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Indonesian at SOAS Language Centre

Indonesian is part of the Austronesian language family. It is a standardized register of Malay and one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. Indonesia has a large population – the fourth largest in the world – and Indonesian is spoken by the greater majority of the Indonesian population either as a first or second language. It is closely related to most of the other languages of multilingual Indonesia, such as Javanese, Sudanese and Madurese. In East Timor, Indonesian is recognized as an official language alongside English, Tetum and Portuguese.

Indonesian contains thousands of loanwords from Arabic, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese and Sanskrit. Arabic loanwords are mainly to do with religion as the primary religion in Indonesia is Islam. Portuguese words are widespread and usually reflect trade. As a former colony of the Netherlands, Dutch has left its legacy in Indonesian, whilst Chinese loanwords are particularly evident in culinary terms. Sanskrit loanwords would appear to represent the earliest external linguistic influence and express concepts that are basic to the language.

There are around 25 million speakers of Indonesian as a first language and 150 million who use it as a second or additional language. This is typical of a language that has established itself as a lingua franca – a language that serves as the means of communication in an area exhibiting considerable linguistic diversity. The learner of Indonesian is faced, from the outset, with two very great advantages: Indonesian is written in the Roman script and contains (unlike the majority of languages of South East Asia) no phonemic tone. Also, knowing Indonesian allows one to understand everyday Malay with little if any difficulty.

  • Introduction to Indonesian (Not available in autumn 2014)

Language Taster Video Session: Indonesian

Indonesian Taster Image

Our short video file in Flash format will introduce you to the sound of the language and will give you information such as where it is spoken and what other languages are related to it. The session has been recorded by a mother tongue speaker and language specialist, Din Abdullah Sani, who teaches at SOAS. View the Indonesian Language Taster Video. Production by Richard Jellinek.

Don't have the Flash Player installed? You can download the Player.