SOAS University of London

South East Asia Section, School of Languages, Cultures & Linguistics

Languages of South East Asia at SOAS: Indonesian

Indonesian is the national language of the Republic of Indonesia, an archipelago of some 13,000 islands stretching 3000 miles from west to east, home to a population of over 240 million people from about 250 different ethnic groups, with a correspondingly rich variety of languages and cultures. Indonesian is a variety of the Malay language and belongs to the Austronesian language family. For centuries Malay served a lingua franca in maritime South East Asia, and when Indonesia regained independence from Dutch colonial rule in 1945, Malay was chosen as the national language. Under the name of Bahasa Indonesia (“Indonesian language”), it functions as a means of communication between the different ethnic groups, and as the language of administration, education and scholarship, the media, and an extensive and rapidly growing modern literature. The standard language is continually being developed to make it more suitable to the diverse needs of a modernising society. Knowledge of Bahasa Indonesia is thus indispensable tool for anyone wishing to gain an insight into the past and present of Indonesia.

If you would like to learn Indonesian contact Dr Ben Murtagh ( Department of the Languages and Cultures of South East Asia)

Degree Programmes

Degree Course Options

Language Centre

Other Resources

Please Note: Not all courses and programmes are available every year

Indonesian at SOAS

Students who take Indonesian as part of the BA Languages and Cultures degree concentrate in the first year on acquiring the competence in the language which is essential to any further study of the subject, while at the same time studying aspects of cultural history which give an insight into contemporary Indonesia. In the second year, students are able to develop their competence in the language while also beginning to read topical texts from a variety of print and online sources.

Students taking a four-year degree spend their third year in Indonesia on a Year Abroad. This is the time when students are really able to develop their linguistic and cultural competence. Those students who do not wish to take a Year Abroad may be able to take a summer abroad in Yogyakarta developing their language skills prior to commencing their third and final year of study. In the final year Indonesian language skills can be used in directed readings modules and also in the Independent Study Project where a huge range of Indonesian language sources may be drawn on.

Students taking other degrees at SOAS should also be able to study Indonesian language modules as part of their degree as what are known as ‘open options’. Do check with your particular degree structure to see how you can take Indonesian as part of your chosen degree at SOAS.

PG Students

Students taking a one-year Masters degree will often be able to study a language as part of their degree. In this case, we offer Indonesian 1A and Indonesian 1B for ab initio learners. Students who already have some knowledge of the language may be able to join our Indonesian 2 class. Those students wanting to really deepen their knowledge of Indonesian can do so via the two-year MA in a discipline combined with intensive language, which includes a summer abroad of intensive Indonesian language study at an excellent language school in Yogyakarta, Central Java.

To find out more, try some of these books and sites:
  • The Lontar Foundation – a Jakarta-based foundation promoting Indonesian literature and culture through the translation of literary works.
  • Indonesia Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation by Elizabeth Pisani.
  • Indonesia – Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs and Culture by Graham Saunders and Jessica Ginting.
  • A History of Modern Indonesia by Adrian Vickers.
  • The Book of Jakarta: A City in Short Fiction edited by Maesy Ang and Teddy W. Kusuma.
  • Apple and Knife by Intan Paramaditha.