10 Facts About Indonesian: Alphabet, Pronouns and Loan Words

The Indonesian language (or Bahasa Indonesia) is a standardized variant of Malay used in Indonesia as its official language. There are over 700 indigenous languages in the Indonesian Peninsula, and most Indonesians speak one of these (such as Javanese or Sudanese) alongside Indonesian. However, formal education, national media, legal documents, and the government are dealt with in Indonesian.

Indonesian is spoken by close to 45 million people as a first language and around 156 million people as a second or additional language. Learning about Indonesian is an important part of learning about its culture and expanding knowledge.

A Few Facts about Indonesian

1. Indonesian as a first language is quite geographically limited

Mainly people who live in Jakarta and the surrounding area actually have Indonesian as their mother tongue, while most other Indonesians speak it as a second language.

2. Several closely related languages which descended from Austronesian roots or even directly from Malay share very similar vocabularies.

Some of these include Tagalog, Malagasy, Javanese, Samoan, Hawaiian, Tahitian, Tetum, and Māori.

3. Like English and most European languages, Indonesian operates on a subject-object-verb (SVO) structure

An SVO structured sentence is: “Rizky pergi ke toko” (Rizky went to the shop).

Indonesian sentences can be quite relaxed on structure. They also don’t use grammatical gender for their words, and there are no markings for grammatical cases.

4. Words are given affixes to change them to meanings of similar concepts

This can apply to related nouns, adjectives, and verbs. As an example:

Base wordSuffix 1 (N)Suffix 2 (A)Suffix 3 (V)
(to teach)

5. The Indonesian alphabet is a Latin alphabet of 26 letters and nine diagraph letter-combinations

The pronunciations of the letters are mostly the same as in standard English, but with a few differences.

English letterIPAExample
C/ʨ/Close to chew
J/ʥ/Similar to joke

6. There are several pronouns in Indonesian depending on person, inclusion, and politeness

The list below shows some of the most common, though several others also exist and are used in different situations.

PronounEnglish PronounUsed For
AkuIInformal or familiar situations (family, friends, lovers)
SayaIFormal, polite, or strangers
SahayaILiterary form
Engkau / KauYou (singular)Informal; close friends or family only. It may even be used for lower status or enemies. It is sometimes used to address God in prayers.
KamuYou (singular)Informal; younger people, especially family members or students only.
AndaYou (singular)Polite; general public use
Dia / IaHe / she / it / theyInformal; general use; single or plural
MerekaSomeone / theyCasual term; single or plural
BelialuHe / she/ itPolite; formal; for superiors and strangers
KamiWeA group but excluding the person they’re talking to
KitaWeA group but including the person they’re talking to
KallianYou (plural)Informal
Anda sekalianYou (plural)Polite

7. There are four words to negate a sentence in Indonesian

NegativeExampleLiteral translationTranslation
Tidak (tak)Used for verbs and adjectivesSaya tidak (tak) bisa Bahasa IndonesiaI not speak IndonesianI do not (don’t) speak Indonesian
Bahasa Indonesia saya tidak bagusIndonesian my not-is goodMy Indonesian isn’t good
BukanUsed for nounsItu bukan bahasa sayaIt be-not language meIt isn’t my language
JanganUsed for imperatives or (some) negative adviceJangan lewatkan pelajaranmuDon’t miss your lessonDon’t miss (or skip) your lesson
Jangan khawatirDon’t worryDon’t worry
BelumUsed for not yet, still notSaya belum tahu bahasa indonesiaI still-not know IndonesianI don’t know Indonesian yet
Kelasku masih belum selesaiClass mine still-not finish My class isn’t finished yet

8. Indonesian borrows several thousands of words from other languages outside of the Indonesian Peninsula

These include: Dutch (about 3.25 thousand words), English (just over 1.5 thousand words), Arabic (just under 1.5 thousand words), Sanskrit (just over 670 words), Chinese (almost 300 words), Portuguese and Tamil (just over 130 words each), Persian (just under 65 words), and Hindi (under 10 words).

9. Indonesian is a recognized majority language of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)

It’s also a recognized minority language of East Timor and of the United Nations (UN).

10. Even though it’s limited mostly to Indonesia, it’s one of the most widely-spoken languages in the world by numbers,

With just under 271.5 million people, Indonesia makes up nearly 4% of the world’s population. Indonesian (not including Malay) is spoken by around 199 million people as a first or additional language, making it 11th in the world.

In terms of population, Indonesia ranks only below the USA (just over 332 million, over 4%), India (just under 1.5 billion, 17.5%), and China (just under 1.5 billion, 17.9%).

The languages that rank above Indonesian are – Urdu (230 million, 10th), Portuguese and Russian (258 million each, 9th and 8th), French (267 million, 7th), Bengali (268 million, 6th), Standard Arabic (274 million, 5th), Spanish (543 million, 4th), Hindi (600 million, 3rd), Mandarin/Standard Chinese (1.120 billion, 2nd), and English (1.348 billion, 1st).

Final Thoughts

Indonesian is an interesting language in that, more than may standard European language, it exists in a comfortable interactive tandem with many other indigenous languages. Culturally, the Indonesian Peninsula is full of life, and finding out about the Indonesian language helps to expand our knowledge of the world.

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