The People of Indonesia, Language
Sasak, eastern islands, Batak, uniform system, Sulawesi
About 300 languages and dialects are spoken in Indonesia, but Bahasa Indonesia is the official and most widely spoken tongue. Its common use has helped unify the country since independence in 1949. Bahasa Indonesia is based on Malay, long the market language of coastal towns, and it contains elements of Chinese, Indian, Dutch, and English. In 1972 Indonesia and Malaysia, where the Malay-based Bahasa Malaysia is the official language, agreed on a revised and uniform system for spelling Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malaysia. Today, television programs, major newspapers, schools, and universities all use Bahasa Indonesia.
Other languages are also widely used, and many Indonesians speak two or more languages. These languages, as well as Bahasa Indonesia, belong mainly to the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian languages family. They include Javanese, with more than 80 million speakers, and Sundanese, spoken by residents of the western end of Java. Acehnese, Batak, Minangkabau, and Malay are spread throughout Sumatra. Among the languages spoken on Sulawesi are Minahasan, dialects of Torajan, Buginese, and Makassarese. On the eastern islands, Balinese, Sasak (Lombok), and Sumbawan are spoken. The people of Kalimantan speak Malay dialects, Iban, and other dialects. Trans-New Guinea and West Papuan languages are spoken in Papua and in the northern parts of Maluku. English is in growing use as the language of business, while older people who were educated in Dutch schools before independence occasionally use Dutch.
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