Languages of Indonesia

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More than 700 living languages are spoken in Indonesia.[1] A major part of them belongs to the Austronesian language family, while over 270 Papuan (non-Austronesian) languages are spoken in eastern Indonesia.[1]. The official language is Indonesian (locally known as bahasa Indonesia), a standardized form of Malay,[2] which serves as the lingua franca of the archipelago. The vocabulary of Indonesian borrows heavily from regional languages of Indonesia, such as Javanese, Sundanese and Minangkabau, as well as from Dutch, Sanskrit and Arabic.

The Indonesian language is primarily used in commerce, administration, education and the media. Most Indonesians speak other languages, such as Javanese, as their first language.[1] Most books printed in Indonesia are written in the Indonesian language.[citation needed]

Since Indonesia recognises only a single official language, other languages are not recognised either at the national level or the regional level, thus making Javanese the most widely spoken language without official status, with Sundanese the second in the list (excluding Chinese varieties).

Languages by speakers[edit]

The major ethno-linguistic groups within Indonesia.
Largest languages in Indonesia[3]
(Figures indicate numbers of native speakers except for the national language, Indonesian)
Language Number (millions) Year surveyed Main areas where spoken
Indonesian/Malay 210 2010 throughout Indonesia
Javanese 84.3 2000 (census) throughout Java Island and several provinces in Sumatra and Kalimantan island.
Sundanese 42.0 2016 West Java, Banten, Jakarta
Madurese 13.6 2000 (census) Madura Island (East Java)
Minangkabau 5.5 2007 West Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, Bengkulu, Jakarta
Palembang Malay[4] 3.9 2000 (census) South Sumatra
Minahasa 3.8 2001 North Sulawesi
Buginese 3.5 1991 South Sulawesi
Banjarese 3.5 2000 (census) South Kalimantan, East Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan
Acehnese 3.5 2000 (census) Aceh
Balinese 3.3 2000 (census) Bali Island and Lombok Island
Betawi 2.7 1993 Jakarta
Sasak 2.1 1989 Lombok Island (West Nusa Tenggara)
Batak Toba 2.0 1991 North Sumatra, Riau, Riau Islands, Jakarta
Ambonese Malay 1.9 1987 Maluku
Makassarese 1.6 1989 South Sulawesi
Chinese-Min Nan 1.3 2000 North Sumatra, Riau, Riau Islands, West Kalimantan
Batak Dairi 1.2 1991 North Sumatra
Batak Simalungun 1.2 2000 (census) North Sumatra
Batak Mandailing 1.1 2000 (census) North Sumatra
Jambi Malay 1.0 2000 (census) Jambi
Mongondow 0.9 1989 North Sulawesi
Gorontalo 0.9 1989 Gorontalo (province)
Ngaju Dayak 0.9 2003 Central Kalimantan
Nias 0.8 2000 (census) Nias Island, North Sumatra
Batak Angkola 0.7 1991 North Sumatra
Manado Malay 0.8 2001 North Sulawesi
North Moluccan Malay 0.7 2001 North Maluku
Chinese-Hakka 0.6 1982 Bangka Belitung, Riau Islands and West Kalimantan
Batak Karo 0.6 1991 North Sumatra
Uab Meto 0.6 1997 West Timor (East Nusa Tenggara)
Bima 0.5 1989 Sumbawa Island (West Nusa Tenggara)
Manggarai 0.5 1989 Flores Island (East Nusa Tenggara)
Toraja-Sa’dan 0.5 1990 South Sulawesi, West Sulawesi
Komering 0.5 2000 (census) South Sumatra
Tetum 0.4 2004 West Timor (East Nusa Tenggara)
Rejang 0.4 2000 (census) Bengkulu
Muna 0.3 1989 Southeast Sulawesi
Basa Semawa 0.3 1989 Sumbawa Island (West Nusa Tenggara)
Bangka Malay 0.3 2000 (census) Bangka Island (Bangka Belitung)
Osing 0.3 2000 (census) East Java
Gayo 0.3 2000 (census) Aceh
Chinese-Cantonese 0.3 2000 North Sumatera, Riau Islands, Jakarta
Tolaki 0.3 1991 Southeast Sulawesi
Lewotobi 0.3 2000 Flores Island (East Nusa Tenggara)
Tae’ 0.3 1992 South Sulawesi

Comparison chart[edit]

Indonesian languages[edit]

Below is a chart of several Indonesian languages. Most of them belong to Austronesian languages family. While there have been misunderstandings on which ones should be classified as languages and which ones should be classified as dialects, the chart confirms that most have similarities, yet are not mutually comprehensible. These languages are arranged according to the numbers of native speakers.

English one two three four water person house dog cat coconut day new we (inclusive) what and
Indonesian/Malay satu dua tiga empat air orang rumah anjing kucing kelapa hari baru kita apa dan
Kutainese satu due tige empat ranam urang rumah koyok nyiur hari beru etam apa dengan
Javanese siji loro têlu[5] papat banyu uwòng[5] omah asu kucing kambìl[5] dinå[5] anyar/énggal[5] adhéwé[5] åpå[5]/anu lan
Sundanese hiji dua tilu opat cai/ci jalma imah anjing ucing kalapa poé anyar urang naon jeung
Madurese settong dhuwa' tello' empa' âên oreng roma pate' nyior are anyar sengko apa ban
Minangkabau cie' duo tigo ampe' aie urang rumah anjiang kuciang karambia hari baru awak apo jo
Palembang Malay sikok duo tigo empat banyu wong rumah anjing kucing kelapo siang baru kito apo dan
Buginese seqdi dua tellu eppa je'ne' tau bola asu coki kaluku esso ma-baru idiq aga na
Banjarese asa dua talu ampat banyu urang rumah hadupan batingas nyiur hari hanyar kita apa wan
Acehnese sa dua lhèë peuët ureuëng rumoh asèë miong / miei u uroë ban geutanyoë peuë ngon
Balinese sa dadua telu patpat yèh anak umah cicing nyuh dina mara iraga apa muah
Betawi atu' dué tigé empat aér orang ruméh anjing kucing kelapé ari baru kité apé amé
Sasak sa/seke' due telu mpat aik dengan bale acong/basong kenyamen/nyioh jelo baru ite ape dait
Batak Toba sada dua tolu opat aek halak jabu biang huting harambiri ari ibbaru hita aha dohot
Ambonese Malay satu dua tiga ampa air orang ruma anjing kucing kalapa hari baru katong apa dan
Makassarese se're rua tallu appa' je'ne' tau balla' kongkong ngeong kaluku allo beru ikatte apa na
Batak Mandailing sada dua tolu opat aek halak bagas asu arambir ari baru hita aha dohot
Mongondow inta' dua tolu opat tubig intau baloi ungku' cekut singgai mo-bagu kita onda bo
Manado Malay satu dua tiga ampa aer orang ruma anjing kucing kalapa hari baru torang apa deng
Dayak Ngaju ije' due' telu' epat danum uluh huma' asu enyuh andau taheta itah narai en
Lampung say ʁuwa telu ampat way jelema nuwa asu kucing nyiwi ʁani ampai ʁam api jama
Tolaki o'aso o'ruo o'tolu o'omba iwoi toono laika odahu sanggore oleo wuohu inggito ohawo ronga
Nias sara dua tölu öfa idanö niha omo asu banio luo bohou ya'ita hadia ba


There are 726 languages spoken across the Indonesian archipelago in 2009 (dropped from 742 languages in 2007), the largest multilingual population in the world only after Papua New Guinea. Indonesian Papua, which is adjacent to Papua New Guinea, has the most languages in Indonesia.[6] Based on the EGIDS classification used by Ethnologue (formerly the Summer Institute of Linguistics), 63 languages are dying (shown in red on the bar chart, subdivided into Moribund and Nearly Extinct, or Dormant), which is defined as "The only fluent users (if any) are older than child-bearing age, so it is too late to restore natural intergenerational transmission through the home."[7]

Language education policy[edit]

Indonesia's Minister of Education and Culture Muhammad Nuh affirmed in January 2013 that the teaching of local languages as school subjects will be part of the national education curriculum. Nuh stated that much of the public worry about the teaching of local languages being left out of the curriculum is misplaced and that the new curriculum will be conveyed to them.[8]

Dutch language[edit]

Despite the Dutch presence in Indonesia for almost 350 years (parts of Indonesia were ruled by the Dutch East India Company and subsequently the whole of what is now Indonesia was in the Dutch East Indies, the Dutch language has no official status there[9] and the small minority that can speak the language fluently are either educated members of the oldest generation, or employed in the legal profession,[10] as certain law codes are still only available in Dutch.[11]

Languages by family[edit]

Several prominent languages spoken in Indonesia sorted by language family are:

There are many additional small families and isolates among the Papuan languages.

Sign languages[edit]

Writing system[edit]

Indonesian languages are generally not rendered in native-invented systems, but in scripts devised by speakers of other languages, that is, Tamil, Arabic, and Latin. Malay, for example, has a long history as a written language and has been rendered in Brahmic, Arabic, and Latin scripts. Javanese has been written in the Pallava script of South India, as well as their derivative (known as Kawi and Javanese), in an Arabic alphabet called pegon that incorporates Javanese sounds, and in the Latin script.

Chinese characters have never been used to write Indonesian languages, although Indonesian place-names, personal names, and names of trade goods appear in reports and histories written for China's imperial courts.[12]

List of writing systems[edit]

  • Latin – The official writing system of Indonesian; most Indonesian vernacular languages now adopt Latin script.
  • Kaganga – Historically used to write Rejang, an Austronesian language from Bengkulu.
  • Rencong – A Brahmic-based script, formerly used by Malays before the arrival of Islam, which introduced the Jawi script.
  • Sundanese – A Brahmic-based script, used by Sundanese to write Sundanese language, although Sundanese also have a standard Latin orthography.
  • Jawi and Pegon – An Arabic-based script, once widely used throughout Indonesia, now in decline but still use by Malays, Minangkabau, Banjarese, Acehnese, Javanese, Osing, Sundanese, and Madurese (which has its own form of Arabic known as Pegon.)
  • Javanese – A Brahmic-based script used by the Javanese and related peoples. Today the script is in rapid decline and largely supplanted by Latin.
  • Kawi script – The oldest known Brahmic writing system in Indonesia and the ancestor to all Brahmic based writing systems in Insular Southeast Asia.
  • Balinese – A Brahmic-based script used by the Balinese people to write Balinese. It is closely related to Javanese script.
  • Rejang – A Brahmic-based script used by the Rejang people of Bengkulu, Sumatra. It is closely related to Kerinci, Lampung and Rencong script.
  • Kerinci (Kaganga) – A Brahmic-based script used by the Kerincis to write their language.
  • Batak – A Brahmic-based script, used by the Batak people of North Sumatra.
  • Lontara – A Brahmic-based script, used by the Buginese and Makassarese in Sulawesi.
  • Lampung – A Brahmic-based script, still used by Lampung people to write Lampung language, although they are in rapid decline. Lampung script is closely related to Rencong, Kerinci and Rejang script.
  • Hangeul Cia-Cia – The Hangeul script used to write the Cia-Cia language in Buton Island, Southeast Sulawesi.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 1) in Languages of Indonesia[edit]

English translation:

(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.)
  • Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia)
  • Javanese (Basa Jawa)
  • Malay (Bahasa Melayu)
  • Minangkabau (Baso Minangkabau)
  • Buginese (Basa Ugi)
  • Balinese (Basa Bali)
  • Sundanese (Basa Sunda)
  • Madurese (Basa Madura)
  • Musi (Baso Pelembang)
  • Acehnese (Bahsa Acèh)
  • Tetum (Lia-Tetun)
  • Dawan (Uab Metô)
  • Banjar (Bahasa Banjar)
  • Lampung (Bahasa Lampung)
  • Rejangese (Baso Jang)
  • Bengkulu Malay (Bahaso Melayu Bengkulu)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Lewis, M. Paul (2009). "Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition". SIL International. Retrieved 17 November 2009.
  2. ^ Sneddon, James (2003). The Indonesian Language: Its history and role in modern society. Sydney: University of South Wales Press Ltd.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Muhadjir. 2000. Bahasa Betawi:sejarah dan perkembangannya. Yayasan Obor Indonesia. p. 13.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Piwulang Basa Jawa Pepak, S.B. Pramono, hal 148, 2013
  6. ^ "90 Persen Bahasa Ibu di Dunia Terancam Punah". 27 June 2012.
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Baker (1998), p.202.
  10. ^ Ammon (2005), p.2017.
  11. ^ Booij (1999), p.2
  12. ^ Taylor, Jean Gelman (2003). Indonesia: Peoples and Histories. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. p. 29. ISBN 0-300-10518-5.

External links[edit]