Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Language Profile: Indonesian

Back in February, one of our language profiles featured Malay, an Austronesian macrolanguage. In that post, we focused on Malaysian (also confusingly known as Malay), one of its two standard varieties. Today we'll be looking at the other standardized register of Malay which is known as Indonesian. Though the two varieties have different names, they are mainly considered to be distinct for political and historical reasons.

In 1928, Indonesian became the "unifying language" of Indonesia, but wasn't the official language until 1945 when the country gained independence from Japanese control. Other languages such as Javanese, Sunda, and Madurese are spoken in the country, but Indonesian is considered the lingua franca of the archipelago. These other languages have influenced various dialects of Indonesian, and Indonesian slang is quite popular in society as well.

Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia
As the lingua franca, the Indonesian language is used in many areas of Indonesian society. It's the language of instruction in education and is also used by the media and the government, not to mention the upper classes of society and in most formal situations.

Despite sharing about 80% of its lexicon with Malaysian, there are some differences between the two standard varieties in terms of pronunciation and vocabulary. Over the years, Indonesian's lexicon has been influenced greatly by other languages. It contains many Javanese words since the Javanese are the majority ethnic group of the country, as well as Dutch terms from its former colonizer. The language also borrows from Arabic, Persian, Portuguese, and Chinese.

If you think you'd like to learn Indonesian, at the very least you should have an easy time learning the alphabet! The Indonesian alphabet is Latin-based and contains the same 26 letters used in English. It was originally based on the Dutch alphabet. Speaking of Dutch, we'll be learning more about it in next week's profile!