Introduction to Bahasa Indonesia: Indonesia’s National Language

Voccent Languages
4 min readAug 5, 2023

Bahasa Indonesia is the official and national language of Indonesia. With over 200 million speakers, it has become one of the most widely spoken languages in the region. Did you know that with Voccent you can learn Indonesian from a native speaker? For those looking to gain insight into Indonesian culture and better interact with locals, learning Bahasa Indonesia is key. This article will cover the origins and evolution of Bahasa Indonesia, its basic structure and grammar, regional variations, and common vocabulary to know.

History and Development

The Indonesian language originated from a lingua franca used for trade between various islands. This early trade language developed from Old Malay, which absorbed influences from Indian languages like Sanskrit and Pali as well as Arabic and Chinese due to historical trade connections. The Dutch colonial period beginning in the 17th century saw the language evolve through contact with Dutch. Bahasa Indonesia in its modern form was first promoted in the 1920s by Indonesian youth groups looking to unify the diverse archipelago.

When Indonesia gained independence after World War II, Bahasa Indonesia was declared the official language, chosen over regional options like Javanese to better unite the new nation. The language saw an explosion in development and standardization. Today the official language is based on the Riau dialect of Sumatra, while drawing vocab from other Indonesian languages. Through government programs and public education, Bahasa Indonesia has developed into the common tongue connecting Indonesia’s population.

Grammar and Structure

One of the easiest aspects of Bahasa Indonesia for English speakers is the grammar. Sentence structure follows subject-verb-object format, pronouns are not conjugated, plurals are indicated by repetition, and there are no grammatical genders, cases or tenses. Articles like “the” also don’t exist in Indonesian. This straightforward grammar combined with a latin alphabet script make Bahasa Indonesia one of the most accessible Asian languages.

Word order is similar to English with adjectives coming before nouns and time phrases last in a sentence. Verbs aren’t conjugated but prefixes can be added to indicate time frame. The active voice is used more than passive. Questions are indicated by rising intonation on the last syllable rather than alterations in word order. In terms of pronunciation, vowels tend to be clearly enunciated while consonants at the ends of words are typically unreleased.

Regional Variations

While the standardized official version of Bahasa Indonesia is uniform across the country, regional dialects exhibit considerable variation. The largest divide is between Eastern and Western Indonesian dialects. Eastern dialects like Javanese tend to be more melodic while Western Indonesian like Betawi is harsher. Vocabulary and slang terms vary widely between regions. Even on a local level, those from rural Sumatra will speak differently than urbanites in Java.

This diglossic situation with local dialects existing alongside the national language presents challenges in spreading Bahasa Indonesia usage countrywide. The government continues promotion efforts through its language planning agency. TV and radio have helped disseminate standardized Indonesian nationwide as has a growing trend toward urbanization. But local tongues still thrive, especially Javanese with over 80 million speakers on Java alone.

Useful Phrases

Here are some common Indonesian phrases and vocabulary words to know:

Hello — Halo or Selamat Pagi/Siang/Sore/Malam

Good bye — Selamat tinggal

Thank you — Terima kasih

You’re welcome — Sama-sama

Yes — Ya

No — Tidak

Excuse me — Permisi

How are you? — Apa kabar?

I’m fine — Kabar baik

Please — Tolong

I don’t understand — Saya tidak mengerti

I don’t speak Indonesian — Saya tidak bisa berbahasa Indonesia

Do you speak English? — Apakah Anda bisa berbahasa Inggris?

Where is the bathroom? — Di mana kamar mandi?

How much does this cost? — Berapa harganya?

The basic vocabulary and sentence structure introduced here will give you a sense of Indonesia’s national language. In our application, you can not only learn basic phrases, but also practice difficult to pronounce words from our author. Though Bahasa Indonesia has its roots in trade languages, through government promotion it has developed into a unifying official tongue and become a source of Indonesian identity.

Read in our blog about The Top 5 Emerging Languages