Pronunciation in Bahasa Indonesia III: The dilemmatic-yet-not-so-problematic E

This time, I would like to discuss a problematic pronunciation of the letter “e.” In the alphabetic pronunciation, the letter “e” is pronounced as “e” in many words, such as “empire,” “error,” but not “economy.” Unfortunately, despite the alphabetic pronunciation, Indonesian people read this letter in two different ways of pronunciation.

The first is the pronunciation which agrees to the alphabetic pronunciation, like the “e” in “error.” Besides pronouncing the letter alphabetically, Indonesians has another way of pronouncing the “e”. The second pronunciation is a bit more difficult but it’s more common to Indonesian words than the first one.

According to the second pronunciation, this letter is pronounced just like the “i” in “first”, or “e” in “the”. Because of the nature, the sound is pronounced as a short vowel sound, and because it’s short, it is treated as a transition sound. If you realize the pronunciation of the words “star”, “skill”, there is a transition between “s” and “t” or “k”, some sort of “uh” sound. An easier example is the pronunciation of the first “e” in “demean”.

This second pronunciation exists in such abundant words in Indonesian language, that I almost always suggest to readily pronounce the words containing “e” by using the second pronunciation, unless it is shown otherwise. Affixes containing “e” such as “me-”, “memper-”, “ke-an”, “ pe-”, “pe-an”, dan “per-an” are pronounced using the second pronunciation. It is important however, that learners should always practice pronouncing the “e”-containing words by listening to native Indonesians.


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