The Indonesian language (Bahasa Indonesia) is an Austronesian language and constitutes a standardized register of Malay. It has served as a lingua franca throughout the multiethnic Indonesian archipelago for many centuries. The close relationship between Indonesian and Malaysian make it difficult to determine the total number of speakers of both languages, but it is roughly estimated that there are approximately 23 million native speakers of Indonesian and roughly 156 million who speak it as a second language. When grouped together with Malaysian, it is the fourteenth most spoken language in the world.
Upon independence from the Dutch in 1945, only 5% of the population spoke Indonesian as their native language. As a bid to promote national unity, Indonesian was adopted as the national language and rigorously promoted through all aspects of daily life. Nevertheless, while formal education, mass media, matters of government administration, and other major forms of communication are dominated by the national Indonesian language, Indonesian is not the most widely spoken native language in the country, and most Indonesians speak at least one of 726 other indigenous languages fluently, such as Javanese, Sundanese, Madurese, Minangkabau, and Balinese. Of these, Javanese remains the most widely spoken native language in Indonesia despite its lack of official status.
Despite the large number of Indonesian speakers, the language’s geographical distribution is largely limited to the Indonesian archipelago, with limited distribution and use in some neighboring regions, such as East Timor where it remains a working language alongside English. In the United States, Indonesian Americans account for the 15th largest group of Asian Americans in the country, with a population of roughly 170,000, including migrants and their native-born children. The largest communities of Indonesian Americans can be found in Southern California, New York, Philadelphia, and the Washington, D.C. Metro Region.
Indonesian typically follows a subject-verb-object (SVO) word order, although it allows for a great deal of flexibility. It does not use grammatical case, grammatical gender, and only rarely uses grammatical number. Nouns, verbs, and adjectives all make extensive use of affixes (prefixes, suffixes, circumfixes, and infixes) to create new words by adding an affix to a root word. Verbs in Indonesian are not inflected for person, number, or tense. Instead, tense is indicated through the use of time words. There is, however, a relatively complex system of verb affixes which are used to denote voice or mood. Similar to many other Asian languages, Indonesian also makes frequent use of “measure words.”
In terms of vocabulary, most Indonesian words are derived from the Austronesian lexical stock, including Old Malay, although the language also includes a large number of loanwords. The largest proportion of loanwords (approximately 43%) come from Dutch, the former colonial ruler of Indonesia. Additionally, significant influences have also come from English, Chinese, Arabic, Portuguese, Sanskrit, Tamil, and Hindi, reflecting Indonesia’s history as a cultural crossroads in Southeast Asia.
Indonesian is written using the Latin script, including 26 letters and no diacritics. Before the arrival of the Dutch and British colonial powers to present-day Indonesia and Malaysia, the Jawi script (a modified version of the Arabic script) was utilized. In 1972, Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to a spelling reform to standardize the spelling of their respective registers of Malay.
FUN FACTS: Indonesia is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse countries in the world, covering nearly 18,000 islands and including roughly 350 different ethnic groups and more than 700 languages. Despite these differences, the Indonesian national language and Islam have served as vital unifying factors. With its relatively straightforward grammatical system and pronunciation rules (as well as its use of the Latin alphabet), Indonesian is considered among the easiest of the Asian languages for English speakers to learn.
At Piedmont Global Language Solutions (PGLS), we offer document translation, interpretation, localization, and other language services in Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia). Whether you need to translate financial statements from Indonesian into English, need an Indonesian interpreter for a business meeting in Jakarta, or want to localize your website into Indonesian market your products in Indonesia, PGLS is here to help with all of your Indonesian language needs.