IndonesiaBahasa Indonesia – that is Indonesian language; basically: Austronesian and Malaysian language, not going into more classification details. The language, you would probably say about, just like me until last week when I discovered its history, as most of the languages we know – that has a long life time, maybe a proto-language long long time ago who laid the foundations of modern Indonesian we know nowadays. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Surprised? Keep reading…

To understand how Bahasa Indonesia was created, we should go back in time and move to Riau Province (red area on the map below). This place was cultural and political centre of Malay World (meaning homeland for Austronesian people – among some others definitions) before Europeans came up with their idea of colonising this region. So things became more complicated when Singapore came under control of Brits. In 1824 there was the Treaty of London, the Anglo-Dutch Treaty spreading the British influence from Singapore up to the North and the Dutch control from Riau to Jawa. Then, as Europeans withdrew, Malay World’s nations started to fight against each other and this way Riau lost its importance and according to the British division in 1918, Singapore, Malaysian Federation and Indonesia appeared.


Hence we could say, the idea of Malay World collapsed. Surely, Malaysian was for a long time the lingua franca for Indonesians. However, the problem of unity such a diverse area with so many languages (I found the numbers: 583 with all the dialects and more than 700 not only within the Austronesian language group) was huge and being an independent country, Indonesia, obviously, didn’t want to take Malaysian as their official language. Javanese failed in terms of uniting people. Instead, Malaysian was still on top. Why? It was used during propagation of Islam (13th-17th century), was the only language used for trade, and even Dutch and Portuguese used it trying to christianize people. In effect, in 1928 the Youth Pledge (Sumpah Pemuda) proclaimed three ideals: one motherland, one nation and one language (Indonesian). This event was used during the proclamation of indepence of Indonesia to let the language be the official one.

Indonesian is essentially the same language as Malaysian, but… first, pronunciation differs and so does vocabulary. Inevitably, Sanskrit and Arabic have the piece of the cake during the history times of Malaysian, but also Dutch and Portuguese, as the languages of the colonizing countries did. Then Javanese as one of the languages in Indonesia. Also, we shouldn’t forget to mention Chinese as it influences many languages in Asia, so the diversity is a vast field of researches for all the “ethymological beasts”.

Now, taking those three languages: Malaysian, Indonesian and Javanese, we should follow the thing of the alphabets. Evident result of Malaysian influence (so in reality Arabic influence) is Jawi (جاوي‎), the Arabic script used for writing Malaysian (and also Indonesian in more Malaysian parts like Riau). Then Rumi, the latin alphabet, normally used in Indonesian and the last, Akara Jawa (Javanese script) used to write in Javanese.

To conlude, formally, Indonesian is a really young language and even if we know how similar it is to Malaysian, we should still remember about one thing: even if languages are really alike or base on each other in a huge part, they always open the door to different cultures that shouldn’t be compared.

Take care,



PS Chances are some of my Indonesians friends will read this, so, guys, please, if something is written wrong, let me know in the comments!