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Top Languages Spoken In Indonesia

Posted by Chloe G. on January 22, 2024.

Indonesia takes pride in its extraordinary cultural richness, characterized by a myriad of customs, rituals, and performances deeply rooted in its societal fabric. Notably, the country is renowned for its diverse and multilingual population, utilizing approximately 700 distinct languages, making it the world’s second-largest linguistic diversity after Papua New Guinea. The official language, as stipulated by the country’s Constitution, is Indonesian.

Apart from Indonesian, several other languages are commonly spoken in the region, including Javanese, Sundanese, Hindi, Chinese, Minangkabau, Dutch, and English. This article will show the top 5 languages spoken in Indonesia.

The Official Languages Spoken In Indonesia 

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The official language of the Republic of Indonesia is Bahasa Indonesia, commonly known as the Indonesian language. This language has its roots in Malay, which is a member of the Austronesian language family. Malay, serving as a lingua franca in the archipelago for centuries, forms the foundation of Bahasa Indonesia. Notably, Malay variations are official languages in Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei Darussalam.

In addition to Malay, the Indonesian vocabulary bears the imprint of various local languages such as Javanese, Minangkabau, and Sundanese. The language has also absorbed words from foreign languages like English, Arabic, Dutch, Sanskrit, and Portuguese.

Bahasa Indonesia holds a prominent role in education, administration, and media, making it a language spoken by every Indonesian in contemporary times. For travelers looking to communicate with locals, learning Bahasa Indonesia is essential, as it is not only widely used but also considered simpler compared to other regional languages.


Languages Spoken In Indonesia: Local Languages 

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Javanese language

The Javanese language serves as the predominant language in eastern and central Java, Indonesia, being the mother tongue of over 98 million individuals, constituting approximately 42% of the nation’s population. Additionally, some regions in Malaysia and Singapore have communities where Javanese is spoken as the local language.

Written using Arabic, Javanese, and Latin scripts, the language encompasses three main dialects based on geographic locations: Central Javanese, Eastern Javanese, and Western Javanese. Despite these regional distinctions, speakers of the dialects generally find them mutually intelligible. The substantial influence of Javanese is evident, as the majority of Indonesia’s presidents, all seven of them, have been primarily Javanese speakers, contributing significantly to the evolution of Bahasa Indonesia.

Sanskrit holds a profound sway over the Javanese language, with around 25% of words in Old Javanese literary works originating from Sanskrit. This enduring impact underscores the significant influence of the Indian language on Javanese, with numerous personal names in Javanese deriving from Sanskrit. Additionally, Dutch and Malay have left their mark on the language, further shaping its linguistic landscape.

Sundanese language

Sundanese, a Malayo-Polynesian language, is extensively spoken in Western Java, Lampung, Banten, and Jakarta. With approximately 14 million native speakers, it exhibits several dialects, some strongly influenced by Javanese. Furthermore, Sundanese possesses its writing system, derived from old Sundanese and influenced by the Pallava script from South India.

Historically, Sundanese featured six language levels corresponding to various degrees of politeness and respect. However, in 1988, it underwent simplification, consolidating into two levels: the respectful ‘basa hormat’ and the more familiar ‘basa Loma.’ It’s important to note the existence of the lowest level, ‘cohag,’ reserved for communication with animals or expressing extreme anger towards humans.

Maduranese language

Madurese serves as a predominant language spoken by numerous individuals in Indonesia, particularly on Madura Island, eastern Java Island, and the Kangean and Sapudi islands. Approximately 8 to 13 million people, constituting over 5% of Indonesia’s population, are estimated to speak Madurese.

Linguistically, the Malayo-Sumbawan language exhibits greater similarity to Balinese than to other Javanese scripts. It is noteworthy that the number of Madurese speakers is currently on the decline.

Bahasa Bugis

The officially recognized and widely used primary language in Indonesia is Bahasa Indonesia, serving as a unifying force among the diverse communities in the country. It holds significance in administration, media, the judicial system, and formal education, with nearly all Indonesian citizens proficient in communicating in Bahasa Indonesia.

While Bahasa is acknowledged as a local language and often referred to as a second language, its proficiency varies across regions. Despite being a national language that fosters unity, locals incorporate Bahasa into their native languages, resulting in the development of regional dialects. This practice is prevalent throughout the country, giving rise to distinct versions of Bahasa spoken in various regions of densely populated islands.

Belonging to the Austronesian language family, Bahasa Indonesia shares linguistic roots with other languages spoken in Indonesia, such as Javanese and Regeng. Originating from the Riau Malay language during the nationalist movement in the 1940s, Bahasa Indonesia has evolved into a standardized form, serving as the official regional language.

Minangkabau language

The Minangkabau language, a variant of Malay, is spoken by a population exceeding 5 million individuals in Indonesia, specifically in West Sumatera and the Sembilan state in Malaysia. While some linguists categorize it as a non-standard variety of Malay rather than a distinct language, it remains the most widely utilized language in the region.

Spoken in various areas, including West Sumatra, western Riau, South Aceh Regency, Bengkulu, and Jambi, the Minangkabau language continues to be spoken by people who have migrated from these regions to different cities in Indonesia.


Languages Spoken In Indonesia: Foreign Languages 

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Indonesia not only boasts a diverse array of native languages but also encompasses several foreign languages that have been introduced through immigration and colonization.

Languages Spoken In Indonesia: Dutch

The Dutch East India Company held sway over parts of Indonesia for an extensive period, spanning over three centuries. While colonial rule ended in the mid-1900s, remnants of the Dutch language persist in Indonesia. Although less commonly spoken, some Indonesians still fluently communicate in Dutch. Notably, specific sections of Indonesian law, formulated during the Dutch colonial era, are exclusively available in Dutch and await revision.

Languages Spoken In Indonesia: English

English has a significant presence in Indonesia, with some experts considering it a lingua franca and others categorizing it as a foreign language. Regardless, English is gaining prominence in the Indonesian business world and the surrounding region.

Languages Spoken In Indonesia: Other Foreign Languages

Apart from their native languages, Indonesians also speak various foreign languages. Mandarin, Arabic, Japanese, Korean, French, and German are among the popular languages spoken in Indonesia. These languages are taught at different educational levels, with primary emphasis on the native languages used in Indonesia.


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