Indonesia Languages

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For word list and help researching in Indonesian records, see Indonesian Genealogical Word List.

There are 250 speech forms, each with its own regional dialects in Indonesia. Often the inhabitants of the same island do not all speak the same native language. Fortunately today, one language, Bahasa Indonesia, is taught in all schools from the elementary grades up. However, Indonesian is by no means the native language in all parts of the archipelago.

The vast majority of the population speak Bahasa Indonesian (or modified Malay), which is the national language of Indonesia. Only 5% speak it as a mother tongue, among 669 other indigenous languages spoken. Bahasa Indonesian has been adopted as the official Indonesian language and is used in schools, television and government. However 42% speak Javanese as a mother tongue, 15% speak Sundanese, 6% Malay, 5% Madurese, 5% Minangkabau, 2% Balinese, 2% Buginese, and 1% each speak Acehnese, Toba Batak, Banjarese, Makassarese, Sasak, Lampung, Dairi Batak, Rejang and Chinese. 9% speak one of the many other local languages. Many of the older population can still speak Dutch, and English is also now understood by many. The major languages of records in Indonesia are Dutch, Indonesian, Malay and Javanese.

Almost universally known as a second language, Bahasa Indonesia is the only cultural element that unifies the entire population. Indonesian, or a dialect of it, is the native language throughout Sumatra (especially on the east coast), the coasts of Borneo, Manado and environs, in scattered locales around the Lesser Sunda Islands and Maluku, and in large urban centers such as Jakarta and Semarang.

Bahasa Indonesia started as a trader's language for use throughout the archipelago, a prototype of the old Melayu ("Malay") language. The earliest Malay dictionary was published in Europe in 1603, and the Dutch used Malay as the native language of government during their rule.

In its history, Indonesian has devoured thousands of words from Indonesia's local languages, as well as from Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese, Sanskrit, Tamil, French, and English.