As a foreigner, perhaps you feel comfortable and used to call other people directly by their names. You can call your mom by her name, you can call your dad by his name, and you can call your brothers and sisters by their names. But you will rarely see that happening here in Indonesia. Eastern culture usually upholds respect to elders and recognizes different ages and genders, including in Indonesia. Now, let’s check out about the “mbak” meaning in Indonesian language.
There are many ways to call elders. It is differentiated between female and male, old and young. You can take a look at how to say sir in Indonesian to see how we use it for elder people that are specifically categorized as mature. “Mature” parameters are subjective, especially when we judge others from their physical appearance, but usually it can be ranged from 30 above. Often times, people older than 60 will already be categorized “grandparents” indirectly, even though we still call them using “sir/mam” directly and formally during conversations.
Perhaps if you are a young woman visiting Indonesia, you will feel weird being called “mbak” everywhere. Don’t worry, it’s just the matter of habit. If we are millennial or young people under 30 talking to other people that are also under 30, we usually call people elder than us with “mbak” for female, “mas” for male, “kak” for general Indonesian to be polite. But it’s also okay if we are already above 30 and still want to call our elder relatives, seniors, and friends with “mbak”/”mas”/”kak”, as long as the age gap is not too far.
mbak equal to sister or miss. That’s the the “mbak” meaning in Indonesian language.
Specifically, “mbak” and “mas” came from Javanese traditional language that still commonly used in Central and East Java to address older sister or female family relatives. But because we live in a various traditional culture, there is a huge possibility where certain places might use another word to address elder people. Such as in Sundanese culture (West Java region) we perhaps call “aa” for male elders or “teteh” for female elders. However, the language rarely changes in addressing female. Not to mention that it is already being adapted to be used everywhere, such as in media talk shows, daily conversations, and so on. So the term “mbak” is really general and common to be used in Indonesia.
In contrary, we call younger people with “adik” that is general for all genders (both female and male).
Addressing female strangers
When talking to strangers, the first thing we observe is how they might want to be called. We can consider that through estimating their age and position. If they are old women or women with children we can directly call them “ibu” / “mam”. But if they seem like older career women, under 30, or in the same age with us, we can directly call them “mbak” without knowing their names. This can happen in buying and selling transactions, or in sudden conversation with some strangers during the way, and more.
Addressing familiar females
When we address people that we already know, we can directly call them without hesitation. If they don’t like being called that way, they will ask us to call them the way they want.
How to use the tittle “mbak”
- Mbak _____ [first name]
How to use the title “adik”
- Formal : Adik _____ [first name]
- Informal : Dik _____ [first name] / Dek _____ [first name]
Mbak Taylor, Mbak Ariana, Mbak Sarah
Dek Sarah (female), Dek John (male)
Example in conversations with female strangers
Note: ‘Mbak’ refers to female.
1. Sorry, can I ask where this place is? (showing map)
Maaf mbak, boleh saya tau tempat ini dimana?
2. What is your name?
Siapa nama mbak?
3. Sorry, may ask for help?
Maaf mbak, saya boleh minta tolong?
4. On the phone
A : Hello, you’re talking with the call service. Is there anything I can help?
Halo, anda sedang berbicara dengan call service, ada yang bisa saya bantu?
B : Hello, may I ask for help? (knowing that the person is female)
Hello, saya boleh minta tolong mbak?
With familiar friends
1. Hello, Sarah! (older)
Halo, mbak Sarah!
2. Sister Ella, may I ask for help?
Mbak Ella, saya boleh minta tolong?
3. On the phone (girl to girl)
A : Hello, may I speak to sister Nana
Halo, boleh saya berbicara dengan mbak Nana?
B : Hello, I’m Nana. What can I do for you? And with whom am I talking with?
Saya Nana, bagaimana? Dengan siapa saya berbicara ya mbak?
That is how we use the title mbak in Indonesian language. We really hope you can apply that term in daily conversation as it become so common today in Indonesia.
We hoped you enjoyed learning this time, see you next time!