Monday, September 15, 2014

Country Profile: The Languages of Indonesia

Last week we started a new series of Country Profiles with a look at the linguistic makeup of China. Today we're continuing on our new journey, this time exploring the many languages spoken in Indonesia.

To say that Indonesia is a linguistically diverse country is a bit of an understatement. According to Ethnologue, Indonesia is home to over 700 living languages. We imagine that this is partly due to the fact that the country is composed of 13,466 islands, which undoubtedly create pockets of linguistic isolation due to their geography. It goes without saying that we're not going to mention every single language spoken in Indonesia today, but we will try to provide a good overview.

The Top Four

The sole official language of Indonesia is Indonesian, one of two standardized varieties of Malay. It is an Austronesian language just like the majority of the other languages spoken in Indonesia. Despite being used in all official contexts as well as education and the media, Indonesia is primarily spoken as a second language.

Instead, the majority of Indonesians speak Austronesian languages such as Javanese, Sunda, and Madurese as their native language. Javanese is the native language of Java, the most populous island in the entire world, and is spoken by over 80 million people. Sunda, also known as Sundanese, is primarily spoken in West Java, the western side of the island, while Madurese is spoken on the eastern side of the island as well as Madura Island.

This map of Indonesian ethnic groups provides insight into
how this country has such a diverse linguistic makeup!
Austronesian Languages

It should come as no surprise that the majority of the languages spoken in Indonesia are members of the Austronesian language family since its members primarily originated in Southeast Asia and other areas of the Pacific. Some of the most-spoken Austronesian languages in Indonesia besides our top four include Minangkabau, Bugis, Banjar, Aceh, and Bali, which all boast over 3 million native speakers.

West Papuan Languages

Indonesia is also home to a few West Papuan languages, which are spoken in eastern Indonesia and on the island of New Guinea. The Ternate and Tidore languages are spoken on the Maluku Islands that feature their respective names.

Other Indigenous Languages

There are dozens of other indigenous languages spoken throughout Indonesia which are extremely difficult to classify. Some linguists group a large number of the languages spoken on the island of New Guinea and surrounding islands together as Trans-New Guinea languages, but others, such as Ethnologue, believe that they should be kept in individual language families.

Some of these controversial language groups include the Mairasi languages, the Lakes Plain languages, and the Senagi languages. Indonesia is also home to dozens of endangered languages that are quickly approaching extinction, sadly.