Languages of Indonesia

Languages of Indonesia

More than 700 living languages are spoken in Indonesia.[1] Most belong to the Austronesian language family, with a few Papuan languages also spoken. The official language is Indonesian (locally known as Bahasa Indonesia), a modified version of Malay,[2] which is used in commerce, administration, education and the media, but most Indonesians speak local languages, such as Javanese, as their first language.[1] Many Indonesians living in urban areas are also taught English as a second language beginning at the elementary school level.


Languages by speakers

Several major ethno-linguistic groups of Indonesia
Largest languages in Indonesia[3]
(Figures indicate numbers of native speakers except for the national language, Indonesian)

Language Number (millions) Year surveyed Main areas where spoken
Indonesian/Malay 210 2010 throughout Indonesia
Javanese 84.3 2000 (census) Northern Banten, Northern West Java, Yogyakarta, Central Java and East Java
Sundanese 34.0 2000 (census) West Java, Banten
Madurese 13.6 2000 (census) Madura Island (East Java)
Minangkabau 5.5 2007 West Sumatra
Musi (Palembang Malay)[4] 3.9 2000 (census) South Sumatra
Bugis 3.5 1991 South Sulawesi
Banjarese 3.5 2000 (census) South Kalimantan, East Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan
Acehnese 3.5 2000 (census) Aceh
Balinese 3.3 2000 (census) Bali Island and Lombok Island
Betawi 2.7 1993 Jakarta
Sasak 2.1 1989 Lombok Island (West Nusa Tenggara)
Batak Toba 2.0 1991 North Sumatra
Makassarese 1.6 1989 South Sulawesi
Batak Dairi 1.2 1991 North Sumatra
Batak Simalungun 1.2 2000 (census) North Sumatra
Batak Mandailing 1.1 2000 (census) North Sumatra
Jambi Malay 1.0 2000 (census) Jambi
Mongondow 0.9 1989 North Sulawesi
Gorontalo 0.9 1989 Gorontalo (province)
Ngaju Dayak 0.9 2003 Southern Kalimantan
Lampung Api 0.8 2000 (census) Lampung
Nias 0.8 2000 (census) Nias Island, North Sumatra
Batak Angkola 0.7 1991 North Sumatra
North Moluccan Malay 0.7 2001 North Maluku
Chinese (Hokkien and Teochew) 0.7 1982 Northern Sumatra, Riau Islands and West Kalimantan
Chinese (Hakka) 0.6 1982 Bangka Belitung, Riau Islands and West Kalimantan
Batak Karo 0.6 1991 North Sumatra
Uab Meto 0.6 1997 West Timor (East Nusa Tenggara)
Bima 0.5 1989 Sumbawa Island (West Nusa Tenggara)
Manggarai 0.5 1989 Flores Island (East Nusa Tenggara)
Torajan-Sa'dan 0.5 1990 South Sulawesi, West Sulawesi
Komering 0.5 2000 (census) South Sumatra
Tetum 0.4 2004 West Timor (East Nusa Tenggara)
Rejang 0.4 2000 (census) Bengkulu
Muna 0.3 1989 Southeast Sulawesi
Basa Semawa 0.3 1989 Sumbawa Island (West Nusa Tenggara)
Bangka 0.3 2000 (census) Bangka Island (Bangka Belitung)
Osing 0.3 2000 (census) East Java
Gayo 0.3 2000 (census) Aceh
Tolaki 0.3 1991 Southeast Sulawesi
Lewotobi language 0.3 2000 Flores Island (East Nusa Tenggara)
Tae' 0.3 1992 South Sulawesi
Ambonese Malay 0.2 1987 Maluku


There are approximately 735 languages spoken across the Indonesian archipelago, the largest multilingual population in the world only after Papua New Guinea. Based on Summer Institute of Linguistic 637 languages are endangered with less than 100,000 native speakers. It is due to Indonesian language more dominant and many scholars belief that associate local languages with ancient values as opposed to modernity. So multilingualism is endangered. It is more like a battlefield of linguistic survival than a melting pot of languages.[5]

Languages by family

Several prominent languages spoken in Indonesia sorted by its language family are:

  • West Papuan languages, indigenous languages family found only in eastern Indonesia (northern Maluku and western Papua). Not closely related with other language families. Distinct from surrounding Austronesian languages.
  • Trans–New Guinea languages, indigenous languages family found in eastern Indonesia (Papua, Flores, Timor islands) and New Guinea. Consisting hundreds of languages, including languages of the Asmat and Dani people.

In addition, the Enggano language of Sumatra is unclassified and may be a language isolate; and there are numerous small families of Papuan languages.

Writing system

Like most writing systems in human history, Indonesia's are not rendered in native-invented systems, but devised by speakers of Sanskrit, Arabic, and Latin. Malay, for example, has a long history as a written language and has been rendered in Indic, Arabic, and Roman writing systems. Javanese has been written in the Nagari and Pallava writing systems of India, as well as their derivation (known as Kawi script and Javanese script), in a modified Arabic system called pegon that incorporates Javanese sounds, and in the Roman alphabet.

Chinese characters have never been used to express Indonesian languages, although Indonesian place-names, personal names, and names of trade goods appear in reports and histories written for China's imperial courts.[6]


  1. ^ a b Lewis, M. Paul (2009). "Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition.". SIL International. Retrieved 2009-11-17. 
  2. ^ Sneddon, James (2003). The Indonesian Language: Its history and role in modern society. Sydney: University of South Wales Press Ltd. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Muhadjir. 2000. Bahasa Betawi:sejarah dan perkembangannya. Yayasan Obor Indonesia. p. 13.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Taylor, Jean Gelman (2003). Indonesia: Peoples and Histories. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. p. 29. ISBN 0-300-10518-5. 

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