A Brief History of Indonesian Language

On a book called Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, Trevor Noah said, “Language brings with it an identity and a culture, or at least the perception of it.” And so is Indonesian Language (Bahasa Indonesia). 

It brings an identity for Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,508 islands which is the world’s largest island and the most-populous Muslim-majority country with a total population over 274 million (274,471,776 as of Friday, October 30, 2020, based on Worldometer elaboration of the latest United Nations data.)

indonesia ethnic group

Although there are over than 300 various native languages and dialects which are spoken in Indonesia, Bahasa Indonesia is chosen to be an official language which acts as lingua franca.


It is commonly used for communication among the Indonesian people; for education, administrative purposes as well as mass media throughout the country.


You may wonder, why Bahasa Indonesia was chosen as a national language of Indonesia?


According to the Language Development and Cultivation Agency, The Ministry of Education and Culture (n.d.), Bahasa Indonesia was born on October 28, 1928 which coincided with Hari Sumpah Pemuda (English: the Youth Pledge Day).


At that time, the youths from all over Nusantara gathered in a meeting and made a vow:

  1. Shed in one blood, the land of Indonesia,
  2. One nation – Indonesian,
  3. Upholding the language of unity, Indonesian.


These three pledges are known as the Youth Pledge. The third element of it is a statement of determination that Bahasa Indonesia is the language that unites Indonesian.

Bahasa Indonesia comes from Malay language

“How about the origin?”

The Decree of the Second Indonesian Language Congress in 1954 in Medan, stated that Indonesia language grew and developed from the Malay language for which since ancient times had been used as the language of communication (lingua franca) not only in the archipelago, but also in almost all of Southeast Asia.

There were some evidence which proved that Malay language had been used since 7th century; there were found some discoveries on an inscription in Kedukan Bukit that dates to 683 AD (Palembang), Talang Tuwo dating to 684 AD (Palembang), Kota Kapur dating to 686 AD (West Bangka), and Karang Brahi dating to 688 AD (Jambi). 

The inscription was inscribed with the Pranagari letters in Old Malay. Malay language is spoken everywhere in the archipelago and is growing and becoming stronger as a language for communication. 

The Malay language is used in regions in the archipelago in its growth is influenced by regional cultural patterns. The language itself absorbs vocabulary from various languages, especially from Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic and European languages.

In its development, the Malay language appeared in various variations and dialects. The development of the Malay language in the archipelago influenced and encouraged the growth of a sense of brotherhood and unity inside the country.

The communication among the groups which arose at that time used the Malay language.

Indonesian youths who involved in the movement of the association consciously raised the Malay language to become Indonesia official language, which became a language of unity for the entire Indonesian nation (Youth Pledge, October 28, 1928).

The national revival has prompted the rapid development of Bahasa Indonesia. The role of political activities, trade, newspapers, and magazines were very impactful in modernizing Bahasa Indonesia. On August 17, 1945 , Bahasa Indonesia had been confirmed constitutionally as the state language as the same day as the country got its Independence Day.

Now People from the various Indonesia society status, both at the central and regional levels use Bahasa Indonesia as their main language.


Badan Pengembangan dan Pembinaan Bahasa, Kementrian Pendidikan dan
Kebudayaan. (n.d.). Sekilas Tentang Sejarah Bahasa Indonesia