Javanese language

Javanese (/ɑːvəˈnz/;[3] ꦧꦱꦗꦮ, basa Jawa; Javanese pronunciation: [bɔsɔ d͡ʒɔwɔ]; colloquially known as ꦕꦫꦗꦮ, cara Jawa; Javanese pronunciation: [t͡ʃɔrɔ d͡ʒɔwɔ]) is the language of the Javanese people from the central and eastern parts of the island of Java, in Indonesia. There are also pockets of Javanese speakers on the northern coast of western Java. It is the native language of more than 98 million people[4] (more than 42% of the total population of Indonesia).

Basa Jawa/Båså Jåwå
Basa (language) written in the Javanese script
Pronunciation[bɔsɔ d͡ʒɔwɔ]
Native toJava (Indonesia)
Ethnicity95 million Javanese in Indonesia (2011 census)
Native speakers
82 million (2007)[1]
Early forms
Old Javanese
  • Middle Javanese
Standard forms
(Early standard form)
Surakartan Javanese
(Modern standard form)
DialectsJavanese dialects
Latin script
Javanese script
Pegon alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-1jv
ISO 639-2jav
ISO 639-3Variously:
jav  Javanese
jvn  Caribbean Javanese
jas  New Caledonian Javanese
osi  Osing
tes  Tenggerese
kaw  Kawi
Dark green: areas where Javanese is the majority language. Light green: where it is a minority language.

Javanese is one of the Austronesian languages, but it is not particularly close to other languages and is difficult to classify. Its closest relatives are the neighbouring languages such as Sundanese, Madurese and Balinese. Most speakers of Javanese also speak Indonesian, the standardized form of Malay spoken in Indonesia, for official and commercial purposes as well as a means to communicate with non-Javanese-speaking Indonesians.

There are speakers of Javanese in Malaysia (concentrated in the states of Selangor and Johor) and Singapore. Javanese is also spoken by traditional immigrant communities of Javanese descent in Suriname (the Dutch colony of Surinam until 1975) and in New Caledonia.[5]


Javanese is part of the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family, although its precise relationship to other Malayo-Polynesian languages is hard to determine. Using lexicostatistical method, Isidore Dyen classified Javanese as part of the "Javo-Sumatra Hesion", which also includes the Sundanese and "Malayic" languages.[lower-alpha 1][6][7] This grouping is also called "Malayo-Javanic" by linguist Berndt Nothofer, who was the first to attempt a reconstruction of it based on only four languages with best attestation at the time (Javanese, Sundanese, Madurese, and Malay).[8]

Malayo-Javanic has been criticized and rejected by various linguists.[9][10] Alexander Adelaar does not include Javanese in his proposed Malayo-Sumbawan grouping (which also covers Malayic, Sundanese, and Madurese languages).[10][11] Robert Blust also does not include Javanese in the Greater North Borneo subgroup, which he proposes as an alternative to Malayo-Sumbawan grouping. However, Blust also expresses the possibility that Greater North Borneo languages are closely related to many other western Indonesian languages, including Javanese.[12] Blust's suggestion has been further elaborated by Alexander Smith, who includes Javanese in the Western Indonesian grouping (which also includes GNB and several other subgroups), which Smith considers as one of Malayo-Polynesian's primary branches.[13]


The language is spoken in Yogyakarta, Central and East Java, as well as on the north coast of West Java and Banten. It is also spoken elsewhere by the Javanese people in other provinces of Indonesia, which are numerous due to the government-sanctioned transmigration program in the late 20th century, including Lampung, Jambi, and North Sumatra provinces. In Suriname, Javanese is spoken among descendants of plantation migrants brought by the Dutch during the 19th century. In Madura, Bali, Lombok, and the Sunda region of West Java, it is also used as a literary language. It was the court language in Palembang, South Sumatra, until the palace was sacked by the Dutch in the late 18th century.

Javanese is written with the Latin script, Javanese script, and Arabic script.[14] In the present day, the Latin script dominates writings, although the Javanese script is still taught as part of the compulsory Javanese language subject in elementary up to high school levels in Yogyakarta, Central and East Java.

Javanese is the tenth largest language by native speakers and the largest language without official status. It is spoken or understood by approximately 100 million people. At least 45% of the total population of Indonesia are of Javanese descent or live in an area where Javanese is the dominant language. All seven Indonesian presidents since 1945 have been of Javanese descent.[lower-alpha 2] It is therefore not surprising that Javanese has had a deep influence on the development of Indonesian, the national language of Indonesia.

There are three main dialects of the modern language: Central Javanese, Eastern Javanese, and Western Javanese. These three dialects form a dialect continuum from northern Banten in the extreme west of Java to Banyuwangi Regency in the eastern corner of the island. All Javanese dialects are more or less mutually intelligible.


The phonemes of Modern Standard Javanese as shown below.[15][16]


Front Central Back
Closed i     u
Half closed e ə o
Half open (ɛ)   (ɔ)
Open   a  

In closed syllables the vowels /i u e o/ are pronounced [ɪ ʊ ɛ ɔ] respectively.[15] In open syllables, /e o/ are also [ɛ ɔ] when the following vowel is /i u/ in an open syllable; otherwise they are /ə/, or identical (/e...e/, /o...o/). In the standard dialect of Surakarta, /a/ is pronounced [ɔ] in word-final open syllables, and in any open penultimate syllable before such an [ɔ].


Labial Dental/
Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Stop/Affricate p d̪̥ ʈɖ̥ dʒ̊ kɡ̊ ʔ
Fricative s h
j w
Rhotic r

The Javanese "voiced" phonemes are not in fact voiced but voiceless, with breathy voice on the following vowel.[15] The relevant distinction in phonation of the plosives is described as stiff voice versus slack voice.[17][16]

A Javanese syllable can have the following form: CSVC, where C = consonant, S = sonorant (/j/, /r/, /l/, /w/, or any nasal consonant), and V = vowel. As with other Austronesian languages, native Javanese roots consist of two syllables; words consisting of more than three syllables are broken up into groups of disyllabic words for pronunciation. In Modern Javanese, a disyllabic root is of the following type: nCsvVnCsvVC.

Apart from Madurese, Javanese is the only language of Western Indonesia to possess a distinction between dental and retroflex phonemes.[15] The latter sounds are transcribed as "th" and "dh" in the modern Roman script, but previously by the use of an underdot: "ṭ" and "ḍ".


Javanese, like many other Austronesian languages, is an agglutinative language, where base words are modified through extensive use of affixes.


Modern Javanese usually employs SVO word order. However, Old Javanese sometimes had VSO and sometimes VOS word order. Even in Modern Javanese, archaic sentences using VSO structure can still be made.


  • Modern Javanese: "Dhèwèké (S) teka (V) ing (pp.) karaton (O)".[18]
  • Old Javanese: "Teka (V) ta (part.) sira (S) ri (pp.) -ng (def. art.) kadhatwan (O)".[lower-alpha 3]

Both sentences mean: "He (S) comes (V) into (pp.) the (def. art.) palace (O)". In the Old Javanese sentence, the verb is placed at the beginning and is separated by the particle ta from the rest of the sentence. In Modern Javanese the definite article is lost, and definiteness is expressed by other means if necessary.

Verbs are not inflected for person or number. There is no grammatical tense; time is expressed by auxiliary words meaning "yesterday", "already", etc. There is a complex system of verb affixes to express differences of status in subject and object. However, in general the structure of Javanese sentences both Old and Modern can be described using the topic–comment model, without having to refer to conventional grammatical categories. The topic is the head of the sentence; the comment is the modifier. So the example sentence has a simpler description: Dhèwèké = topic; teka = comment; ing karaton = setting.


Javanese has a rich and varied vocabulary, with many loanwords supplementing those from the native Austronesian base. Sanskrit has had a deep and lasting impact. The Old Javanese–English Dictionary contains approximately 25,500 entries, over 12,600 of which are borrowings from Sanskrit.[19] Such a high number is no measure of usage, but it does suggest the extent to which the language adopted Sanskrit words for formal purposes. In a typical Old Javanese literary work about 25% of the vocabulary is from Sanskrit. Many Javanese personal names also have clearly recognisable Sanskrit roots.

Sanskrit words are still very much in use. Modern speakers may describe Old Javanese and Sanskrit words as kawi (roughly meaning "literary"); but kawi words may also be from Arabic. Dutch and Malay are influential as well; but none of these rivals the position of Sanskrit.

There are far fewer Arabic loanwords in Javanese than in Malay, and they are usually concerned with Islamic religion. Nevertheless, some words have entered the basic vocabulary, such as pikir ("to think", from the Arabic fikr), badan ("body"), mripat ("eye", thought to be derived from the Arabic ma'rifah, meaning "knowledge" or "vision"). However, these Arabic words typically have native Austronesian or Sanskrit alternatives: pikir = galih, idhep (Austronesian) and manah, cipta, or cita (from Sanskrit); badan = awak (Austronesian) and slira, sarira, or angga (from Sanskrit); and mripat = mata (Austronesian) and soca or nétra (from Sanskrit).

Dutch loanwords usually have the same form and meaning as in Indonesian, with a few exceptions such as:

Javanese Indonesian Dutch English
pit sepeda fiets bicycle
pit montor sepeda motor motorfiets motorcycle
sepur kereta api spoor, i.e. (rail) track train

The word sepur also exists in Indonesian, but there it has preserved the literal Dutch meaning of "railway tracks", while the Javanese word follows Dutch figurative use, and "spoor" (lit. "rail") is used as metonymy for "trein" (lit. "train"). (Compare a similar metonymic use in English: "to travel by rail" may be used for "to travel by train".)

Malay was the lingua franca of the Indonesian archipelago before the proclamation of Indonesian independence in 1945; and Indonesian, which was based on Malay, is now the official language of Indonesia. As a consequence, there has been an influx of Malay and Indonesian vocabulary into Javanese. Many of these words are concerned with bureaucracy or politics.


In common with other Austronesian languages, Javanese is spoken differently depending on the social context. In Austronesian there are often three distinct styles or registers.[20] Each employs its own vocabulary, grammatical rules, and even prosody. In Javanese these styles are called:

  1. Ngoko (ꦔꦺꦴꦏꦺꦴ). Informal speech, used between friends and close relatives. It is also used by persons of higher status (such as elders, or bosses) addressing those of lower status (young people, or subordinates in the workplace).
  2. Madya (ꦩꦢꦾ). Intermediate between ngoko and krama. Strangers on the street would use it, where status differences may be unknown and one wants to be neither too formal nor too informal. The term is from Sanskrit madhya ("middle").[21]
  3. Krama (ꦏꦿꦩ). The polite and formal style. It is used between those of the same status when they do not wish to be informal. It is used by persons of lower status to persons of higher status, such as young people to their elders, or subordinates to bosses; and it is the official style for public speeches, announcements, etc. The term is from Sanskrit krama ("in order").[21]

There are also "meta-style" honorific words, and their converse "humilifics". Speakers use "humble" words concerning themselves, but honorific words concerning anyone of greater age of higher social status. The humilific words are called krama andhap, while the honorifics are called krama inggil. Children typically use the ngoko style, but in talking to the parents they must be competent with both krama inggil and krama andhap.

The most polite word meaning "eat" is dhahar. But it is forbidden to use these most polite words for oneself, except when talking with someone of lower status; and in this case, ngoko style is used. Such most polite words are reserved for addressing people of higher status:

  • Mixed usages
    • (honorific – addressing someone of high status) Bapak kersa dhahar? ("Do you want to eat?"; literally "Does father want to eat?")
    • (reply to a person of lower status, expressing speaker's superiority) Iya, aku kersa dhahar. ("Yes, I want to eat.")
    • (reply to a person of lower status, but without expressing superiority) Iya, aku arep mangan.
    • (reply to a person of equal status) Inggih, kula badhé nedha.

The use of these different styles is complicated and requires thorough knowledge of Javanese culture, which adds to the difficulty of Javanese for foreigners. The full system is not usually mastered by most Javanese themselves, who might use only the ngoko and a rudimentary form of the krama. People who can correctly use the different styles are held in high esteem.

Dialects of modern Javanese

There are three main groups of Javanese dialects, based on sub-regions: Western Javanese, Central Javanese, and Eastern Javanese. The differences are primarily in pronunciation, but with vocabulary differences also. Javanese dialects are all mutually intelligible.

Central Javanese (Jawa Tengahan) is founded on the speech of Surakarta[lower-alpha 4] and to a lesser extent of Yogyakarta. It is considered the most "refined" of the regional variants, and serves as a model for the standard language. Those two cities are the seats of four Javanese principalities (heirs to the Mataram Sultanate) that once dominated the whole of Java and beyond. This variant is used throughout Central Java and Special Region of Yogyakarta, and there are many lower-level dialects such as Muria and Semarangan, as well as Surakarta and Yogyakarta themselves. The variations in Central Java are said to be so plentiful that almost every administrative region (or kabupatèn) has its own local slang; but those minor dialects are not seen as distinct by most Javanese speakers.

Central Javanese is also used in the western part of East Java province. For example, Javanese spoken in the Madiun region (along with Javanese spoken in Blitar, Ponorogo, Pacitan, and Tulungagung, and central parts of Kediri) bears a strong influence of Surakarta Javanese.

  1. Mataraman dialect / Standard dialect is spoken commonly in Yogyakarta, Surakarta, Klaten, Karanganyar, Wonogiri, Sukoharjo, Sragen, and Boyolali.
  2. Pekalongan dialect is spoken in Pekalongan and Pekalongan regency, and also in Pemalang.
  3. Kedu dialect is spoken in the former Kedu residency, including: Temanggung, Kebumen, Magelang, and Wonosobo.
  4. Bagelen dialect is spoken in Purworejo.
  5. Semarang dialect is spoken in Semarang, Semarang regency, and also Salatiga, Demak and Kendal.
  6. Eastern North-Coast dialect, or dhialèk Muria, is spoken in Jepara, Rembang, Kudus, Pati, and also in Tuban and Bojonegoro.
  7. Blora dialect is spoken in Blora, the eastern part of Grobogan, and the western part of Ngawi.
  8. Madiunan dialect is spoken mainly in western part of East Java province, including Madiun, Blitar, Ngawi, Pacitan, Ponorogo, and Magetan.

Western Javanese (Jawa Kulonan), spoken in the western part of the Central Java province and throughout the West Java province (particularly on the north coast), includes dialects that are distinct for their Sundanese influences. It retains many archaic words.

  1. North Banten dialect (Jawa Sérang) is spoken in Serang, Cilegon, and the western part of Tangerang regency.
  2. Cirebon dialect (Cirebonan or Basa Cerbon) is spoken in Cirebon, Indramayu and Losari.
  3. Tegal dialect, known as Tegalan or Dhialèk Pantura (North-Coast dialect), is spoken in Tegal, Brebes, and the western part of Pemalang regency.
  4. Banyumas dialect, known as Banyumasan, is spoken in Banyumas, Cilacap, Purbalingga, Banjarnegara, and Bumiayu.

Some Western Javanese dialects such as Banyumasan dialects and Tegal dialect are sometimes referred to as basa ngapak by other Javanese.

Eastern Javanese (Jawa Wétanan) speakers range from the eastern banks of Brantas River in Kertosono, and from Nganjuk to Banyuwangi, comprising the majority of the East Java province excluding Madura island. However, the variant has been influenced by Madurese.

The most outlying Eastern Javanese dialect is spoken in Balambangan (or Banyuwangi). It is generally known as Basa Using. Using, a local negation word, is a cognate of tusing in Balinese.

  1. Arekan dialect is commonly spoken in Surabaya, Malang, Gresik, Mojokerto, Pasuruan, Lumajang, Lamongan and Sidoarjo. Many Madurese people also use this dialect as their second language.
  2. Jombang dialect
  3. Tengger dialect used by Tengger people, which is centered in thirty villages in the isolated Tengger mountains (Mount Bromo) within the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park in East-Central Java.
  4. Osing dialect spoken in Banyuwangi.

Surinamese-Javanese is mainly based on Central Javanese, especially from Kedu residency. The number of speakers of Suriname-Javanese in Suriname was estimated at 60,000 as of 2012.[22] Most Surinamese-Javanese are bi- or trilingual. According to the 2004 census, Surinamese-Javanese was the first or second language in 11 percent of households. In a 2012 study of multilingualism in Surinamese education by the Dutch Language Union,[22] 3,497 out of 22,643 pupils (15 percent) in primary education indicated Surinamese-Javanese as a language spoken at home. Most of them were living in Wanica and Paramaribo districts.

Not all immigrants from Indonesia to Suriname were speakers of Javanese. Immigration records show that 90 percent of immigrants were Javanese, with 5 percent Sundanese, 0.5 percent Madurese and 2.5 percent from Batavia. The ethnic composition of this last group was not determinable. Probably Sundanese, Madurese or Malay speaking immigrants were forced to learn Javanese during their stay in Suriname to adapt. In view of the language policies in Netherlands Indies at the time of immigration, it is unlikely the immigrants had knowledge of the Dutch language prior to immigration to Suriname. Dutch today is the official language of Suriname.

Surinamese Javanese is somewhat different from Indonesian Javanese.[23] In Surinamese-Javanese there is a difference between formal and informal speech. Surinamese-Javanese took many loanwords from languages like Dutch, Sranantongo, Sarnami and Indonesian. The influence of the latter language, which is not spoken in Suriname, can be attributed to the Indonesian embassy and Islamic teachers from Indonesia. Indonesian movies are popular, and usually shown without subtitles on Surinamese-Javanese television channels.

Surinamese-Javanese[23] Sranantongo Dutch English
ngabrah abra over across
bakrah bakra blanke white man
blangkeman blakaman neger black man
pernangsi pernasi plantage plantation
sekaut skowtu schout (politieagent) policeman

In 1986, the Surinamese government adopted an official spelling for Surinamese-Javanese. It is seldom used as a written language, however.

In the 2012 survey, pupils who indicated Surinamese-Javanese as a language spoken at home, reported Dutch (97.9 percent) and Sranantongo (76.9 percent) also being spoken in the household.

Surinamese-Javanese speaking pupils report high proficiency in speaking and understanding, but very low literacy in the language. They report a low preference for the language in interaction with family members, including their parents, with the exception of their grandparents. Pupils where Surinamese-Javanese is spoken at tend at home to speak Dutch (77 percent) rather than Surinamese-Javanese (12 percent).

Phonetic differences

Phoneme /i/ at closed ultima is pronounced as [ɪ] in Central Javanese (Surakarta–Yogyakarta dialect), as [i] in Western Javanese (Banyumasan dialect), and as [ɛ] in Eastern Javanese.

Phoneme /u/ at closed ultima is pronounced as [ʊ] in Central Javanese, as [u] in Western Javanese, and as [ɔ] in Eastern Javanese.

Phoneme /a/ at closed ultima in Central Javanese is pronounced as [a] and at open ultima as [ɔ]. Regardless of position, it tends toward [a] in Western Javanese and as [ɔ] in Eastern Javanese.

Western Javanese tend to glottalize every last vowel of a word as euphony, e.g.: Ana apa? [ana apaʔ] "What happened?", Aja kaya kuwè! [adʒak kajak kuɛʔ] "Don't be like that!".

Dialectal Phonetics
Phoneme Orthography Central Javanese (standard) Western Javanese Eastern Javanese English
getih [ɡətɪh] [ɡətih] [ɡətɛh] blood
abuh [aβʊh] [aβuh] [aβɔh] swollen
lenga [ləŋɔ] [ləŋa] [ləŋɔ] oil
kancamu/kancané kowé [kancamu] [kancanɛ kowɛ] [kɔncɔmu] your friend

Final consonant devoicing occurs in the standard Central Javanese dialect, but not in Banyumasan. For example, egg is pronounced [ɛnɖɔʔ] in standard Central Javanese, but [ɛnɖɔg] in Banyumasan. The latter is closer to Old Javanese.[24]

Vocabulary differences

The vocabulary of standard Javanese is enriched by dialectal words. For example, to get the meaning of "you", Western Javanese speakers say rika /rikaʔ/, Eastern Javanese use kon /kɔn/ or koen /kɔən/, and Central Javanese speakers say kowé /kowe/. Another example is the expression of "how": the Tegal dialect of Western Javanese uses kepribèn /kəpriben/, the Banyumasan dialect of Western Javanese employs kepriwé /kəpriwe/ or kepriwèn /kəpriwen/, Eastern Javanese speakers say ya' apa /jɔʔ ɔpɔ/ – originally meaning "like what" (kaya apa in standard Javanese) or kepiyé /kəpije/ – and Central Javanese speakers say piye /pije/ or kepriyé /kəprije/.

Surakarta-Yogyakarta (standard) Northern Banten Cirebon-Indramayu Tegal-Brebes Banyumas Surabaya English
aku kite kita, isun enyong inyong aku, awakku I, me
kowé sire sira koen rika, kowè koen, awakmu you
tenan pisan pisan temen temen temenan, temen truly
kepiyé, piyé keprimèn kepribèn, kepriwè kepribèn kepriwè yok apa how
ora ore ora, beli ora, belih ora gak, ora not
mlebu manjing manjing manjing, mlebu mlebu melbu, menjero to enter
arep arep arep, pan pan arep apé, até will
saka sake sing sing sekang teka from

The Madiun–Kediri dialect has some idiosyncratic vocabulary, such as panggah 'still' (standard Javanese: pancet), lagèk 'progressive modal' (standard Javanese: lagi), and emphatic particles nda, pèh, and .[25]


A preliminary general classification of Javanese dialects given by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology's Department of Linguistics is as follows.[26] Pesisir (Pemalang) and Tengger are considered to be among the most conservative dialects.[27][28] The Banten, Pesisir Lor, Banyumas, Tengger, and Osing dialects do not have the vowel raising and vowel harmony features that are innovations of the "standard" Solo and Yogyakarta dialects.

Standard Javanese

Standard Javanese is the variety of the Javanese language that was developed at the Yogyakarta and Surakarta courts, based on the Central Javanese dialect, and becomes the basis for the Javanese modern writings. It is marked with the strict usage of two speech levels for politeness, i.e. low speech level called ngoko and high speech level called krama. Other dialects do not contrast the usage of the speech levels.[30]


Old Javanese

While evidence of writing in Java dates to the Sanskrit "Tarumanegara inscription" of 450 AD, the oldest example written entirely in Javanese, called the "Sukabumi inscription", is dated 25 March 804. This inscription, located in the district of Pare in the Kediri regency of East Java, is actually a copy of an original that is about 120 years older; only this copy has been preserved. Its contents concern the construction of a dam for an irrigation canal near the river Śrī Hariñjing (present-day Srinjing). This inscription is the last known of its kind to be written using Pallava script; all extant subsequent examples are written using Javanese script.

The 8th and 9th centuries are marked by the emergence of the Javanese literary tradition – with Sang Hyang Kamahayanikan, a Buddhist treatise; and the Kakawin Rāmâyaṇa, a Javanese rendering in Indian metres of the Vaishnavist Sanskrit epic Rāmāyaṇa.

Although Javanese as a written language appeared considerably later than Malay (extant in the 7th century), the Javanese literary tradition has been continuous from its inception. The oldest works – such as the Kakawin Rāmâyaṇa and a Javanese rendering of the Indian Mahābhārata epic – are studied assiduously today.

The expansion of Javanese culture, including Javanese script and language, began in 1293 with the eastward push of the HinduBuddhist East-Javanese Empire Majapahit, toward Madura and Bali. The Javanese campaign in Bali in 1363 had a deep and lasting impact, and Javanese replaced Balinese as the language of administration and literature. Though the Balinese people preserved much of the older literature of Java and even created their own in Javanese idioms, Balinese ceased to be written until a 19th-century restoration.

Middle Javanese

The Majapahit Empire saw the rise of Middle Javanese as effectively a new language, intermediate between Old and New Javanese, though Middle Javanese is similar enough to New Javanese to be understood by anyone who is well acquainted with current literary Javanese.

The Majapahit Empire fell due to internal disturbances in the Paregreg civil war, thought to have occurred in 1405 and 1406, and attacks by Islamic forces of the Sultanate of Demak on the north coast of Java. There is a Javanese chronogram concerning the fall that reads "sirna ilang krĕtaning bumi" ("vanished and gone was the prosperity of the World"), indicating the date 1478 AD, giving rise to a popular belief that Majapahit collapsed in 1478, though it may have lasted into the 16th century. This was the last Hindu Javanese empire.

New Javanese

In the 16th century a new era in Javanese history began with the rise of the Islamic Central Javanese Mataram Sultanate, originally a vassal state of Majapahit. Ironically, the Mataram Empire rose as an Islamic kingdom that sought revenge for the demise of the Hindu Majapahit Empire by first crushing Demak, the first Javanese Islamic kingdom.

Javanese culture spread westward as Mataram conquered many previously Sundanese areas in western parts of Java; and Javanese became the dominant language in more than a third of this area. As with Balinese, the Sundanese language ceased to be written until the 19th century. In the meantime it was heavily influenced by Javanese, and some 40% of Sundanese vocabulary is believed to have been derived from Javanese.

Though Islamic in name, the Mataram II empire preserved many elements of the older culture, incorporating them into the newly adopted religion. This is why Javanese script is still in use, as opposed to the writing of Old Malay for example. After the Malays were converted, they dropped their form of indigenous writing and changed to a form of the "script of the Divine", the Arabic script.

In addition to the rise of Islam, the 16th century saw the emergence of the New Javanese language. The first Islamic documents in Javanese were already written in New Javanese, although still in antiquated idioms and with numerous Arabic loanwords. This is to be expected: these early New Javanese documents are Islamic treatises.

Later, intensive contacts with the Dutch and with other Indonesians gave rise to a simplified form of Javanese and an influx of foreign loanwords.

Javanese script

Javanese has been traditionally written with Javanese script. Javanese and the related Balinese script are modern variants of the old Kawi script, a Brahmic script introduced to Java along with Hinduism and Buddhism. Kawi is first attested in a legal document from 804 AD. It was widely used in literature and translations from Sanskrit from the 10th century; by the 17th, the script is identified as carakan.

The Javanese script is an abugida. Each of the twenty letter represents a syllable with a consonant (or a "zero consonant") and the inherent vowel 'a' that is pronounced as /ɔ/ in open position. Various diacritics placed around the letter indicate a different vowel than [ɔ], a final consonant, or a foreign pronunciation.

Letters have subscript forms used to transcribe consonant clusters, though the shape are relatively straightforward, and not as distinct as conjunct forms of Devanagari. Some letters are only present in old Javanese and became obsolete in modern Javanese. Some of these letters became "capital" forms used in proper names. Punctuation includes a comma; period; a mark that covers the colon, quotations, and indicates numerals; and marks to introduce a chapter, poem, song, or letter.

However, Javanese can also be written with the Arabic script (known as the Pegon script) and today generally uses Latin script instead of Javanese script for practical purposes. A Latin orthography based on Dutch was introduced in 1926, revised in 1972–1973; it has largely supplanted the carakan. The current Latin-based forms:

Majuscule forms (uppercase)
Minuscule forms (lowercase)
abcd dheéèfghijklmn ng nyopqrst thuvwxyz

The italic letters are used in loanwords from European languages and Arabic.

Javanese script:

Base consonant letters

Demographic distribution of Javanese speakers

Javanese is spoken throughout Indonesia, neighboring Southeast Asian countries, the Netherlands, Suriname, New Caledonia, and other countries. The largest populations of speakers are found in the six provinces of Java itself, and in the neighboring Sumatran province of Lampung.

A table showing the number of native speakers in 1980, for the 22 Indonesian provinces (from the total of 27) in which more than 1% of the population spoke Javanese:[lower-alpha 5]

Indonesian province% of provincial populationJavanese speakers (1980)
1. Aceh province 6.7% 175,000
2. North Sumatra 21.0% 1,757,000
3. West Sumatra 1.0% 56,000
4. Jambi 17.0% 245,000
5. South Sumatra 12.4% 573,000
6. Bengkulu 15.4% 118,000
7. Lampung 62.4% 2,886,000
8. Riau 8.5% 184,000
9. Jakarta 3.6% 236,000
10. West Java[31] 13.3% 3,652,000
11. Central Java 96.9% 24,579,000
12. Yogyakarta 97.6% 2,683,000
13. East Java 74.5% 21,720,000
14. Bali 1.1% 28,000
15. West Kalimantan 1.7% 41,000
16. Central Kalimantan 4.0% 38,000
17. South Kalimantan 4.7% 97,000
18. East Kalimantan 10.1% 123,000
19. North Sulawesi 1.0% 20,000
20. Central Sulawesi 2.9% 37,000
21. Southeast Sulawesi 3.6% 34,000
22. Maluku 1.1% 16,000

According to the 1980 census, Javanese was used daily in approximately 43% of Indonesian households. By this reckoning there were well over 60 million Javanese speakers,[32] from a national population of 147,490,298.[33][34]

In Banten, the descendants of the Central Javanese conquerors who founded the Islamic Sultanate there in the 16th century still speak an archaic form of Javanese.[35] The rest of the population mainly speaks Sundanese and Indonesian, since this province borders directly on Jakarta.[lower-alpha 6]

At least one third of the population of Jakarta are of Javanese descent, so they speak Javanese or have knowledge of it. In the province of West Java, many people speak Javanese, especially those living in the areas bordering Central Java, the cultural homeland of the Javanese.

Almost a quarter of the population of East Java province are Madurese (mostly on the Isle of Madura); many Madurese have some knowledge of colloquial Javanese. Since the 19th century, Madurese was also written in the Javanese script.[lower-alpha 7]

The original inhabitants of Lampung, the Lampungese, make up only 15% of the provincial population. The rest are the so-called "transmigrants", settlers from other parts of Indonesia, many as a result of past government transmigration programs. Most of these transmigrants are Javanese who have settled there since the 19th century.

In Suriname (the former Dutch colony of Surinam), South America, approximately 15% of the population of some 500,000 are of Javanese descent, among whom 75,000 speak Javanese. A local variant evolved: the Tyoro Jowo-Suriname or Suriname Javanese.[36]

Javanese today

Although Javanese is not a national language, it has recognized status as a regional language in the three Indonesian provinces with the biggest concentrations of Javanese people: Central Java, Yogyakarta, and East Java. Javanese is taught at schools and is used in some mass media, both electronically and in print. There is, however, no longer a daily newspaper in Javanese. Javanese-language magazines include Panjebar Semangat, Jaka Lodhang, Jaya Baya, Damar Jati, and Mekar Sari.

Since 2003, an East Java local television station (JTV) has broadcast some of its programmes in the Surabayan dialect, including Pojok kampung (news), Kuis RT/RW, and Pojok Perkoro (a crime programme). In later broadcasts, JTV offers programmes in the Central Javanese dialect (called by them basa kulonan, "the western language") and Madurese.

In 2005 a new Javanese language magazine, Damar Jati, appeared. It is not published in the Javanese heartlands, but in Jakarta.

Basic vocabulary

yesiyainggih or nggih[37]
howkapriyé or kepiyékados pundi or pripun
whynangapa or ngapakènging punapa
hereing kéné ing riki or mriki
thereing kana ing rika or mrika
there is (there are)anawonten
there is no (there are no)ora anaboten wonten
no! or I don't want it!emohwegah
make a visit for pleasuredolanamèng-amèng


[Javanese Ngoko is on the left, and Javanese Krama is on the right.]

NumeralJavanese scriptNgokoKramaNotes
0꧇꧐꧇ nulnulderived from Dutch
11꧇꧑꧑꧇ sawelassatunggal welas
20꧇꧒꧐꧇ rong puluhkalih dasa
21꧇꧒꧑꧇ salikursatunggal likur
22꧇꧒꧒꧇ rong likurkalih likur
23꧇꧒꧓꧇ telunh likurtigang likur
24꧇꧒꧔꧇ patang likursakawan likur
25꧇꧒꧕꧇ salawésalangkung
26꧇꧒꧖꧇ enem likurenem likur
27꧇꧒꧗꧇ pitung likurpitung likur
28꧇꧒꧘꧇ wolung likurwolung likur
29꧇꧒꧙꧇ sangang likursangang likur
30꧇꧓꧐꧇ telung puluhtigang dasa
31꧇꧓꧑꧇ telung puluh sijitigang dasa satunggal
40꧇꧔꧐꧇ patang puluhsakawan dasa
41꧇꧔꧑꧇ patang puluh sijisakawan dasa satunggal
51꧇꧕꧑꧇ sèket sijisèket satunggal
60꧇꧖꧐꧇ sawidaksawidak
61꧇꧖꧑꧇ sawidak sijisawidak satunggal
70꧇꧗꧐꧇ pitung puluhpitung dasa
80꧇꧘꧐꧇ wolung puluhwolung dasa
90꧇꧙꧐꧇ sangang puluhsangang dasa
100꧇꧑꧐꧐꧇satussatunggal atus
hundreds atusanatusan
1000꧇꧑꧐꧐꧐꧇sèwusatunggal èwu
thousands éwonéwon

See also



  1. Dyen's "Malayic" differ from the latter, narrower conception of "Malayic" by Alexander Adelaar. Dyen's Malayic includes Madurese, Acehnese, and Malayan (=Adelaar's Malayic).
  2. Sukarno has a Javanese father and a Balinese mother, Habibie has a father of Gorontalo descent and a Javanese mother, while Megawati is Sukarno's daughter through his wife, who is from Bengkulu.
  3. The Old Javanese spelling is modified to suit Modern Javanese spelling.
  4. For example Pigeaud's dictionary in 1939 is almost exclusively based on Surakarta speech (1939:viii–xiii).
  5. The data are taken from the census of 1980 as provided by James J. Fox and Peter Gardiner and published by S. A. Wurm and Shiro Hattori, eds. 1983. Language Atlas of the Pacific Area, Part II: (Insular South-East Asia), Canberra.
  6. Many commuters to Jakarta live in the suburbs in Banten, among them also Javanese speakers. Their exact number is unknown.
  7. Unfortunately, the aspirated phonemes of Madurese are not reproduced in writing. The 19th-century scribes apparently overlooked the fact that Javanese script does possess the required characters.


  1. Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Javanesic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student's Handbook, Edinburgh
  4. Kewarganegaraan, Suku Bangsa, Agama dan Bahasa Sehari-hari Penduduk Indonesia - Hasil Sensus Penduduk 2010. Badan Pusat Statistik. 2011. ISBN 978-979-064-417-5.
  5. Akhyari Hananto (December 8, 2017). "121 Years of Javanese People in New Caledonia". Seasia: Good News from Southeast Asia.
  6. Dyen 1965, p. 26.
  7. Nothofer 2009, p. 560.
  8. Nothofer 1975, p. 1.
  9. Blust 1981.
  10. Adelaar 2005, pp. 357, 385.
  11. Ogloblin 2005, p. 590.
  12. Blust 2010, p. 97.
  13. Smith 2017, pp. 443, 453–454.
  14. Van der Molen (1983:VII-VIII).
  15. Brown, Keith; Ogilvie, Sarah (2008). Concise encyclopedia of languages of the world. Elsevier. p. 560. ISBN 9780080877747. Retrieved 2010-05-24. Madurese also possesses aspirated phonemes, including at least one aspirated retroflex phoneme.
  16. Suharno, Ignatius (1982). A Descriptive Study of Javanese. Canberra: ANU Asia-Pacific Linguistics / Pacific Linguistics Press. pp. 4–6. doi:10.15144/PL-D45. hdl:1885/145095.
  17. Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 978-0-631-19815-4.
  18. Piwulang Basa Jawa Pepak, S.B. Pramono, hal 148, Babad Hanacaraka, 2013
  19. Zoetmulder (1982:IX).
  20. Uhlenbeck (1964:57).
  21. Wolff, John U.; Soepomo Poedjosoedarmo (1982). Communicative Codes in Central Java. Cornell Southeast Asia Program. p. 4. ISBN 0-87727-116-X.
  22. Kroon, Sjaak; Yağmur, Kutlay (2012), Meertaligheid in het onderwijs in Suriname [Multilingualism in education in Suriname] (PDF) (in Dutch), Den Haag: Nederlandse Taalunie, ISBN 978-90-70593-19-3
  23. Gobardhan-Rambocus, Lila; Sarmo, Johan (1993). "Het Surinaams Javaans" [The Javanese Surinamese] (PDF). In Gobardhan-Rambocus, Lila; Hassankhan, Maurits S. (eds.). Immigratie en ontwikkeling : emancipatieproces van contractanten [Immigration and development: emancipation of contractors] (in Dutch). Paramaribo: Anton de Kom Universiteit. pp. 184–201.
  24. "Jakarta Field Station > Projects > Javanese Dialectology > Documentation of Banyumasan". MPI EVA Jakarta Field Station. Archived from the original on May 14, 2011.
  25. "Jakarta Field Station > Projects > Javanese Dialectology > Madiun – Kediri Dialect". MPI EVA Jakarta Field Station. Archived from the original on May 14, 2011.
  26. "Jakarta Field Station > Projects > Javanese Dialectology". MPI EVA Jakarta Field Station. Archived from the original on May 13, 2011.
  27. "Jakarta Field Station > Projects > Javanese Dialectology > Pemalangan Dialect (Pesisir Lor)". MPI EVA Jakarta Field Station. Archived from the original on May 14, 2011.
  28. Conners, Thomas J. (April 26, 2010). "Standard vs. Peripheral Javanese Dialects: The Lexical Evidence" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-05-14. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
  29. "Jakarta Field Station > Projects > Javanese Dialectology > Osing Dialect". MPI EVA Jakarta Field Station. Archived from the original on May 14, 2011.
  30. Adelaar, Alexander (2011). "Javanese -aké and -akən: A Short History". Oceanic Linguistics. 50 (2): 338–350. doi:10.1353/ol.2011.0024. ISSN 1527-9421.
  31. In 1980 this included the now separate Banten province.
  32. According to James J. Fox and Peter Gardiner (Wurm and Hattori, 1983).
  33. Collins Concise Dictionary Plus (1989).
  34. The distribution of persons living in Javanese-speaking households in East Java and Lampung requires clarification. For East Java, daily-language percentages are as follows: 74.5 Javanese, 23.0 Madurese, and 2.2 Indonesian. For Lampung, the official percentages are 62.4 Javanese, 16.4 Lampungese and other languages, 10.5 Sundanese, and 9.4 Indonesian. The figures are somewhat outdated for some regions, especially Jakarta; but they remain more or less stable for the rest of Java. In Jakarta the number of Javanese has increased tenfold in the last 25 years. On the other hand, because of the conflict the number of Javanese in Aceh might have decreased. It is also relevant that Banten has separated from West Java province in 2000.
  35. Pigeaud (1967:10-11).
  36. Bartje S. Setrowidjojo and Ruben T. Setrowidjojo Het Surinaams-Javaans = Tyoro Jowo-Suriname, Den Haag: Suara Jawa, 1994, ISBN 90-802125-1-2.
  37. Piwulang Basa Jawa Pepak, S.B. Pramono, hal 148, 2013


Further reading

  • Errington, James Joseph (1991), Language and social change in Java : linguistic reflexes of modernization in a traditional royal polity, Ohio University, Center for International Studies, retrieved 18 February 2013
  • Errington, James Joseph (1998), Shifting languages : interaction and identity in Javanese Indonesia, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-63448-9
  • Horne, Elinor Clark (1963), Intermediate Javanese, Yale University Press, retrieved 18 February 2013
  • Horne, Elinor Clark (1974), Javanese-English dictionary, Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0-300-01689-5
  • Keeler, Ward (1984), Javanese, a cultural approach, Ohio University Center for International Studies, ISBN 978-0-89680-121-9
  • Robson, S. O. (Stuart Owen); Wibisono, Singgih (2002), Javanese English dictionary, Periplus Editions (HK) ; North Clarendon, VT : Tuttle Pub, ISBN 978-0-7946-0000-6
  • Robson, S. O. (Stuart Owen); Monash University. Monash Asia Institute (2002), Javanese grammar for students (Rev. ed.), Monash Asia Institute, Monash University, ISBN 978-1-876924-12-6
  • Robson, S. O. (Stuart Owen); Monash University. Centre of Southeast Asian Studies (1991), Patterns of variation in colloquial Javanese, Centre of Southeast Asian Studies, Monash University, ISBN 978-0-7326-0263-5
  • Siegel, James T (1986), Solo in the new order : language and hierarchy in an Indonesian city, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0-691-00085-5
  • Uhlenbeck, E. M; Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (Netherlands) (1964), A critical survey of studies on the languages of Java and Madura, Martinus Nijhoff, retrieved 18 February 2013
  • Uhlenbeck, E. M; Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (Netherlands) (1978), Studies in Javanese morphology, Martinus Nijhoff, ISBN 978-90-247-2162-7
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