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Languages and Dialects

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The major languages of Indonesia are Austronesian. Austronesian is a family of agglutinative languages spoken in the area bounded by Madagascar in the western Indian Ocean and Easter Island in the eastern Pacific Ocean. There is a considerable diversity in the languages used in Indonesia. More then 500 languages-the vast majority are Austronesian, the rest are Papuan and found in parts of Timor, Irian Jaya, and Halmahera-have been accounted for. 

Perhaps the central feature of the Indonesian national culture in the late twentieth century was the Indonesian language. Malay was used for centuries as a lingua franca in many parts of the archipelago. The term Bahasa Indonesia, which refers to a modified form of Malay, was coined by Indonesian nationalists in 1928 and became a symbol of national unity during the struggle for independence. Bahasa Indonesia was spoken in more than 90 percent of households in Jakarta, but outside the capital only 10 to 15 percent of the population spoke the language at home. In Javanese areas, only 1 to 5 percent of the people spoke Bahasa Indonesia in the home. Nationwide, however, some 7 million Indonesians used Bahasa Indonesia as a primary language while more than 100 million others used it as a secondary language. In the early 1990s, it was primarily the language of government bureaucracy, schools, national print and electronic media, and interethnic communication. In many provinces, it was the language of communication between Chinese shopkeepers and their non-Chinese patrons. 

Although Bahasa Indonesia is infused with highly distinctive accents in some regions (particularly in Maluku, parts of Nusa Tenggara, and in Jakarta), there are many similarities in patterns of use across the archipelago. One widespread feature concerns the variations in speech use depending on the rank or status of the speaking partner. This feature is not as complex as that found in the elaborately hierarchical Javanese language, but it is nonetheless important. Respected elders are typically addressed in kinship terms-bapak (father or elder) or ibu (mother). The use of second person pronouns in direct address is generally avoided in favor of more indirect references unless speaker and listeners are on intimate terms. There is also a subtle grading of terms employed when offering things to someone and when issuing directives. Different ways of saying "please [do something]" for instance, vary in formality. When speaking Indonesian, it is sometimes awkward to make direct negations of factual states, such as "I have no children" (saya tidak punya anak); it is preferable to treat certain events as being in process and therefore to say "not yet." In casual contexts, however, such as when speaking to cab drivers, street peddlers, and close friends, formal textbook Indonesian often gives way to the more ironic, sly, and earthy urban dialects. 
Although Bahasa Indonesia has become the lingua franca, local languages and dialects continue to be spoken and will not be abolished. In all tourist destination areas English is the number one foreign language fairly spoken and written, whereas some Dutch is still spoken and understood in the bigger cities and French increasing in its popularity at the better hotels and restaurants.

Top 15 Languages by Population (estimated)

1 CHINESE MANDARIN, China 885,000,000
2 SPANISH,332,000,000 
3 ENGLISH 322,000,000 
4 BENGALI 189,000,000 
5 HINDI 182,000,000 
6 PORTUGUESE 170,000,000 
7 RUSSIAN 170,000,000 
8 JAPANESE 125,000,000 
9 GERMAN 98,000,000 
10 CHINESE WU 77,175,000 
11 JAVANESE 75,500,800 
12 KOREAN 75,000,000 
13 FRENCH 72,000,000 
14 VIETNAMESE 67,662,000 
15 TELUGU 66,350,000

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