Learn Indonesian Phonetics – Theory – Examples

Hi! Welcome back!

Ready for new lesson? After you have learned another basic Indonesian linguistics comprehension in Indonesian Phonemes, this time we will visit another part of phonology, which is about Indonesian Phonetics. As you know, unlike animals or plants, humans were given a different speaking anatomy as well as innate language device that made us could have verbal communication (language). Therefore, we should be really grateful!

When we talked about phonology, which includes Indonesian phonetics, you should remember we are talking about speech sound/language sound, not about Indonesian Alphabets. Furthermore, what is the exact different between phonetics and phonemics (or phonology)?

The answer is phonetics learn how a speech sound/language sound is produced by human vocal organs, while the phonemics learns about the capability of speech sound to distinguish meaning. Remember, distinguish meaning. You could learn more about phonemes in Consonant Phonemes in English and Indonesian and Indonesian Phonemes, but this time we will more focus in phone (speech sound).

Vocoid Types + Examples

As you know, vocoid is the speech sound that produced without air circulation constriction. The sound of vocoid completely depends on your tongue position, which includes height or (high, high-mid, mid, low-mid, low) and backness or  (front, central, back) as well as mouth shape or roundedness (rounding the lips or not).

Those are the classification for Bahasa Indonesia speech sound. Therefore, you may find that Indonesian people has difficulty to pronounce [з] or [æ]. Furthermore, here are 10 types of vocoid ([a], [i], [ɪ], [u], [ʊ], [o], [ɔ], [e], [ɛ], and [ə]. Now let’s divide it based on the classification.


  • high : [i], [u]
  • high-mid : [ɪ], [ʊ]
  • mid : [e], [ə], [o]
  • low-mid [ɛ], [ɔ]
  • low : [a]


  • front : [a], [i], [ɪ], [e], [ɛ]
  • center : [ə]
  • back : [u], [ʊ], [o], [ɔ]


  • rounded : [u], [ʊ], [o], [ɔ]
  • unrounded : [a], [i], [ɪ], [e], [ɛ], [ə]

Based on classification above, we could identify each vocoid characteristics. Try to pronounce and fill it!

  • [a] = low, front, unrounded – such as in English ‘mask’
    – Bahasa Indonesia words = dara, maya, para
  • [i] = high, front, unrounded – such as in English ‘me’, ‘keen’
    – Bahasa Indonesia word = ‘sini’
  • [ɪ] = high-mid, front, unrounded – such as in English ‘thing’, this’
    – Bahasa Indonesia words = ‘bibir’, ‘sisir’
  • [e] = mid, front, unrounced – (uncommon in English)
    – Bahasa Indonesia word = ‘meja’
  • [ɛ] = low-mid, front, unrounded – such as in English ‘let’, ‘red’
    – Bahasa Indonesia word – ‘leher’
  • [o] = mid, back, rounded – (uncommon in English)
    – Bahasa Indonesia words = ‘toko‘, ‘soto
  • [ɔ] = mid-low, back rounded – such as in English ‘more’
    – Bahasa Indonesia word = ‘tokoh’
  • [u] = high, back, rounded – such as in English ‘to, ‘tooth’
    – Bahasa Indonesia word – ‘susu‘, ‘tabu
  • [ʊ] = mid-high, back, rounded – such as in English ‘put’
    – Bahasa Indonesia word = ‘tabur’
  • [ə] = mid, center, unrounded – such as in English ‘fallen’
    – Bahasa Indonesia words = ‘teman’, ‘depan’

Recommendation: Try to make the sound with moving your tongue smoothly in this order and reverse :
First group : [i], [ɪ], [e], [ɛ], [a]
Second group :
[u], [ʊ], [o], [ɔ], [a]

Hopefully you could feel your tongue movement and position! 

Contoid and Examples

The other parts of Indonesian Phonetics is contoid. I hope you have learn very well in Consonant Phonemes in English and Indonesian. However, in this opportunity we will observe the contoid in different perspective, which is based on the the place of articulation. Therefore you could both understand and feel it by yourself at the same time. Here are the Bahasa Indonesia contoids

  • bilabial  (two lips) = [b], [p], [m]
    in English : back, pipe, mice
    in Bahasa Indonesia : bara, pari, muka
  • labiodental (lips + teeth) = [f]
    in English = fine
    in Bahasa Indonesia = fasih, virus
    *Bahasa Indonesia know the ‘v’ letter, but not the [v] sound, it is pronounce as an [f]
  • apikoalveolar (tounge+alveolar ridge [roof mouth between upper teeth and hard palate) = [t], [d], [n]
    in English = time, bat, done, nun
    – in Bahasa Indonesia = datang, natal
  • laminopalatal (front-tongue + hard palate) = [c], [j], [s], [y], [z], [ñ]. [ʃ]
    in English = side, yawn, buzz, rose, chick, jam, shoo
    – in Bahasa Indonesia = cari, juang, supaya, zebra, nyuap, Indonesia, syukur
    *There is no [ñ] in English
  • dorsovelar (back-tongue + soft palete) = [k], [g], [ŋ]
    – in English = king, geek, big
    in Bahasa Indonesia = kurang, garam
  • laryngeal (esophagus) = [h]
    in English = house
    – in Bahasa Indonesia = rumah hantu
  • Glottal [ʔ]
    It is like has something in your esophagus that cause you to pause/stop (almost like [k] and [g])
    – in Bahasa Indonesia = saat [saʔat] 

After learned about the theory, let’s do some pratice! Try to pronounce these following words and try to feel your vocal organs!

  • buku [buku]
  • murah [mu’rah]
  • Jumat [Jumʔat]
  • Bunga [buŋa]
  • Fantastis [fantas’tis]
  • menyangka [məñaŋka]
  • abad [a’bat]
  • syarat [ʃarat]

Learn more about pronunciation in How to Pronounce Indonesian Words

Diphthongs and Consonant Clusters

Diphthongs and Consonant Clusters is a set of sound (vocoid for diphtongs and contoid for consonant clusters) that produced as a single sound. In Bahasa Indonesia, there are three diphtongs, ai [ay], oi [oy], and au [aw]. The three of them are rising diphthongs because it produced from higher sound to lower [check the classification again!]. Here are the examples.

  • kalau [kalaw] – if
  • selesai [sələsay] – done/finish
  • amboi [amboy] – (Indonesian expression for impressed)

More in Indonesian Diphtongs

Furtheremore, there are more Indonesian Consonant Clusters than diphtongs. Here are the examples!

  • prakata [prakata] – pre-words
  • stasiun [staʃun] – station
  • seblak [səblak] – Bandung’s food

You could also learn more in Indonesian Consonant Clusters

More to Know about Phonetics!

Sometimes study about linguistics such as phonetics sounds very absurd and far away. However, it is actually happened in our daily life, including in Indonesia. Some evidences of phonetics in our life are dialects, accents, formal/non-formal words, cheesy chat, plat number that formed a word (in Indonesia especially). Here are several examples.

Have you ever heard Mel B said ‘good luck’ or ‘buzzer’ with her typical accent? You may notice instead of pronounce it as the standard English [gʊd lʌk] and [ˈbʌzə], you may heard something like [gʊd lʊk] and [ˈbʊzə]. Or you definitely familiar with two other forms of ‘because’– coz [kɒz] and cause [kɔːz].

The similarities between the two examples are they both has one/some particular different speech sound that caused different pronunciation too, but it did not change the meaning/reference of it. Therefore it is part of phonetics.

In Bahasa Indonesia, it is also happened–either related to dialects or related to standard/non-standard language. Here are several examples.

  • telur [standard] and telor [non-standard] are refer to ‘egg’
  • tahu [standard] and tau [non-standard] are refer to ‘know’
  • Senin [non-standard] and Senen [non-standard] are refer to ‘Monday’
  • sup [standard] and sop [non-standard] are refer to ‘soup’
  • praktik [standard] and praktek [non-standard] are refer to ‘practice’

Related to Diphtongs

Sometimes diphtong sound would change into monophtong (single) sound, especially when in informal situation. The ‘ai’ [ay] would change to ‘e’ [e] (sometimes [ɛ] or [ɛʔ], depends on the dialects/accents), while the ‘au’ [aw] would change to ‘o’ [o]. But, both forms refer to single meaning. Here are the examples.

  • santai [santay] to sante [sante] – relax
  • ramai [ramay] to rame [rame] – crowded
  • gulai [gulay] to gule [gule] – curry
  • pisau [pisaw] to piso [piso] – knife
  • silau [silaw] to silo [silo] – too bright

*Notes: It usually used in oral conversation or chatting through gadget. 

Other Cases

You will also find in not much, but possibly in Indonesian plat number (usually the reach one). It is possible to form limited words with your plat number. Here are the examples of phonetics phenomena.

  • G 1 LA
    Gila means ‘mad’ in English
  • B 10 LA
    Biola means ‘violin’ in English’
  • B 4 MAN
    Could you find the sentence? Yes, it is Be A Man
  • B 217 AN
    Could you understand?
    It is read as Berdua satu tujuan (Together to one purpose)
    B = ber (because in Indonesian Alphabets B is called [be], and the ‘r’ is reduced)
    2 = dua (two in English)
    B2 = ber + dua = berdua (together) Check Forming Indonesian Words
    1 = satu (one in English)
    7 = tujuh (seven in English)
    7AN= tujuhan, similar sound with tujuan (purpose in English)B2 1 7AN = Berdua satu tujuan (Sounds a little bit cheesy, right?)

Furthermore, there were an era when people send SMS using the numbers/puctuation as the replacement of letter. As we discussed, it is still undestandable and does not change the meaning of it. Therefore, it is also included into phonetics. On the other words, beside alphabets and phone (speech sound), numbers and punctuation could also be part of Indonesian Phonetics. Here take a look at these chats.

  • |-|1! |-|0\/\/ 4R3 y0u? – Hi! How are you?
  • 514P4 |\|4|\/|4 K4|\/|u, $4y4|\|9? – Siapa nama kamu, sayang? (What is your name, my dear?)

Now try to figure these chats and find the meaning! Good luck!

  • 13 3 R 4 P 4     U |\/| U R     K 4 |\/| U ?
  • K4|\/|U   C4|\|T1K    $3KA|_1   |\/|4|_4|\/|    1|\|1

Yes, learning Bahasa is not just about theory, grammar or vocabulary, but also through language, including Indonesian Phonetics, we learn about their society. I hope you enjoy this lesson. But, don’t forget to check