Indonesian Language – Bahasa – History – Meaning

Indonesia is the fourth country with the largest population in the world.  So that Indonesia has the highest amount of languages are practiced. Indonesian refers to the official language of Indonesia. Commonly known as Bahasa Indonesia. Indonesia language is a member of the Malay-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family along with Malaysia and Philippines.

Bahasa Indonesia is a standardized dialect of Malay. It has been used as a lingua franca in the Indonesian archipelago for centuries. Its achieved the status of an official language with the declaration of independence of Indonesia from the Netherlands in 1945. Bahasa is an artificial language made official in 1928. In the 1930s, as part of the independence movement, the Indonesian language was standardized and the term Bahasa Indonesia was adopted as the name of the language. The official language of Indonesia also spoken in Australia, mostly in Cocos Islands and Christmas Island, Brunei, Timor, New Caledonia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, southern Thailand, and Suriname.

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Indonesian is the statutory national language of Indonesia where it is spoken by close to 23 million people. Meanwhile, most of Indonesian are bilingual. Therefore, Indonesian is a second language for another 140 million people. More than 700 living languages are spoken in Indonesia. Meanwhile, There are around 23 million native speakers with a massive 165 million speakers in total. Bahasa Indonesia literally means the language of Indonesia, and is often shortened by English speakers to Bahasa. Although this word just means language, it is understood that it refers to the Indonesian language specifically. Bahasa Indonesia, a basic version of Malay, is the sixth most widely spoken language in the world (after Mandarin, English, Hindi, Spanish and Arabic).


[toggle title=”The Discovery of Language”]

Malay was used as language in South East Asia since seventh century. The evidence which proved it was with the discovery of inscriptions in in Palembang, Sumatra island around 683 AD. The first script language was found is Malay or Jawi natives.Its historical heritage indicate the spread of this language into almost all places. This is not separated from the interference of the kingdom of Srivijaya, who was a ruler of the trade lanes in the area of the archipelago. Malay named appears on the name of a kingdom founded in Jambi precisely in Batang Hari, named  Malay Kingdom.

Malay dialect continued to evolve and became more streamlined as more and more places to use this dialect. In its development, the use of the word “Malay” itself ended up being much wider than the Malay kingdom area. It covers only a small portion of the island of Sumatra. Form ninth until fourteenth century, Malay was the court language of the Sumatera empire of Sriwijaya. As result, Malay became the native tongue of the people living on both sides of the Strait of Malacca that separates Sumatera from the Malay Peninsula.

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For the next centuries, Malacca strait became busy and popular sea thoroughfare. Most of travelers and traders passed through and came into contact with the Malay language. They used Malay language throughout the islands of Indonesia for communicated each other. Then, Malay became used widely in entire Indonesia. Muslims and Christians helped spread the language as they used it in the propagation of their faiths.

When Islam came to the Indonesia, Its spread along trade routes through coastal trading cities where Malay was used. Malay became linked with Islam and played a important role in the rise of Islam as the majority faith in the archipelago. Malay was also the language most widely used in the propagation of Christianity, especially in the now largely Christianize areas of East Indonesia. In other words, Islam and Christianity helped spread Malay, and Malay helped spread Islam and Christianity.

Malay language spread to entire of Indonesia after the spread of Islam in the archipelago. Its as well as growing of solid presence for the Malay language easily accepted by society. For a lingua franca, It spreads between the islands, inter-ethnic, inter traders, between nations and between the kingdom. At the time also developed of literally writting named “Hikayat”. Three types of Hikayat are Hikayat Muhammad Ali Hanafi, Hikayat Amir Hamzah, and Hikayat Iskandar Zulkarnain. There is a different function of Malay in that era, such as :

  • Cultural language which is the language of books contain rules of life and literature.
  • Language of trade for the tribes in Indonesia as well as vendors who come from outside Indonesia.
  • The official language of the kingdom.
  • The interface of language among tribes in Indonesia.
  • Malay used in Riau, Sumatra in government administration, offices and schools.
  • Malay dialect appear difference in certain areas, such as Ambon Malay dialects, Malay dialect of Malay Diatek Jakarta and Medan.

In the Year 1511, the Portuguese conquered the Empire of Malacca. All Malay literature completely devastated by a massive raid conducted the Portuguese. In 1824, the London Agreement was signed. The agreement makes Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia apart. Since then, the language activity is divided into two, namely first, Malay Singapore and Malaysia developed according the conditions under British rule.

[toggle title=”The Change of Language”]

The highest Malay language used among royal families around Sumatra, Malaya and Java. This linguistic form is more difficult because the user is very subtle, satirical, and not as expressively as Malay language market. From the 17th century on, as the islands of Indonesia fell little by little under the control of the Netherlands. They attempted to enforce the use of their own language for trade.

The Netherlands, as well as other foreign countries, very interested with Indonesian spices. They are not satisfied having received the spices of the merchant of Gujarat. Therefore, they came to their own area of the herb. In 1596, the Netherlands merchants came to the area under the name called VOC (Vereenigde Oost Indische Compagnie). Their main purpose is to trade, but since 1799, Its grow to taken over by the Netherlands government. They aimed for not only to trade, but also for social and educational purposes.

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Indonesia language history began at the beginning of the 20th century, there was a split in structure of writing on the standard form of Malay. In 1901, Indonesia which still became East Indies of Netherlands and adopted the spelling Van Ophuijsen. Meanwhile, Alliance of Malay which now became part of Malaysia adopted the spelling Wilkinson three years after. The first problems for Netherlands is the language of instruction. There is no other choice but to use the Malay language as the language of instruction, because at that time the Malay language have been widely used throughout the archipelago.

In 1901, the Malay language developed in order with the conditions under  Ch. A. Van Ophuysen, Netherlands colonial rule. He was in charge of compiled the official spelling of Malay. However, a group of Netherlands people tried hard for declined the development of the Malay language. They tried to make the Netherlands language as national language in Indonesia. Then, the government of Netherlands set the Malay language as the language of instruction in schools “Bumiputera”. Furthermore, the Netherlands government established the Reading Park in 1908, then converted into Pustaka Hall in 1917. This declaration make big impact. As a result of Pustaka hall program launched by the Netherlands government, the rapid development occurred 700 libraries have been awakened in 1912.

On June 1918, the queen of Netherlands, shouted out of provisions that give freedom to members of the People’s Council (Volkstrad) for use the Malay language in the negotiations. This provision is a reaction to the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It ideas spread by the members of council which is driven by the desire to fight for the recognition of Indonesian as the national language. After that, The youths of Indonesia are incorporated in various organization, the Indonesian scholars striven to unite the people. They realized that only by the unity of the entire people, the people of Indonesia can dispel the power of the occupiers of Indonesia and they realized also only with Malay language they can communicate with the people.

Political parties also played a large role. Because most of the political parties use Malay in the meetings, and in the writings. Political parties which existed at that time as, Budi Utomo (1922), the party of the Indies (1912), the Islamic States (1913). There is also a Youth Societies such as Jong Java, Sumatra Jong, Jong Ambon, which later united in Indonesia Muda. Along with other youths, their efforts to unite the people, the youth finally culminated in the Youth Congress in Jakarta on October 28, 1928. Pledge of young men known by the name ” Sumpah Pemuda” ( Youth Pledge ). Pledge was contained the admitted by young men such as :

  1. We, the sons and daughters of Indonesia, acknowledge one motherland, the motherland of Indonesia
  2. We, the sons and daughters of Indonesia, acknowledge one nation, the nation of Indonesia. 
  3. We, the sons and daughters of Indonesia, acknowledge about respect one language, language of Indonesia.

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Therefore, on October 28 is a very important day, a day of the appointment of Indonesian as the national language, or in other words as a national language.

[toggle title=”The Official Announcement of Language of Indonesia”]

Indonesian was inaugurated after the proclamation of independence of Indonesia. Precisely the day after, along the entry into force of the constitution. At the time, the constitution of 1945 was passed as the constitution of the Republic of Indonesia. Its stated that the national language is Indonesian (Chapter XV, Section 36).

The first president of Indonesia, Ir.Soekarno did not choose his own language, Java (which is actually also the language of the majority at the time), but he decided to chose Malay language which he used in Riau. Riau dialect of Malay was chosen as the national language of the Republic of Indonesia on the following considerations :

  • If the Java language was used, tribes or other families in the Republic of Indonesia will be colonized by Javanese who are the highest (class) majority in the Republic of Indonesia.
  • Java language is much more difficult to learned compared to the Malay language. There is a language level. Subtle, ordinary, and crude used for different people in terms of ages, degrees, or ranks. When people do not understand the culture of Java, it could have greater negative impression.
  • Malay Riau are selected considered as :
    • First, Malays originated from Riau, Sultan of Malacca last ran to Riau after Malacca taken over by Portuguese.
    • Second, as the lingua franca, the language of the Malay has least affected by other languages.
  • Malay language is not only limited in the Republic of Indonesia. In 1945, Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore used Malay language. At that time, using the Malay language as the national language, is expected in regional countries such as Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore for increased the spirit of patriotic and nationalistic neighboring countries in Southeast Asia.

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And there are other reasons why Malay language chosen as national language :

  • Malay Language is a Lingua Franca in Indonesia, The interface language and language of trade.
  • Malay language system is simple, easy to learn because the Malay language is not in the know level languages (coarse and smooth language).
  • Javanese, Sundanese, and other ethnic groups willingly accepted into Indonesian Malay language as the national language.
  • Malay language has the ability to be used as a language of culture in the widest sense.

In the development of modern language, Indonesian faces many difficulties, such as:

  • Lack of words and terms that relate to engineering sciences, culture, economy, etc.
  • The inclusion of the local language and a foreign language causes confusion of tongues must be completed;
  • Lack of research results as a basis Malay Indonesian;
  • Lack of books of modern science that is written in Indonesian.

Despite of all difficulties, Indonesia language evolved continuously. Then in 1950, the national language of Indonesia officially published. Right after the Indonesian independence was recognized by the Netherlands and the world. Lingua franca, but also the language that should be able to become the lingua franca, but also the language of science, language arts, political language, the language of law, economics and so on. Along with the other training of language, linguists held the second congress of Indonesian in Medan in 1938, the third in Jakarta in 1978, the fourth in Jakarta in 1983, the fifth in Jakarta in 1988, the sixth in Jakarta in 1993, seventh in 1998, and eighth in Jakarta in 2003.


The Position of Indonesia Language

Indonesia language has a very important position stated after The Pledge of Youth was announced. Section 36 of Indonesia constitution has divided about position of Indonesian language. such as:

As National language – Its position is above the regional languages. The results of National Language Politics Seminar was held in Jakarta on 25-28 February 1975 confirms that with its capacity as the national language, Indonesia language works as follows:

  • National Pride, Bahasa reflects the socio-cultural values that underlie our sense of nationality. The Indonesian nation pride of self-esteem and cultural values for life’s guide. On the basis of this grip, Indonesian needs to be maintained and developed.
  • National Identity, Bahasa can reflects a person’s identity, the nature, behavior, and character as a nation of Indonesia. We must take care of Indonesian nation and free from elements of other languages, especially foreign languages.
  • Unite the various ethnic groups, it can unite the various ethnic groups with socio-cultural background. Indonesian enable the various ethnic groups. Its achieve harmony of life as a united nation with no need to leave tribal identity and fidelity to values cultural and language background areas concerned. Even with our national language, we can put national interests far above the interests of the region or group.
  • The interface of intercultural and inter-regional, which are people around Indonesia can be connected. So then, all misunderstanding which sometimes appeared of differences in socio-cultural background and language can be avoided.

Official language of the Republic Indonesia – As a results of Seminar about politics and national language, which held in Februari 25 until 28 1975,  It stated that Indonesian used for:

  • Official language of state – Bahasa as the official state language is used in the text of the proclamation of Indonesian independence RI 1945. From then, Indonesian used in all ceremonies, events and state activities both orally and in writing.
  • Official language for education – Bahasa is used as the language of instruction in educational institutions, both formal and non-formal. The subject matter in the form of print media must speak Indonesia to facilitates the teaching and learning activities. This can be done by translating books in foreign languages. If this is done, it helps increase the development of Bahasa as a language of science and technology.
  • Official language of National development – Bahasa is used for government relations and information dissemination to the public. It should be held in administration systems of mass communication media uniformity. The purpose is for improvement. So that the message can be quickly and correctly received by the public.
  • Culture, Science, and Technology development – In order to develop science and modern technology in order to reach a wider use. The spread of science and technology, either through textbooks, popular books, scientific magazines and other print media, should use the Indonesian language. This implementation has a reciprocal relationship with its function as a language of science initiated by educational institutions, particularly in higher education.

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The Structures of Indonesia Language

History of EYD ( Spelling Enchanced )

Spelling is the rules or how to write words using the letters in the language disciplines. In history of Bahasa, There are some kind of spelling, such as :

  1. Spelling of van Ophuijsen – Its spelling Malay language with Latin letters. Charles Van Ophuijsen assisted Moehammad and Nawawi Ibrahim Taib Soetan Ma’moer to drafted a new spelling in 1896. Grammar spelling  of van Ophuijsen officially recognized the Nethertlands colonial government in 1901. The characteristics of spelling van Ophuijsen:
    1. Wear ï for distinguishes the letter “I”. It used to suffixes and used as a substitutes for the letter “Y”.
    2. Using a letters ”OE” to substitute U in words such as: boeang, Soeka, goeroe, Boeloe, tidoer, and more.
    3. Using the letter “J” to substitutes the letter “Y” in words such as: Sajang ( affections )
    4. Using a single quote accents such as a replacement letter “K” like: ma’moer.
  2. Spelling of Soewandi – Its used in March 1947. It spelling valid until 1972. The characteristics of this spelling are:
    1. Letter “OE” have not been used, replaced with the letter “U”.
    2. Using of single quote replaced with the letter “K”.
    3. Using the number 2 for repeated words.
    4. There is no difference between using the prefix and next word.
  3. Spelling of Enchanced – Enhanced spelling is the spelling of Indonesian history was used in 1972. Its replace Soewandi spelling. In May 23, 1972, a joint statement has been signed by Tun Hussien Onn (The Education Minister of Malaysia ) and Mashuri (Minister of Education and Culture of the Republic of Indonesia). Meanwhile, in August 16, 1972, Presidential Decralation No. 57, 1972, enacted Latin spelling system for Malay and Indonesian. The characteristics of the enhanced spelling, among others:
    1. Using the letter “C” to replaces the letters “TJ”
    2. Using the letter “J” to replaces the letters “Dj”.
    3. Using the letters “K” to replaces the letters “Kh”.
    4. Changes from the beginning “Sj” to “Sy”.
    5. Changes from the beginning “Nj” to “Ny”.
    6. Changes from the beginning “J” to “Y”.

How to Learn Indonesian Languange

Learning Bahasa with Indonesian is not provide the better results as we may know about it. It depends on what purpose of studying Indonesia language. Sometimes,  you must learn Indonesian by reading and writing for get better improvement. Then, consult it with other which csn understanding about what you say in Bahasa.

Living in Indonesia and speak with the people will end you up understand the slang language. Bahasa is quite complex than other languages. Well, a professional tutor (usually language students) and read good Indonesia books or newspaper (in term of its grammar) will show you a better improvement.

The other way to learn Indonesian is do an online chat with Indonesian peoples. Furthermore, most of Indonesian people used slang languages instead of their structured languages in daily conversations. Indonesia consists of more than 17,000 island with over 300 native languages and over 740 spoken languages , and that dialects gives a lot of influences on the way Indonesians talk to each other .

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Some Words Adopted by Other Countries

Here are the terms in Indonesia language absorbed from other countries

[tab title=”Netherlands”]

  • absen (absent)
  • atlet (atleet)
  • atraksi (attractie)
  • bagasi (bagage)
  • bazar (bazaar)
  • bensin (benzine)
  • berita (berichten)
  • cokelat (chocolade)
  • dasi (das)
  • egois (egoistisch)
  • eksklusif (exclusief)
  • gubernur (gouverneur)
  • handuk (handdoek)
  • identitas (identiteit)
  • kamuflase (camouflage)

[tab title=”Portuguese”]

  • dadu (dado)
  • dua (dois)
  • garpu (garfo)
  • gereja (igreja)
  • gudang (gudão)
  • harpa (harpa)
  • Inggris (Ingles)
  • jendela (janela)
  • Jurnal (Jornal)
  • kaldu (caldo)
  • kampung (campo)
  • lelang (leilão)
  • lemari (almario)
  • lampion (lampião)

[tab title=”English”]

  • pension – pensiun
  • phenomenon – fenomena
  • record – rekor
  • relative – relatif
  • stethoscope – stetoskop
  • stress – stres
  • tissue – tisu
  • tolerance – toleransi
  • trend – tren
  • trophy – trofi
  • unique – unik
  • unisex – uniseks
  • verification – verifikasi
  • villa – vila
  • volley – voli



In general, all of countries have their own language as their identity. Language mostly helps human for able to communicate with each other, making new friends also contribute at work for a better life. Therefore, the existence of language is important in the world.

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