Indonesian Phonemes – Types – Formula – Example

Welcome back to Mastering Bahasa!

Ready for new lesson? Of course, you are. After learning that there is significant difference between Indonesian Alphabets and its phonemes, let’s move to another level. In case you forget, I’ll remind you a little. Phonemes is part of phonology, which is about speech sound/language sound, while alphabets is the symbol.

On the other word, phonemes are heard (abstract) while alphabet is seen (real/written). Moreover, a phoneme is also has the capacity to distinguish the meaning. A sound could be signified by more than an alphabet and reverse. Before we move to Indonesian Phonemes, take a look of this example!

  • [ʤ]+[ʌ]+[ŋ]+[g]+[l] = jungle [ʤʌŋgl]

You could see that the word ‘jungle’ contains 6 alphabets, but only 5 phonemes. In fact, the sound [g] does not have signifier, while the letter ‘e’ is not pronounced. Furthermore, the letter ‘j’ is a symbol for the sound [ʤ], which is a combination of [j] and [h] sound, while the letter ‘ng’ is a symbol to signified the [ŋ] sound. Now you know more about phonemes.

As you know, phonemes or phonology is part of linguistics. Every language in the world has it, of course with their own characteristics. Lesson about phonemes, phonetics or phonology is one step above than language basic. Therefore, it required commitment and tenacity, not just interest. In this lesson, we will divide it into two big groups, vocoid (vowel phonemes) and contoid (consonant phonemes) in Bahasa Indonesia. Before we dive deeper, please refresh your mind with these following articles.

1. Vocoid (Vowel Phonemes)

Vocoid or vowel phonemes (vokoid in Bahasa Indonesia) is speech sound/language sound that produced without any air circulation constriction. You may familiar with the terms ‘vowel’. It is the symbol or the alphabet to signify the vocoid. I Bahasa Indonesia there are 5 vowels (a, i, u, e ,o) that signified 10 different vocoid.

However, because there is no formal or standard transcription (as you seen in English dictionary), the pronunciation of Bahasa Indonesia could be different with one and another, but is still considered understandable and not incorrect. There is because it completely depends on the individual itself, whom has different socio-cultural background (dialects, accents), mother-tongue or even unique condition of their speaking device.

Notes: If the different sound (phone) does not change the meaning it becomes phonetic, but if it changes the meaning it becomes phonemes (or phonemics). In this lesson we will focus in the latter one.

The 10 vocoid/vowel phonemes in Indonesia are

  • [a] – task [tɑːsk], arm [ɑːm], chance [ʧɑːns] (British), brass [brɑːs]
  • [i] – keen [kiːn ], dean [diːn], me [miː], teeth [tiːθ]
  • [ɪ] –  list [lɪst], this [ðɪs], thin [θɪn]
  • [u] – to [tuː], too [tuː], lose [luːz], tooth [tuːθ]
  • [ʊ] – put [pʊt], book [bʊk], look [lʊk]
  • [o] – (because no open syllable word in English, there is no word contains this sound )
  • [ɔ] – more [mɔː], core [kɔː], toy [tɔɪ],  shore [ʃɔː]
  • [e] – (because no open syllable word in English, there is no word contains this sound )
  • [ɛ] – let [lɛt], red [rɛd], fed [fɛd]
  • [ə] – fallen [ˈfɔːlən], purpose [ˈpɜːpəs], citrus [ˈsɪtrəs]

*It is the common pronunciation. If the person has certain dialects or accent, it could be a little different, especially allophones such as [ɪ], [ʊ], [ɔ] and [ɛ]
*Some Indonesian do not familiar with the [ə] sound in their mother-tongue, it usually replaced by [e] 

Here are several words in Indonesia contains it

  • [a] – kata [kata] – word; babi [babi] – pig
  • [i] – kita [kita] – we; bibi [bibi] – aunt
  • [ɪ] – bibir [bibɪr] – lips
  • [u] –kutu [kutu] – bedbug; buku [buku] – book; kuku [kuku] – nails
  • [ʊ] – bungkus [buŋkʊs] – wrap/cover
  • [o] – koko [koko] – big brother; toko [toko] – shop
  • [ɔ] – tokoh [tɔkɔh] – figure
  • [e] – teko [teko] – teapot, babe [babe] – father (Betawi-related)
  • [ɛ] – lele [lɛlɛ] – catfish
  • [ə] – teko [təkɔ] – come (Javanese), depan [dəpan] – face

You could see there is only one difference phoneme between kata and kita, teko with [e] and teko with [ə] or kuku with koko. But, it made differences. Therefore, in this case they be called phoneme. Before we move, for exercise know more about phonemes, try to pronounce these following words. If you have spare time, try to find the meaning too!

  • muda [muda]
  • mudi [mudi]
  • mudik [mudɪk]
  • suka [suka]
  • suku [suku]
  • roda [roda]
  • rodi [rodi]
  • apel [apel]
  • apel [apəl]
  • garang [garaŋ]
  • garing [gaŋ]
  • goreng [gɔrɛŋ]

Check also Indonesian Language Pronunciation Guide

2. Contoid (Consonant Phonemes)

You have learn very detail about consonant phonemes in Consonant Phonemes in English and Indonesian and it classification based on the air circulation constriction. In Indonesia it is called kontoid. This is the other part in mastering about Indonesian Phonemes.

Moreover, beside the air circulation constriction, we could also divide it into two simple group based on vocal cords vibration: voiced (vibrate) and voiceless (does not vibrate). If you are curious to identify a phoneme as voiced or voiceless, close your both ears and try to say the sound. You will feel the difference. Furthermore, to make it more clear, take a look at this explanation.

Important notes:

There are several speech sound that do not include in common Bahasa Indonesia pronunciation. It consists [v] like in ‘creative’, [ð] like in ‘this’,  [ʧ] like in ‘chair’, [θ] like in ‘thing’, and [ʤ] like in jungle, as well as several speech sound which exist in local language like Javanese or Balinese (try to listen their ‘t’ and ‘d’).

Nonetheless, even though it is not common used those sounds in Bahasa Indonesia, the probability of finding it in people dialects, pronuntiation or accents is very possible. Now, just focus in contoid that used in Bahasa Indonesia.

Voiced Consonant Phonemes

  • [b] – book [bʊk], crab [kræb], cable [ˈkeɪbl]
  • [v] – virtual [ˈvɜːtjʊəl], virus [vaɪərəs], glove [glʌv]
  • [j] – similar to [ʤ]
  • [g] – gun [gʌn], bug [bʌg]
  • [m] – mom [mɒm], some [sʌm], Rome [rəʊm]
  • [n] – nun [nʌn], noon [nuːn], soon [suːn]
  • [ŋ] – bring [brɪŋ], jingle [ˈʤɪŋgl], single [ˈsɪŋgl]
  • [ñ] – this sound does not exist in English
  • [z] – zebra [ˈziːbrə], buzz [bʌz], rose [rəʊz]
  • [r] – barrier [ˈbærɪə], rural [ˈrʊərəl], rabbit [ˈræbɪt]
  • [y] – Yankee [yæŋki], cute [kyuːt] *some write it as [j]

Voiceless Consonant Phonemes

  • [p] – pig [pɪg], clap [klæp], supper [ˈsʌpə]
  • [f] – fan [fæn], bluff [blʌf], trophy [ˈtrəʊfi], tough [tʌf]
  • [k] – cake [keɪk], sock [sɒk], book [bʊk], cut [kʌt], kettle [ˈkɛtl]
  • [t] –  toe [təʊ], but [bʌt], butter [ˈbʌtə]
  • [s] – slam [slæm], base [beɪs], lets [lɛts], bus [bʌs]
  • [h] – heist [hiːɪst], bohemian [bəʊˈhiːmjən]
  • [l] – like [laɪk], kill [kɪl], killer [ˈkɪlə], slum [slʌm]
  • [w] – why [waɪ], when [wɛn]
  • [x] –  it is the sound [k] + [h]
  • [ʔ] – it is when you has a little but pause in ‘uh-ohh’

If you look carefully, you may found that some of voiced and voiceless contoid are pairs. You were right! Sometimes it is becomes the reason why you misheard some words. Take an example like ‘crab’ and ‘crap’ or when you could not decide whether it ‘Batman’ or ‘bad man’, as well as in Indonesia when you find the words ‘bara’ and ‘para’ or ‘dara’ and ‘tara’.

There is because two sounds like [b] and [p] or [d] and [t] has more ‘functional burden’ with each other more than other sounds (You can easily distinguish [b] with [c] or [d] with [k]). Therefore, you must listen carefully if you met this occasion. Now let’s look phoneme’s implementation in Bahasa Indonesia.

  • Bali [bali] – Bali (a very beautiful island in Indonesia)
  • gali [gali] – dig
  • lali [lali] – forget (Javanese)
  • nali [nali] – informal word for (to) tie
  • Pali [pali] – A dialects/sub-language of Sanskrit
  • tali [tali] – rope
  • wali [wali] – guardian/custodian

Even though all the words sounds similar, it has vary meaning. The [b], [g], [l], [n], [p], [t], [w] are making a huge different in the meaning. This is an example of how phonemes could completely change a word meaning, that could cause a very dissimilar reference. Therefore, just be careful and practice your listening skill! 

In addition, those set of words is called minimal pair. It is when a group of words has only one different phoneme that changed the meaning of it. In English it is like walk, [wɔːk], talk [tɔːk], chalk [ʧɔːk]. Remember, it is the sound, not the alphabets. Here is another example of minimal pair, but this time try to pronounce it by yourself!

  • cari (find)
  • dari (from)
  • hari (day)
  • jari (finger)
  • kari (curry)
  • lari (run)
  • mari (let’s)
  • nari (informal word for ‘to dance’)
  • pari (stingray)
  • sari (extract/substance)
  • tari (dance/dancing – noun)

After this lesson, I hope you will try to collect as much as this set of minimal pair and figure out their difference. It could enhance your listening skill especially. But, for now that’s a wrap if this lesson about Indonesian Phonemes.

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