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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 July 2008

Craig D. Soderberg
Boston, MA
Kenneth S. Olson
Dallas, TX
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Indonesian is an Austronesian language, closely related to Malay. Malay served as a lingua franca throughout the Malay Archipelago for centuries, and a variant of Malay was adopted as the official language of Indonesia when independence was declared in 1945. The variety described here is sometimes referred to as Standard Indonesian. Its autoglossonym is ‘Bahasa Indonesia’.

Copyright © Journal of the International Phonetic Association 2008

Indonesian is an Austronesian language, closely related to Malay. Malay served as a lingua franca throughout the Malay Archipelago for centuries, and a variant of Malay was adopted as the official language of Indonesia when independence was declared in 1945. The variety described here is sometimes referred to as Standard Indonesian. Its autoglossonym is ‘Bahasa Indonesia’.

Indonesian is the language of government and the medium of instruction in schools, and it is used in an increasingly wide sphere of social interaction, including interethnic communication, religion, and mass communication. There is an increasingly large population of speakers for whom Indonesian is their first language, particularly in the Jakarta area. An estimated 23 million people speak Indonesian as a first language and an additional 140 million speak it as a second language (Grimes Reference Grimes, Wurm, Mühlhäusler and Tryon1996, Gordon Reference Gordon2005). For a recent discussion of its classification within Austronesian, see Adelaar (Reference Adelaar, Adelaar and Himmelmann2005).

Indonesian exhibits much regional variation. When spoken as a second language, it is strongly influenced by the regional language of the speaker. This has been documented for the vowel system by van Zanten (Reference van Zanten1989), and multiple aspects of the influence of Javanese on Indonesian have been shown by Adisasmito-Smith (Reference Adisasmito-Smith2004).

Studies of Indonesian phonology (in varying degrees of detail) include MacDonald (Reference MacDonald1976), Dardjowidjojo (Reference Dardjowidjojo1978), Lapoliwa (Reference Lapoliwa1981), Prentice (Reference Prentice and Comrie1987), Echols & Shadily (Reference Echols and Shadily1989), Alieva, Arakin, Ogloblin & Sirk (Reference Alieva, Arakin, Ogloblin and Sirk1991), Moeliono & Grimes (Reference Moeliono, Grimes and Tryon1995), and Sneddon (Reference Sneddon1996). In addition, some Indonesian language learning guides discuss aspects of Indonesian phonology (Atmosumarto Reference Atmosumarto1994, Barker Reference Barker1992, Kwee Reference Kwee1993, Steinhauer Reference Steinhauer2002, and Wolff, Oetomo & Fietkiewicz Reference Wolff, Oetomo and Fietkiewicz1992). Recent theoretical treatments include Cohn (Reference Cohn1989, Reference Cohn1993, Reference Cohn, Moulton and Wolf2005), Kenstowicz (Reference Kenstowicz1995), Adisasmito-Smith & Cohn (Reference Adisasmito-Smith and Cohn1996), and Cohn & McCarthy (Reference Cohn and McCarthy1998).

‘The North Wind and the Sun’ was translated from English into Indonesian by Daniel Darmawan. A Malay version of the text is found in IPA (1949: 39f.). The text and the individual words illustrating the various sounds were read by Petrus Widjaja, a male speaker of Indonesian, 66 years of age at the time of the recording. Mr. Widjaja was born in Central Java, and his speech reflects the variety of Indonesian spoken there. He lived on Java until he moved to Texas in 1998. Besides Indonesian, he also speaks Javanese, Dutch, English, and German.


The voiceless plosives /p/, //, and /k/ are unaspirated, and they are unreleased in syllable-final position. Syllable-final /k/ becomes [ʔ], as in becakbetʃaʔ] ‘pedicab, tricycle’, but this does not apply in some loan words, e.g. [ˈfaka] ‘fact’, nor does it apply in some regional variants. The voiced plosives may be somewhat breathy. The alveolar consonants /d/, /n/, and /s/ are dental in some regional variants.

The speaker normally pronounced the alveolar rhotic /r/ as a trill [r], but he sometimes produced a flap [ɾ], especially in intervocalic position. In some regional variants, /h/ optionally deletes between non-identical vowels, e.g. [ˈliha] ~ [ˈlia] ‘to see’, and word-finally, e.g. [ˈsudah] ~ [ˈsuda] ‘already’. The speaker produced the /h/ in both of these words.

The consonants in parentheses on the consonant chart are found only in loan words and may exhibit variation in their pronunciation. For example, /f/ is optionally realized as [p] as in [ˈfikir] ~ [ˈpikir] ‘think’. (The speaker produced the latter.) The symbol 〈v〉 found in loan words is voiceless in the speaker's pronunciation, e.g. variasi [fiˈasi] ‘variation’. The marginal phoneme /x/ (written 〈kh〉) is now generally being replaced by /k/, but [x] may still be heard in the speech of older speakers. For example, in the recorded text, the speaker produced [x] in the word akhirnya [aˈxirɲa] ‘final, last’.

The voiced plosives /b/, /d/, and /ɡ/ do not occur word-finally in the native vocabulary. When they occur in borrowed forms, they are realized as voiceless plosives [p], [], and [k], e.g. muridmuri] ‘student’.

The glottal stop [ʔ] occurs in four environments. First, it occurs as an allophone of /k/ syllable-finally, as mentioned above. Second, it occurs between vowels in some words of Arabic origin, e.g. maafmaʔaf] ‘forgive, pardon’. Third, it occurs between a prefix ending in a vowel and a stem beginning with a vowel, irrespective of the vowel quality, e.g. seorang [səˈʔoraŋ] ‘a person’, keenam [kəʔəˈnam] ‘sixth’. Fourth, it occurs between a stem ending in /a/ and a stem or suffix beginning with /a/, e.g. keadaan [kəʔaˈdaʔan] ‘existence, situation’.


The vowels /i, e, o, u/ generally lower to [ɪ, ɛ, ɔ, ʊ] in a final closed syllable. In addition, they lower to [ɪ, ɛ, ɔ, ʊ] in a penultimate syllable that precedes a final closed syllable when the vowels of the two syllables agree in height. These patterns are subject to regional variation. See van Zanten (Reference van Zanten1989) and Adisasmito-Smith (Reference Adisasmito-Smith2004) for further discussion.

Both /e/ and /ə/ are written 〈e〉, though /e/ can be written as 〈é〉 to disambiguate the pronunciation. The diphthongs occur only root-finally.


Stress in Indonesian is predictable. Unaffixed words in isolation have primary stress on the penultimate syllable, but if the vowel in the penultimate syllable is a schwa /ə/, the stress usually occurs on the ultimate syllable (depending on the dialect).

Transcription of recorded passage

saŋ ˈaŋin uˈaɾa dan saŋ maaˈhaɾi səˈdaŋ bəɾdəˈba ənˈaŋ siˈapa dianˈaɾa məˈreka jaŋ ˈpaliŋ ˈhebakəˈika məlinˈaslah sə ˈoɾaŋ pəˈlantʃoŋ | jaŋ ərˈbuŋkus ˈdeŋan ˈdʒubah haˈŋaɲaməˈɾeka səˈudʒu | ˈdʒika saŋ ˈaŋin uˈaɾa | bərˈhasil | məmˈbua si pəˈlantʃoŋ əɾsəˈbu məmˈbuka dʒuˈbahɲa | ˈmaka ˈdialah jaŋ mənˈdʒai əɾˈheba dianˈa məˈɾekadan | saŋ ˈaŋin uˈaɾa pun | bərˈiup səˈkua ˈmuŋkin ‖ ˈnamun | səˈmakin ˈkua ia bərˈiup | səˈmakin ˈera | puˈlalah | si pəˈlantʃoŋ məməˈluʔ dʒuˈbahɲasəˈhiŋɡa ˈpada aˈxiɾɲa | saŋ ˈaŋin uˈaɾa ˈiu | məɲəˈrahlahsəˈkaɾaŋ | iˈbalah ɡiˈliɾan saŋ maaˈhari | ˈunuʔ | bərˈsinar ˈdeŋan haˈŋaɲadan ˈsaʔa ˈiu pun si pəˈlantʃoŋ məmˈbuka dʒuˈbahɲa | səˈhiŋɡa | məmˈbua saŋ ˈaŋin uˈaɾa ˈhaɾus məˈŋakui ‖ ˈbahwa | saŋ maahaˈɾilah | jaŋ ləˈbih ˈheba | daɾi ˈpada saŋ ˈaŋin uˈaɾa ˈiu sənˈdiɾi.

Orthographic version

Sang Angin Utara dan Sang Matahari sedang berdebat tentang siapa diantara mereka yang paling hebat, ketika melintaslah seorang pelancong yang terbungkus dengan jubah hangatnya. Mereka setuju jika Sang Angin Utara berhasil membuat si pelancong tersebut membuka jubahnya, maka dialah yang menjadi terhebat diantara mereka. Dan Sang Angin Utara pun bertiup sekuat mungkin, namun semakin kuat ia bertiup semakin erat pulalah si pelancong memeluk jubahnya, sehingga pada akhirnya Sang Angin Utara itu menyerahlah. Sekarang tibalah giliran Sang Matahari untuk bersinar dengan hangatnya, dan saat itupun si pelancong membuka jubahnya sehingga membuat Sang Angin Utara harus mengakui bahwa Sang Mataharilah yang lebih hebat dari pada Sang Angin Utara itu sendiri.


We wish to thank Donald Barr, Fraser Bennett, Michael Boutin, Michael Cahill, Charles Grimes, Paul Kroeger, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and suggestions. All errors are our responsibility.


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