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Indonesian Language Facts

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Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia) is the official language of Indonesia. However, only a fraction of the inhabitants of Indonesia speak it as a mother tongue; for most people it is a second language. In a certain sense it is very modern: officially it came into being in 1945, and it is a dynamic language that is constantly absorbing new loanwords. The phonology and grammar of Indonesian are relatively simple, and it is said that the rudiments that are necessary for basic everyday communication can be picked up in a few weeks.

The Indonesian name for the language is Bahasa Indonesia (literally language of Indonesia), and this name is also sometimes used in English. Bahasa Indonesia is based on Malay, an Austronesian (or Malayo-Polynesian) language which had been used as a lingua franca in the Indonesian archipelago for centuries, and was elevated to the status of official language with the Indonesian declaration of independence in 1945. It is very similar to Malay (Bahasa Malaysia), an official language of Malaysia. It is spoken as a mother tongue only by 7% of the population of Indonesia and 45% of the population of Malaysia, but all together almost 200 million people speak it as a second language with varying degrees of proficiency; it is an essential means of communication in a region with more than 300 native languages, used for business and administrative purposes, at all levels of education and in all mass media. The Dutch colonization left an imprint on the language. There are also some words derived from Portuguese, Chinese, Hindi and Arabic.

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