About the Indonesian Language

Indonesian, or Bahasa Indonesia, is the official language of the Republic of Indonesia.  It is mutually intelligible with Malay, the language of Malaysia, although minor dialectical differences exist.  There are now approximately two-hundred-twenty-seven million speakers of Indonesian.  Besides Indonesia, it is spoken as well in the Netherlands, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and the United States.
While only a small percentage of Indonesia’s population speaks Indonesian as its first, or native, language, almost 100 percent of the population speaks it as a second or third language.  Although estimates vary, Indonesian ranks as between the 41st and 56th most widely-spoken native language in the world.  However, when all fluent speakers are counted (including second- and third-language speakers), Indonesian ranks ninth in the world. 
Since Indonesia is currently the fourth most populous nation in the world, Indonesian’s importance as a world language is bound to grow.  Indonesia is comprised of over seventeen thousand islands and there are hundreds of languages spoken there.  However, Indonesian is the lingua franca and the common language in education, government, business, and communication.  Every Indonesian learns Bahasa Indonesia, and recent studies show a greater number of people being raised with Indonesian as their mother tongue.  There are numerous Indonesian dialects, all of which are mutually intelligible. 

The Pimsleur program teaches standard Indonesian as spoken in and around Jakarta.

Indonesian originally evolved from Bazaar Malay, a dialect spoken in Riau, Sumatra.  It was the lingua franca of the traders along the coastal region of the East Indies (the Dutch designation for Indonesia during their 300-year occupation).    In 1928 the nationalist Second Youth Indonesian Congress declared Indonesian as the official language of Indonesia in order to unite the archipelago.  Quickly the Indonesian language gained prestige and began to be heard across the land.  Ironically, the Japanese occupation of 1942 cemented the bonds between the Indonesian people and the new official language.  The Japanese occupiers banned the use of Dutch, so Indonesian had no competition for the role of official language.  In addition, because Indonesians had had no real exposure to Japanese, and there was no practical method for the occupiers to quickly institute their native tongue as the official language, the Japanese enforced the official use of Indonesian out of necessity.  Not only was Indonesian required in government and law, but all academic study and publication were required to take place solely in Indonesian as well.  In 1945, following Indonesian independence, Bahasa Indonesia was enshrined in the new constitution as Indonesia’s national language.

Indonesian-Speaking Countries


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