Javanese language (Javanese: basa Jawa, Indonesian: bahasa Jawa) is the language
of the people in the central and eastern parts of the island of
Java, in Indonesia.
In addition, there are also some pockets of
Javanese speakers in the northern coast of western Java. It is the
native language of more than 75,500,000 people.
The Javanese language is part of the Austronesian
family, and is therefore
related to Indonesian
varieties. Many speakers of
Javanese also speak Indonesian for official and commercial purposes
and to communicate with non-Javanese Indonesians.
Indonesia, there are large communities of Javanese-speaking people
in the neighbouring countries such as East Timor, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and also
Kong and Taiwan.
addition there are also Javanese-speaking people in Suriname, the
Netherlands, and New Caledonia. The Javanese speakers in Malaysia are
especially found in the states of Selangor and Johor.
distribution in other parts, as far as Suriname, see Demographic
distribution of Javanese speakers
This is a map of where Javanese is
Dark green is where it is spoken as a major language.
Light green is where it is a minority language.
Javanese belongs to the Sundic
sub-branch of the Western
(also called Hesperonesian) branch of the
subfamily of the
It is a
close linguistic relative of Malay, Sundanese, Madurese, Balinese, and to a lesser extent, of
various Sumatran and Borneo languages,
including Malagasy and Filipino.
Javanese is spoken in Central and East Java, as well as on the
north coast of West Java. In Madura, Bali, Lombok and the Sunda
region of West Java, Javanese is also used as a literary language
. It was the court
language in Palembang, South
Sumatra, until their palace was sacked by the Dutch in the
late 18th century.
Javanese can be regarded as one of the classical languages of the
world, with a vast literature
spanning more than 12 centuries. Scholars divide the development of
Javanese language in four different stages:
- Old Javanese, from the 9th century
- Middle Javanese, from the 13th century
- New Javanese, from the 16th century
- Modern Javanese, from 20th century (this classification is not
Javanese is written with the Javanese
(a descendant of the Brahmi
script of India),
Arabo-Javanese script, Arabic script (modified for Javanese) and
Although not currently an official language anywhere, Javanese is
with the largest number of native speakers. It is spoken or
understood by approximately 80 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. Four out of five
Indonesian presidents since 1945 are of Javanese descent.
therefore not surprising that Javanese has a deep impact on the
development of Indonesian, the
national language of Indonesia, which is a modern dialect of Malay.
There are three main dialects of Modern Javanese: Central Javanese,
Eastern Javanese and Western Javanese. There is a dialect
continuum from Banten in the
extreme west of Java to Banyuwangi, in the foremost eastern corner of the
All Javanese dialects are more or less mutually intelligible
The phonemes of Modern Standard Javanese.Vowels:
The pronunciation of the vowels is rather complicated. The main
characteristic of the standard dialect of Surakarta is that in open
word-final syllables and penultimate syllables is pronounced (as in
or in French os
The phones in parentheses are allophones.A Javanese
can be of the following type:
, S= sonorant
( or any nasal
) and V=vowel
. In Modern
Javanese, a bi-syllabic root is of the following type: nCsvVnCsvVC.
As in other Austronesian languages, native Javanese roots consist
of two syllables; words consisting of more than three syllables are
broken up into groups of bi-syllabic words for pronunciation.
Javanese, together with Madurese
are the only Austronesian languages to possess retroflex
phonemes. (Madurese also possesses
aspirated phonemes including at least one aspirated retroflex
phoneme.) These letters are transcribed as "th" and "dh" in the
modern Roman script, but previously by the use of a dot
: " " and " ". Some scholars assume this
might be an influence of the Sanskrit
others believe this could be an independent development within the
Austronesian super family. Incidentally, a sibilant before a
retroflex stop in Sanskrit loanwords is pronounced as a retroflex
sibilant whereas in modern Indian languages it is pronounced as a
palatal sibilant. Though Acehnese
also possess a
retroflex voiceless stop, this is merely an allophone of .
Javanese, like 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
particularly had VSO
word orders. Even
in Modern Javanese archaic sentences using VSO structure can still
- Modern Javanese: "Dhèwèké (S) teka (V)
nèng (pp.) kedhaton (O)".
- Old Javanese: "Teka (V) ta (part.)
sira (S) ri (pp.) ng (def. art.)
Both sentences mean: "He (S) comes (V) in (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
rest of the sentence. In Modern Javanese the definite article is
lost in prepositions (it is expressed in another way).
Verbs are not inflected for person or number. Tense is not
indicated either, but is expressed by auxiliary words such as
"yesterday", "already", etc. There is also a complex system of verb
affixes to express the different status of the subject and
However, in general the structure of Javanese sentences both Old
and Modern can be described using the so-called topic-comment model
without having to
refer to classical grammatical or syntactical categories such as
the aforementioned subject, object, predicates, etc. The topic
is the head of the sentence; the
comment is the modifier. So our Javanese above-mentioned sentence
could then be described as follows: Dhèwèké
= comment; nèng kedhaton
Javanese has a rich vocabulary, with many foreign loan words as
well as the native Austronesian base. Sanskrit
has had a deep and lasting impact on the
vocabulary of the Javanese language. The "Old Javanese – English
Dictionary", written by professor P.J. Zoetmulder
in 1982, contains approximately
25,500 entries, over 12,600 of which are borrowings from Sanskrit.
Clearly this large number is not an indication of usage, but it is
an indication that the Ancient Javanese knew and employed these
Sanskrit words in their literary works. In any given Old Javanese
literary work, approximately 25% of the vocabulary is derived from
Sanskrit. In addition, many Javanese personal names have clearly
recognisable Sanskrit roots.
Many Sanskrit words are still in current usage. Modern Javanese
speakers refer to much of the Old Javanese and Sanskrit words as
words, which may be
roughly translated as "literary". However the so-called
words also contain some Arabic words. Furthermore
there has been significant word borrowing from Arabic
as well, but none as
extensively as from Sanskrit.
There are far fewer Arabic loanwords in Javanese than in Malay.
These Arabic loanwords are usually concerned with Islamic religion,
but some words have entered the basic vocabulary, such as
("to think", from the Arabic fikr
("eye", thought to be
derived from the Arabic ma'rifah
, meaning "knowledge" or
"vision"). However, these Arabic words typically have native
Austronesian and/or Sanskrit equivalents. In the cases mentioned,
, or cita
, or angga
(Sanskrit), and mripat
, or netra
Dutch loanwords usually have the same form and meaning as in
Indonesian, but there are a few exceptions. Consider this table:
||spoor, i.e. (rail)track
The latter is interesting, as the word sepur
in Indonesian. The Indonesian word has preserved the
Dutch meaning of "railway tracks", while the
Javanese word follows Dutch figurative
use, where "spoor"
(lit. "rail") is used as metonymy
"trein" (lit. "train"). (Compare the corresponding metonymic use in
English: "to travel by rail" may be used for "to travel by
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 national
language of Indonesia. As a consequence, there has been an influx
of Malay and Indonesian vocabulary into Javanese recently. Many of
these words are concerned with bureaucracy or politics.
Javanese speech varies depending on social context, yielding three
distinct styles, or registers
. Each style employs its own
vocabulary, grammatical rules and even prosody
. This is not unique to
Javanese; neighbouring Austronesian languages as well as East Asian
languages such as Korean
In Javanese these styles are called:
- Ngoko is informal speech, used between friends and
close relatives. It is also used by persons of higher status to
persons of lower status, such as elders to younger people or bosses
- Madya is the intermediary form between ngoko
and krama. An example of the context where one would use
madya is an interaction between strangers on the street,
where one wants to be neither too formal nor too informal.
- Krama is the polite and formal style. It is used
between persons of the same status who do not wish to be informal.
It is also the official style for public speeches, announcements,
etc. It is also used by persons of lower status to persons of
higher status, such as youngsters to elder people or subordinates
In addition, there are also "meta-style" words – the honorifics
. When one talks about oneself, one has
to be humble. But when one speaks of someone else with a higher
status or to whom one wants to be respectful, honorific terms are
used. Status is defined by age, social position and other factors.
The humilific words are called krama andhap
the honorific words are called krama inggil
example, children often use the ngoko
style, but when
talking to the parents they must use both krama inggil
Below some examples are provided to explain these different
- Ngoko: Aku arep mangan (I want to eat)
- Madya: Kula ajeng nedha.
- (Neutral) Kula badhé nedha.
- (Humble) Dalem badhé nedha.
- (Honorific - Addressed to someone with a high(er) status.)
Bapak kersa dhahar? (Do you want to eat? Literally
meaning: Does father want to eat?)
- (reply towards persons with lower status) Iya, aku kersa
dhahar. (Yes, I want to eat).
- (reply towards persons with lower status, but without having
the need to express one's superiority) Iya, aku arep
- (reply towards persons with the same status) Inggih, kula
The use of these different styles is complicated and requires
thorough knowledge of the Javanese culture. This is one element
that makes it difficult for foreigners to learn Javanese. On the
other hand, these different styles of speech are actually not
mastered by the majority of Javanese. Most people only master the
first style and a rudimentary form of the second style. Persons who
have correct mastery of the different styles are held in high
Dialects of modern Javanese
There are three main groups of Javanese dialects
based on the sub region where the speakers
live. They are: Western Javanese, Central Javanese and Eastern
Javanese. The differences between these dialectical groups are
primarily pronunciation and, to a lesser extent, vocabulary. All
Javanese dialects are more or less mutually intelligible.
Central Javanese variant, based on the speech of Surakarta (and also to a degree of Yogyakarta), is considered as the most "refined" Javanese
Accordingly standard Javanese is based on this
dialect. These two cities are the seats of the four Javanese
principalities, heirs to the Mataram Sultanate, which once reigned
over almost the whole of Java and beyond. Speakers spread from
north to south of the Central Java province and utilize many dialects, such as
Muria and Semarangan, as well as
Surakarta and Yogyakarta.
To the lesser
extent, there are also dialects include those used in
or Dialek Pantura
(a variation of Banyumasan
). The variations of Javanese
dialect in Central Java is said to be so plentiful that almost all
administrative regions have their own native slang
that is only recognizable by people from that
region, and those minor dialects are not distinctive to most
In addition to Central Java and Yogyakarta provinces, Central
Javanese is also used in western part of East Java province.
example, Javanese spoken in Madiun region bears
strong influence of Surakarta Javanese (as well as Javanese spoken
in Ponorogo, Pacitan, and Tulungagung), while Javanese spoken in Bojonegoro and Tuban is similar
to that spoken in Pati region (Muria
Javanese, spoken in the western part of the Central Java province
and throughout the West
Java province (particularly in the north coast region),
contains dialects distinct for their Sundanese influences and which still maintain many
The dialects include North Banten
, Jawa Serang
, North coast
) and Cirebonan
(or Basa Cerbon
Javanese speakers range from the eastern banks of Kali
Brantas in Kertosono to Banyuwangi, comprising the majority of the East Java province, excluding Madura
island. However, the dialect has been influenced by
Madurese, and is sometimes referred to as
aberrant dialect is spoken in Balambangan (or Banyuwangi) in the eastern-most part of Java.
generally known as Basa Osing
is the word for negation and is a cognate of the
being the neighbouring language directly to the east. In the past
this area of Java was in possession of Balinese kings and
In addition to these three main Javanese dialects, there is
Javanese is mainly based on Central Javanese dialect, especially
from the Kedu residency
Most Javanese people, except those who live in West Java, accept
the pronunciation of the phoneme "a" as /ɔ/. Therefore, there is a
different pronunciation of many words; for example apa
(Eng.=what) is pronounced /apaʔ/ in Western Javanese and /ɔːpɔː/ in
Central and Eastern Javanese.
When there is a condition of phoneme stem VCV
(Vowel-Consonant-Vowel) with the same vowels, Central Javanese
speakers drop the second vowel into another sound, with the
following formula: "i" becomes /e/ and "u" becomes /o/, the
Easterns drop both of the vowels, whereas Western Javanese
maintains the sounds "i" and "u". So the word cilik
small), is pronounced in Central, in Eastern, and in Western
Javanese; the word tutup
is pronounced in Central, in
Eastern, and in Western Javanese.
The vocabulary of Javanese language is enriched by dialectal words.
For example, to get the meaning of "you", Western Javanese speakers
/rikaʔ/, Eastern Javanese use kon
and Central Javanese speakers say kowe
example is the expression of "how": the Tegal dialect of Western
Javanese uses kepriben
/kəpriben/, the Banyumasan
dialect of Western Javanese employs
/kəpriwe/ or kepriwen
Javanese speakers say yok apa
/jɔʔ ɔpɔ/ - originally means
"like what" (Javanese: kaya apa), and Central Javanese speakers say
Brief history of the Javanese language
evidence of writing in Java dates to the Sanskrit
"Tarumanegara inscription" of 450, the oldest example
written entirely in Javanese, called the Sukabumi inscription", is dated March 25, 804.
, located in the district of
Pare in the Kediri regency of East Java, is actually a copy of the
original, dated some 120 years earlier; only this copy has been
preserved. Its contents concern the construction of a dam for an
irrigation canal near the river Śrī Hariñjing (nowadays Srinjing).
This inscription is the last of its kind to be written using
; all consequent
examples are written using Javanese
The 8th and 9th centuries are marked with the emergence of the
Javanese literary tradition with Sang Hyang Kamahayanikan
treatise and the Kakawin Rāmâyaṇa
Javanese rendering in Indian metres of the Vishnuistic Sanskrit
Although Javanese as a written language appeared considerably later
than Malay (extant in the 7th century), the Javanese literary
tradition is continuous from its inception to present day. The
oldest works, such as the above mentioned Rāmāyaṇa, and a Javanese
rendering of the Indian Mahabharata
are studied assiduously today.
expansion of the Javanese culture, including Javanese script and
language, began in 1293 with the eastward push of the Hindu-Buddhist East-Javanese
Empire Majapahit, toward Madura and Bali.
Javanese campaign in Bali in 1363 has had a deep and lasting
impact. With the introduction of the Javanese administration,
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 the 19th century.
The Majapahit Empire also saw the rise of a new language, Middle
Javanese, which is an intermediate form between Old Javanese and
New Javanese. In fact, Middle Javanese is so similar to New
Javanese that works written in Middle Javanese should be easily
comprehended by Modern Javanese speakers who are well acquainted
with literary Javanese.
The Majapahit Empire fell due to internal disturbances and attacks
forces of the Sultanate of Demak
on the north coast of
Java. There is a Javanese chronogram
concerning the fall which reads, "sirna ilang krĕtaning
" ("vanished and gone was the prosperity of the world"),
indicating the date AD 1478. Thus there is a popular belief that
Majapahit collapsed in 1478, though it may have lasted into the
1500s. This was the last Hindu Javanese empire.
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 which 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
in Bali, 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
Though Islamic in name, the Mataram II empire preserved many
elements of the older culture, incorporating them into the new
religion. This is the reason 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 as these early New Javanese documents are Islamic
Later, intensive contacts with the Dutch and with other Indonesians
gave rise to a simplified form of Javanese and influx of foreign
Some scholars dub the spoken form of Javanese in the 20th century
Modern Javanese, although it is essentially still the same language
as New Javanese.
Javanese has been traditionally written with Javanese script.
However, it is also written in Arabic and Roman script.
The letters f
, and z
are used in
Demographic distribution of Javanese speakers
is spoken throughout Indonesia, neighbouring Southeast Asian countries, the Netherlands, Suriname, New
Caledonia and other
countries. However, the greatest concentration of
speakers is found in the six provinces of Java itself, and in the
neighbouring Sumatran province of Lampung.
Below, a table with the number of native speakers in 1980 is
||% of the pop.
||Javanese speakers (1980)
Based on the 1980 census, persons in approximately 43% of
Indonesia's households spoke Javanese at home on a daily basis. By
this reckoning there were well over 60 million Javanese speakers..
In 1980, the total number of the Indonesian population was
Above only 22 provinces of the then 27 provinces of Indonesia are
taken. In each of these provinces, more than 1% of the population
are Javanese speakers.
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.
These figures are somewhat outdated for some regions, especially
Jakarta while 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. Furthermore it has to
be noted that Banten has
separated form West Java province in 2000.
In Banten, Western Java, the descendants of the Central Javanese
conquerors who founded the Islamic Sultanate there in the 16th
century still speak an archaic form of Javanese. The rest of the
population mainly speaks Sundanese and Indonesian as this province
borders directly on Jakarta. Many commuters live in the Jakartan
suburbs in Banten, among them also Javanese speakers. Their exact
number is however unknown.
one third of the population of Jakarta is of Javanese descent and as such 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
Madurese in Javanese script
The province of East Java
is also home of
the Madurese people, who number almost a quarter of the population
(mostly on the Isle of Madura), but many Madurese actually have
some knowledge of colloquial Javanese. Since the 19th century,
Madurese was also written in the Javanese script. Unfortunately,
the aspirated phonemes of Madurese are not reproduced in writing.
The 19th century scribes apparently overlooked, or were ignorant
of, the fact that Javanese script does possess these
Lampung the original inhabitants, the Lampungese, only make
up some 15% of the 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
former Dutch colony of Suriname (formerly called Dutch Guiana), in South America,
approximately 15% of the population of some 500,000 are of Javanese
descent, thus accounting for 75,000 speakers of
The Javanese language today
Damar Jati, a new Javanese
language biweekly magazine.
Although Javanese is not a national language, it has a recognised
status as a regional language
three Indonesian provinces where the biggest concentrations of
Javanese people are found, i.e. Central Java, Yogyakarta and East
Java. Javanese is taught at schools and is also used in some
, both electronically and in
print. There is, however, no longer a daily newspaper in Javanese.
Some examples of Javanese language magazines include: Panjebar
, Jaka Lodhang
, Jaya Baya
, and Mekar Sari
Since 2003, an East Java local television station (JTV
) has broadcast some of its programmes in Surabayan
dialect. Three such programmes are Pojok kampung
and Pojok Perkoro
programme). Later on JTV also broadcast programmes in Central
Javanese dialect which they call 'the western language' (basa
) and Madurese.
In 2005, a new Javanese language magazine Damar Jati
its conception. The interesting fact is that, it is not published
in the Javanese heartlands, but in Jakarta, the national capital of
- W. van der Molen. 1993. Javaans schrift. Leiden:
Vakgroep Talen en Culturen van Zuidoost-Azië en Oceanië. ISBN
- S.A. Wurm and Shiro Hattori, eds. 1983. Language Atlas of
the Pacific Area, Part II. (Insular South-east Asia).
- P.J. Zoetmulder. 1982. Old Javanese-English
Dictionary. 's-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff. ISBN