How Many Languages Are There in Indonesia?

Indonesia is a country with diverse ethnicity. Do you know that Indonesia is comprised of 17,508 islands in total? This huge diversity accounts for the many languages spoken in Indonesia. You might know that Bahasa Indonesia is the official language in this country, which Indonesians hold on to proudly as it is their Indonesian heritage language and literature, How many languages are there in Indonesia? Actually, it has over 700 different native languages that exist here.

In fact, Bahasa Indonesia is only spoken as a mother tongue by 7% of the total population, while the rest only use it as a second language. While living in Indonesia, you’ll find it useful to get familiar with 5 most spoken languages in Indonesia.

Although Bahasa Indonesia is the formal language acknowledged in formal institutions such as schools, offices, and the government, don’t be surprised when you hear people speaking in other languages aside from Bahasa Indonesia around you. After all, our motto is ‘Bhinneka Tunggal Ika’ which means ‘unity in diversity’!

Let’s get familiar with 5 most spoken languages in Indonesia, shall we?

  1. Indonesian

First and foremost, Indonesian or Bahasa Indonesia is the main language spoken here, spoken as a first language by over 210 million people. It borrows heavily from local languages such as Javanese, Sundanese, and Minangkabau which we will get to in a short while.

It’s the language most foreigners would pick up on if they travel or stay in Indonesia as most people speak this language on a daily basis. You might want to learn about characteristics of Indonesian language to learn more about the characteristics of Indonesian language. The basic form of Indonesian sentences is the regular SVO (subject-verb-object) format, as you can see morphology Indonesia language.

  1. Javanese

Java is the most populous island of Indonesia, so you might expect this language to be the second most spoken language. About 84.3 million people speak this language. Several provinces in other islands, Sumatra and Kalimantan, also speak this language, which might result from migration.

People in Central and Eastern Java are more likely to speak this language as those in the more Western part of Java are closer to the capital city, where Indonesian has mostly taken over. As the Dutch occupy Java as a trading and shipping region back in the day, many Javanese words originated from Dutch. For example, the Indonesian word for bicycle is sepeda, but the Javanese’s word for it is in closer resemblence to the Dutch’s—pit, from the Dutch word fiets.

  1. Sundanese

Sundanese is a native language spoken by about 42 million people in Indonesia, mostly in West Java, Banten, and Jakarta. It is adapted from Madurese and Malay. The Sundanese language is known for being a gentle-sounding language.

It is highly phonetic with seven vowels, a /ɑ/, é /ɛ/, i /i/, o /ɔ/, u /ʊ/, e /ə/, and eu /ɤ/, and sometimes there are ‘semi-vowels’ which function as glide sounds between two different vowels, for example, the letter ‘w’ is used as a glide sound between vowels u and é. How to Pronounce Indonesian Words here.

  1. Madurese

Madurese is commonly spoken in the Madura region of East Java by 13.6 million people. It is related to the Balinese as well as Malay language. It even shares some similarity with Filipino and Banjar (a type of Malay) language. Some

Madurese words are similar to Indonesian words, for example, lalake, which is similar to laki-laki which means male from Indonesian, and matah, from the Indonesian word mata which means eye. There are also some completely different words, like babine which translates to perempuan (female).

  1. Minangkabau

The previous top four languages are mostly spoken in the Java region. This fifth language, Minangkabau, is native to those in  West Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, and Bengkulu. It is largely similar to Malay, leading to controversies about the closeness of the two languages.

Some people think that Minangkabau is a kind of Malay dialect, but some other people say it is a Malay language on itself. Significant numbers of Malay people that have migrated to Sumatra also still speak this language.

The unique thing about this language is that there are digraphs, which are a combination of two alphabets which make a unique sound together, however they are not considered as separate letters in this language. Examples are ai, au, oi, gh, and kh.

After getting familiar with these 5 most spoken languages in Indonesia, you might learn that there are still hundreds of other native languages in Indonesia. You might want to start learning the Indonesian language first (see how to learn Indonesian fast here as well as Indonesian grammar tips here), but don’t be afraid to explore other native languages as you go. This country is in fact an archipelago of multiple cultures and languages!