Languages of Indonesia


If we are talking about languages; the languages of Indonesia is the second-highest number of languages that are spoken in the world. 709 living languages are spoken in Indonesia today, though most of the languages have very few speakers. The majority of these languages are at risk of extinction unless urgent steps are taken to help sustain the heritage of these dying dialects.

We shall be considering some of the major languages of Indonesia among the 709 that are commonly spoken in the country today to make our readers have a broad knowledge of the language culture as it stands today in 2022. 

The Official Language

The officially recognized dialect in Indonesia which is used in all official engagements and schools as well as in legal proceedings is known as Bahasa Indonesia. This dialect is spoken by about 7% of the population and it is the second language of about 200 million people.

Efforts are been made by the government to facilitate the spread of Bahasa Indonesia and hence the use of it in: business and administrative purposes; education institutions and mass media throughout the country use this dialect as a medium of instruction.

Bahasa Indonesia is written in the Latin alphabet, and the lexicon is a borrowed vocabulary from many languages such as Sanskrit, Arabic, Portuguese, Dutch, and Chinese. Understanding this language opens doors of opportunities for students to make it far in their chosen field of study.

We shall take a look at 5 of the largest Islands in Indonesia and the languages that they speak. This will give a broad idea of what the language culture is in Indonesia.

Major 5 Islands that Speak the Languages of Indonesia

Sumatra Island

This Island is located in the west of Indonesia and it has about 52 million people living on the Island. Several ethnicities make up the inhabitants of the Island. Some of them are Aceh, Batak, Minangkabau, Rejang, Lampung, Nias, etc. They have their dialects and some of the dialects even have sub-dialects

One of the dialects here is called the Batak dialect. It also has some sub-divisions which are:

  • Batak Toba
  • Batak Karo
  • Batak Mandailing
  • Batak Dairi
  • Batak Simalungun, etc.

The variations are due to the variants of the dialect that are spoken in North Sumatra province.

Indonesian Islands | Languages of Indonesia

Java Island

This is where the capital Jakarta is located and the Island is the hub of political and social affairs. This is the most populated island in Indonesia because over 60% of the population lives here.  The government policy is, however, encouraging people to move to other Islands. The Javanese dialect is the predominant language of the natives here. This is a complex dialect with three differing registers. The varieties of this dialect include Western Javanese, Central Javanese, and Eastern Javanese. 

Another major language that cannot escape our lens is the Sudanese language which is predominant in West Java and Banten province. About 15% of the population here speak the dialect.

Kalimantan Island

This Island under reference is made up of three countries Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. There are 74 living languages on this Island and they are classified into five major families:

  • Greater Barito
  • Land Dayak
  • Malayic
  • North Borneo
  • South Sulawesi

Indonesians and visiting foreigners are not aware of most of the languages of Indonesia. There are also Chinese Hakka speakers among the dialects on this Island.

Sulawesi Island

This is the 7th largest Island in the world and boasts of several dialects. Ethnic Buginese dialect is the most popular here and the majority of the speakers can be found in Sulawesi. About 2% of the population of Indonesia speaks this dialect. Makassarese dialect is next and it is spoken by about 1% of the population. You will also get to hear the following dialects spoken on this Island:

  • Manado Malay in the north
  • Toraja in the south and west
  • Muna and Tolaki in the southeast
  • Tae in the south

Papua Island

The last of the five major Islands which we are going to mirror in the country is Papua Island. This Island consists of two countries: Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. The languages that are used on this Island are rather on the high side. We have about 270 Papuan languages and 5 Austronesian languages.

However, the languages are in danger of going into total extinction if urgent actions to reverse the drift are not taken. As of now, at least 10 of the dialects that are spread across 14 provinces are in danger of going into the dustbin of history. 

Read also: Dying languages of the world

You will get to hear a new variant of the Indonesian language on this Island called Papuan Malay. This is the lingua franca used for inter-ethnic communication most especially in trading. This dialect has been influenced by local languages.

Sign Language

Indonesian Sign Language, or Bahasa Isyarat Indonesia (BISINDO), is any of several related deaf sign languages of Indonesia, at least on the island of Java. It is based on American Sign Language, with local admixture in different cities. Although presented as a coherent language when advocating for recognition by the Indonesian government and use in education, the varieties used in different cities may not be mutually intelligible.


The languages of Indonesia are an interesting topic for research. Moreover, there are other several languages are spoken in smaller Islands aside from the ones spoken in the five major Islands. The majority of the dialects are in danger of going into total extinction if urgent steps to revive them are not taken by the government of Indonesia.

Read also Benefits Of Learning A New Language.

Frequently Asked Questions

Indonesia is a diverse country with more than 700 languages spoken across its vast archipelago. However, the five most common Languages of Indonesia are:

  • Indonesian
  • Javanese
  • Sundanese
  • Madurese
  • Minangkabau

The official language of Indonesia is Indonesian, also known as Bahasa Indonesia. It is a standardized form of Malay, which is the lingua franca of the Malay Archipelago.

The languages of Indonesia is most similar to the Malay language, as it is a standardized form of Malay. Malay and Indonesian are mutually intelligible, meaning that speakers of one language can generally understand and communicate with speakers of the other language. Malay is also spoken in other countries in Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore. Indonesian has also been influenced by other languages, including Javanese and Sundanese, which are both spoken in Indonesia.

Languages of indonesia | Zing Languages
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