered to be the prestige dialect, and serves as a basis for standard Javanese.
  • Eastern Javanese is spoken across the majority of the East Java province. It is influenced by Madura.


heading bg=”#D9D9D9″ color=”#222222″]Sound system[/heading]

A typical syllable in Javanese consists of a nasal consonant (/m/, /n/, /ng/) + an approximant (/y/, /r/, /l/, /w/) + vowel + consonant. Only voiceless stops can occur at the end of syllables in some dialects.

Like Malay and Indonesian, Javanese has 6 vowel phonemes, i.e., sounds that make a difference in word meaning.

  • /ə/ = a in about


An interesting feature of Javanese phonology are retroflex consonants which are articulated with the tip of the tongue curled up and back so the bottom of the tip touches the roof of the mouth. Some scholars believe that these consonants are the result of the influence of Indo-Aryan languages. Consonants in parentheses occur only in loanwords.

Alveolar Postalveolar Retroflex
Stops voiceless
Fricatives voiceless
Affricates voiceless
  • /ʈ, ɖ, ʂ, ɳ/ are retroflex consonants with no equivalents in English.
  • /ʔ/ = sound between the vowels in uh-oh
  • /ʃ/ = sh in shop
  • /tʃ/ = ch in chop
  • /dʒ/ = j in job
  • /ɲ/ = first n in canyon
  • /ŋ/ = ng in song
  • /j/ = y in yet



Javanese is an agglutinative language in which grammatical relations are expressed by prefixationinfixationsuffixationcircumfixationencliticization, and reduplication.


  • 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.
  • Plurality can be conveyed by reduplication of a noun, e.g., rumah ‘house‘ and rumah-rumah ‘houses‘ ; wong ‘person’ and wong-wong ‘people’.
  • Definiteness can be represented by the demonstrative pronouns si and sang. Indefiniteness can be indicated by the numeral sak ‘one’ (abbreviated to se-), e.g., sebuah rumah ‘a house’. Words such as ‘male’ or ‘female’ can be used to indicate gender.
  • Quantifiers normally consist of a numeral followed by a classifier. There are dozens of classifiers, some for small round objects, other for stick-like objects, etc.


Javanese 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 1st 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 inferred from context or expressed by adverbs, time words or clauses. There is only one true tense marker in the language, namely the future marker.
  • Mood (indicative, imperative, subjunctive) and voice (active and passive) are marked by affixes, adverbs or other auxiliary words.


Word order
The typical word order of Javanese 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.

Registers (styles)
Javanese speech registers vary from one social context to another. Different social contexts require different registers, or styles. Each style has its own vocabulary, grammar, and even intonation. This is not unique to Javanese. Other Austronesian languages. as well as East and Southeast Asian languages such as KoreanJapanese, and Thai, also use registers that vary from one social context to another.

There are three registers in Javanese:

  1. Ngoko (informal)
    It is used between friends and close relatives. It is also used by persons of higher status when addressing persons of lower status, such as elders addressing younger people or bosses speaking to subordinates.
  2. Madya (polite informal, neutral)
    This is an intermedial register that is neither informal nor formal. It is used in informal situations such as between strangers on the street.
  3. Krama (polite formal)
    It is used between individuals of equal status in formal situations. It is also used in formal announcements and public speeches.

In addition, Javanese uses humilifics and honorifics to indicate sensitivity to status as defined by age, social position, and other factors. Humilifics are used when one talks about oneself, one has to be humble. Honorifics are used when one speaks about someone of a higher status or one to whom one wants to show respect.

Aku arep mangan.

‘I want to eat. ‘

Kula ajeng nedha.
Krama neutral
Krama humble
Kula badhe nedha.
Dalem badhe nedha.
Honorific question
(speaking to a person of higher status)
Bapak kersa dhahar?
‘Do you want to eat?
Literally, ‘Does father want to eat?’
Reply (1) 
to person of lower status, expressing one’s superiority
Iya, aku kersa dhahar.

‘Yes, I want to eat.’

Reply (2)
to person of lower status, without expressing one’s superiority
Iya, aku arep mangan.
Reply (3)
to person with the same status
Inggih, kula badhe nedha.


The use of these different styles is complicated and requires knowledge of the Javanese culture. Most Javanese do not master all the styles. They usually learn ngoko and the basics of madya. Young Javanese have problems with learning this social stratification of language.


Most Javanese vocabulary is Austronesian in origin. As in other Austronesian languages, native Javanese roots are bisyllabic. New words are formed by reduplication and compounding. For example is nuwun sewu ‘excuse me’ which literally means ‘ask a thousand’ (nuwun ‘ask’ + =sewu ‘a thousand’).

The vocabulary of Javanese has been enriched by numerous borrowings from other languages. One of the earliest sources of borrowing was Sanskrit from which an estimated 25% of the vocabulary in Old Javanese literature was derived. Today, many Sanskrit words are still in use, particularly in formal speech and writing. Javanese has also borrowed words from ArabicDutch, and Malay. Most Arabic loanwords have to do with Islam.

Below are some common words and phrases in Javanese.


Good day Sugeng
Goodbye Pamit
Thank you Matur nuwun
Please Mangga
Excuse me Nuwun sewu
Yes Inggih
No boten/mboten
Man Lanang
Woman Wadon
Child Anak


Below are Javanese numerals 1-10.




The Javanese literary tradition that emerged in the 8th-9th centuries continues in the present. For the most part, Javanese is written in two scripts. The earliest known writing in Javanese was in the Kawi script which was based on the Brahmi script of ancient India. The name kawi in Javanese means ‘language of the poets’ and is an indication that it was a literary language, influenced by Sanskrit. Its use was prohibited under the Japanese occupation of Indonesia during World War II (1942-1945). Today, it is mostly used by religious scholars.

Javanese (Characan or Caracan) script
The Javanese alphabet is a syllable-based writing system in which each consonant has an inherent vowel /a/. This vowel can be suppressed or changed to a different one through the use of diacritics that can appear above, below, in front of, or after the consonant. Variants of this script are also used to write SundaneseMadureseBalinese, and Sasak. Below is a sample of Javanese script (from Wikipedia).



Modified Roman alphabet
Today, Javanese is written with the Latin alphabet, introduced by the Dutch in the 19th century. It has gradually replaced the Javanese script. In addition to the standard letters of the alphabet, four digraphs are used: ng to designate the velar nasal /ŋ/; ny to represent pre-vocalic palatalized /ɲ/; th and dhare used to represent retroflex /ţ/ and /đ/ respectively.

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

BAB : 1
Saben uwong kalairake kanthi mardika lan darbe martabat lan hak-hak kang padha. Kabeh pinaringan akal lan kalbu sarta kaajab pasrawungan anggone memitran siji lan sijine kanthi jiwo sumadulur.
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.


Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Javanese?
There is no data on the difficulty of Javanese for speakers of English.

17 Responses to Javanese

  1. Langlang Rat

    Correction: “sebuah” and “rumah” is not Javanese words. it’s “siji/sak” and “omah”.

    In difficulty, Javanese is more difficult than Malay (bahasa Indonesia).
    Speech registers, archaic words, specialized vocab on certain things (e.g. animals, chronology, farming, etc), and contractions are used frequently, which make it harder for a language learner despite the grammatical similarities with Malay.

    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you for the correction. As for difficulty, the ACTFL/IRL levels encompass a range of difficulty. They are a fairly rough measure that does not take into account differences between languages such as Javanese and Malay.

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  3. I made Suwartama

    Thanks 4 ur article, it can help me to accomplish my research of javanese dialect.. I like javanese dialect matur nuwun..

  4. krissie

    thanks for made this article. I want to make a correction for these words

    “no”, it will be polite if we say “boten/mboten”

    and “child”, it means “anak”, not “ahak”.

    matur nuwun 🙂

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    • Irene Thompson

      We are limited in our resources as an all volunteer staff but we would have certainly loved to add more multimedia content.

  6. Begjo Takaryanto

    Umm FYI, ‘uwong” actually didn’t mean “man”, instead its mean “person” or “people”

    According to the context of the counterpart “woman” which mean “wadon” which is actually/literally it means “female”… The word “man” should be translated to “lanang” instead of “uwong” which is literally means “male”

    But if you contexted the word “man” as synonym of “human” , then it should be translated to “jalma” or “priyantun” or “manungsa”

  7. Ardiansah

    ‘Rumah sakit’ is a good example of compounding. However, it is Indonesian,not Javanese. A good example of compounding in Javanese is ‘nuwun sewu’ (excuse me), Lit. ‘Ask a thousand’ (nuwun=ask; sewu=a thousand)

  8. Ardiansah

    One funny thing in Javanese is a huge vocabulary for one thing in different situations. A very good example is the Javanese terms for ‘rice’. At the ricefields, it is ‘pari’. Once it get harvested, the straw will be called ‘Damen’,and the grain is ‘gabah’. If the grain leather has been carried out, it is ‘beras’. The next process when it get after cooked is ‘sega’, and will become ‘upoh’ when it scattered around out of the plate. Finally when sega nor upoh get dried and become harden, it would be ‘karag’.

    • Irene Thompson

      What an interesting comment. There is quite a bit of literature on lexical differentiation such as your example of the different lexical representations for the word for rice. There are similar instances in other languages, such as the word for camel in Arabic, or the word for snow in various Aleut languages. The bottom line is that the more important a particular object is in a given culture, the more likely it is to be finely differentiated from context to context.

      • Ali AG

        This is influenced by the agricultural tradition of Javanese people, especially by paddy’s cultivation. Because of the island circumstances, the volcanoes erupting and giving its lahar, it makes the soil of Java Island becomes fertile. It supports the agricultural foundation of a nation.

  9. Javanese Corner

    Nuwun : Yes
    Nyuwun : to ask

    Nuwun sewu : excuse me, *lit: (Yes thousand)

    Kulo nuwun : excuse me, it usualy used before we are entering someone’s house… like “anybody home?”

  10. Javanese Corner

    coconut : kelopo
    coconut milk : santen
    coconut tree : glugu
    coconut leaves : blarak
    coconut blossom : manggar
    young coconut fruit : degan

    and there are lots of lexical about each part of coconut ,such as : blangkokan, batok, sodo, mancung, tapas, empol, bluluk, cengkir, etc…


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