Indonesia

Understand

Indonesia is the sleeping giant of Southeast Asia. With 18,110 islands, 6,000 of them inhabited, it is the largest archipelago in the world. Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world — after China, India and the USA — and by far the largest in Southeast Asia. Indonesia also has the largest Muslim population in the world.

Talk

The sole official language is Indonesian, known as Bahasa Indonesia. The Indonesian language has adopted a number of loan words from Arabic, Dutch, and Sanskrit. It is similar to Malay (spoken in MalaysiaBrunei, and Singapore) and speakers of both languages can comprehend each other to a large extent. The main differences are in the loan words: Malay was more influenced by the English language, while Bahasa Indonesian was more influenced by the Dutch language.

Written phonetically with the Latin alphabet and with a fairly logical grammar, Indonesian is generally regarded as one of the easiest languages to learn, and A.M. Almatsier’s The Easy Way to Master the Indonesian Language, a 200 page small paperback, is an excellent starting point. It can be found in any Indonesian bookstore for less than US$3.

The language went through a series of spelling reforms in the 1950s and 60s to smooth over differences with Malay and expunge its Dutch roots. Although the reforms are long complete, you may still see old signs with dj for jj for y, or oe for u.

Many educated Indonesians understand and are able to speak English. While Indonesian is the lingua franca throughout the archipelago, there are thousands of local languages as well, and if you really get off the beaten track you may have to learn them as well. Some ethnic Chinese communities continue to speak various Chinese dialects, most notably Hokkien in Medan and Teochew in Pontianak.

Most educated seniors (70 years/older) in Indonesia understand Dutch, but realistically speaking English is far more useful these days. Many educated Muslims, especially those who graduated from Islamic religious institutes, understand Arabic to varying degrees. (source: Wikitravel)

 

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