Why Indonesian is Malay and Not Javanese?

Why Indonesian is Malay and not Javanese-

You just started studying Indonesian, and one day you go to Malaysia. You notice that a lot of words are familiar to you. You know from sources you read that Indonesian and Malaysian are basically one language. Why is that so?

Since a long time ago, Malay language that was spoken in northeast Sumatera has been used in Indonesian archipelago for hundreds of years. As lingua franca, it is mainly used as the language of trade even by some of the eastern part of now Indonesia (of which the native languages are of Western Papuan Family).

During colonialization, Malay was significantly used as a trading and political language. The Dutch were reluctant to promote the use of their language, and so Malay was popular among the commoners while Dutch is used by the elite, in contrast to other colonialists (the French, Portuguese, and even the British). This was probably done because the Dutch did not want the Indonesians to see themselves as equals to them.

Despite the Youth Congress in 1928 which agreed on the use of Indonesian language as the unification language, the Dutch language was still dominant in a lot of formal aspects. However, in 1938 Indonesian was used in the people’s council (Volksraad) much to the Dutch’s chagrin. By the time the Dutch realized that the use of Indonesian language is a threat to their interest, it was too late.

Now, the question here is why didn’t Indonesian founding fathers choose Javanese? Javanese as an option really made sense. First, Javanese kingdoms were powerful and dominant. Second, It was (and still is) the language with the most number of first speakers in the whole archipelago. Third, a lot of the founding fathers are Javanese, including the first president (whose father was a Javanese aristocrat).

The reason is very simple. Javanese is not a simple language. It’s very impractical. When you learn Javanese you have to learn three different styles; Krama inggil, krama madya, and ngoko. If you think it’s easy, think again! Those styles are basically different languages not because of verb inflections (changes in the verbs to signify different functions); they have different sets of vocabulary. For every one thing (or idea), you have to remember three different words! Not only that, you also have to know where and when you should use those languages.

Have I mentioned that even though you are using krama inggil (the most polite and formal style), you have to be able to choose when to lower yourself or honor someone else. There are different words for that also. In fact, what’s confusing is that you can answer using a krama inggil verb to show your superiority by using honorific verbs. Confusing? I know.

Now you know why Malay is more preferred and practical and why it was chosen as Indonesian.

Room : Kamar and Ruang


Hi, readers and Indonesian learners alike! Today we’re going to be talking about Indonesian word for room… or words?

In Indonesian, the word room is translated as both kamar and ruang but we will mostly see room translated as kamar, and this is not without reason. However, we don’t say meeting room as kamar rapat.


This word originates from the Dutch word kammer. This word can be translated as chamber or room. We know that chamber of commerce in Indonesian is kamar dagang, and to show consistency of this explanation, I would like to point out that the Indonesian translation for Harry Potter’s Chamber of Secrets is kamar rahasia. This word is also used for rooms with more sense of privacy, such as bedroom and bathroom; kamar tidur and kamar mandi, respectively.


Ruang actually means space. So, time and space means ruang dan waktu and retrobulbar space is ruang retrobulbar (a medical term). However, ruang is also used as room. For rooms without a sense of privacy, such as waiting room or meeting room, we use ruang; ruang tunggu and ruang rapat, respectively.

Kamar or ruang?

What is a guest room in Indonesian? Interestingly, it can mean both kamar tamu and ruang tamu. It is ruang tamu if it refers to a room (space) in a common Indonesian house where you entertain your guests and talk with them. For some reason, you don’t take them to the living room unless they are close to you personally. It can also mean kamar tamu if it refers to a specific room where your guest is staying; a bedroom you might say, but for a guest.

(Indonesian) Sentences Without A Subject

Sentences Without A SubjectHello fellow readers! The post today will discuss Indonesian sentences that often occur without subjects. Have you ever faced difficulty understanding what a native Indonesian says because they often omit the subject when talking? Or perhaps you have been in Indonesia for quite a while that you’re accustomed to how they talk. Nonetheless, I hope this post helps you figure out why this happens and in what situations you may find this, and if you’re a student of Indonesian and have been studying Indonesian, you can share your experience here.

English sentences

In English, whether you realize it or not, sentence construction is always Subject + Verb. Even if you don’t really want to talk about an action, you still put TO BE as the substitute of the verb. “You are beautiful” doesn’t contain any action, and you can’t say “you beautiful”, since beautiful is not a verb, so you need to put are.

Indonesian sentences don’t require a TO BE

In Indonesian, sentences usually contain a subject and a verb. This is true if we’re talking about an activity. Let’s say we want to say “I took a cab last night”, which is “tadi malam saya naik taksi” in Indonesian, and the verb is naik. But if we want to describe a condition, let’s say “this place was cold”, it translates into “tempat ini dingin”. As you can see, was is not translated and not needed.

Subject is understood

Besides not translating (not needing) a TO BE, often there is no subject in an Indonesian sentence. This happens mostly because the subject is understood. For example, you talk to a person and say “mau makan sekarang?”, you will say that “do you want to eat now?” in English. Indonesians refrain from saying Anda (you) because it’s understood in the context. Sometimes people don’t really say you to avoid being too direct.

Impersonal it

Indonesian sentences don’t use subject because the subject itself doesn’t exist. In “It’s impossible to go out tonight. It’s too cold.”, what does the word it refer to? This impersonal it exists because a sentence must contain a subject. In Indonesian, this it doesn’t translate. In Indonesian, the sentence above is translated as “Tidak mungkin untuk pergi ke luar malam ini. Terlalu dingin.

Any comments and questions? Wanna give some more examples from what you encountered in real life? Please write in the comment section below, or send an email to richard.ariefiandy@gmail.com.


Richard Ariefiandy

Progressive Tense in Indonesian

Progressive Tense in IndonesianAs I have explained earlier, concepts in English are often represented by words in Indonesian. A very common example is the concept of TENSES. Indonesian doesn’t recognize verb conjugation to express this concept; however, we have special vocabulary that we use to represent them. I wrote how SUDAH is used to represent the PERFECT TENSE of English. Do you still remember? You might want to check again here.

In this post I will be discussing the word SEDANG. We use this word to express PROGRESSIVE actions, thus representing the English PROGRESSIVE TENSE. Look at the example:

They ARE studyING for her exam tomorrow.

(Mereka SEDANG belajar untuk ujian dia besok.)

When I went to her house yesterday, she WAS watchING a movie.

(Waktu saya pergi ke rumahnya kemarin, dia SEDANG menonton film.)

It’s very easy, right?

Everytime you want to describe progressive (ongoing) actions, just remember to use sedang.

There is an important note, though…

The thing is, PROGRESSIVE TENSE in English has many functions. The concept can be used to describe ongoing actions (we use SEDANG for this one) as well as future actions (which requires a different word other than SEDANG and will be discussed in a different post). Aside from those two functions, PROGRESSIVE TENSE is also used to express annoyed feeling by adding the word ALWAYS between the TO BE and the verb-ING. In this case, we will not use SEDANG, but rather SELALU as a direct translation of ALWAYS. Look at the example below:

She IS always watchING tv. I don’t like that.

(Dia selalu menonton tv. Saya tidak suka itu.)

So, to wrap up, the concept of PROGRESSIVE TENSE is represented by the word SEDANG in Indonesian. However, not all functions of this TENSE will use SEDANG. Progressive tense that refers to future actions and progressive tense that express annoyed feelings are the exceptions.

PS: There will be further discussion of the word SEDANG on my future post, talking about expressions using SEDANG but is not necessarily represented by PROGRESSIVE TENSE.

Richard Ariefiandy