The Malay language transformed into Bahasa Indonesia

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

Linguistically, Indonesia is one of the world’s most diverse countries, Jared Diamond explains (in Upheaval), with more than 700 different languages:

An important contribution to eventual Indonesian unity was the evolution and transformation of the Malay language, a trade language with a long history, into Bahasa Indonesia, the shared national language of all Indonesians today.


Even the largest of Indonesia’s hundreds of local languages, the Javanese language of Central Java, is the native language of less than one-third of Indonesia’s population.


If that largest local language had become the national language, it would have symbolized Java’s domination of Indonesia and thereby exacerbated a problem that has persisted in modern Indonesia, namely, fear of Javanese domination on the part of Indonesians of other islands.


The Javanese language has the additional disadvantage of being hierarchy-conscious, with different words used in speaking to people of higher or lower status.


Today, I share with Indonesians their appreciation for the advantages of the wonderful Bahasa Indonesia as their national language. It’s easy to learn. Only 18 years after Indonesia took over Dutch New Guinea and introduced Bahasa there, I found it being spoken even by uneducated New Guineans in remote villages.


Bahasa’s grammar is simple but supple at adding prefixes and suffixes to many word roots, in order to create new words with immediately predictable meanings. For example, the adjective meaning “clean” is “bersih,” the verb “to clean” is “membersihkan,” the noun “cleanliness” is “kebersihan,” and the noun “cleaning up” is “pembersihan.”


  1. Kirk says:

    Y’know… I’m noticing a common thread with all of Mr. Diamonds work product: Everything outside his own culture is superior and better than what it provides.

    There is something seriously wrong with this man’s thought processes and approach to things. He’s gone so far towards “understanding and appreciating the other” that he’s completely lost sight of the good things about his own culture.

    One of the many things we need to fix in our society is the incredible amount of self-loathing and hatred towards our own that the universities and colleges inculcate into the young minds they take in. I’m hard pressed to think of any other historical period where it’s been like this, with the academy training all the elite to hate itself, its nation, and all it stands for.

    Gramsci has won, is all I can say.

  2. Graham says:

    By the merest coincidence I stumbled on wikipedia articles today for oikophobia, nostophobia, xenophilia, xenocentrism and allophilia.

    All out of control disorders but nice to have names.

Leave a Reply