The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Javanese language

Javanese language is the spoken language of people in central and eastern part of island of Java, in Indonesia. According to Ethnologue, it is spoken by approximately 75,500,000 people.

The Javanese language is part of the Malayo-Polynesian (or Austronesian) family of languages, and is therefore related to Bahasa Indonesia and Malay. Many speakers of Javanese also speak Bahasa Indonesia, which they use primarily for official and business purposes.

Javanese (Basa Jawa, Basa Jawi)
Spoken in: Java (Indonesia), Suriname, New Caledonia
Region: Southeast Asian Islands
Total speakers: 80 - 100 million total
Ranking: 11
Genetic classification: Austronesian

  Western Malayo-Polynesian

Official status
Official language of: Dutch East Indies (Java) (Discontinued in 1945)
Regulated by: -
Language codes
ISO 639-1 jv
ISO 639-2 jav



Javanese is an Austronesian language belonging to the Sundic sub-branch of Hesperonesian (also called Western Malayo-Polynesians) sub-branch of the Malayo-Polynesian subfamily of the Austronesian super family. Malay is a fairly close relative; it can be considered as a cousin of Javanese. Other close relatives include Sundanese, Madurese and Balinese. It is still closely related but to a lesser extent to various Sumatran languages and various Borneo languages, including Malagasy. Javanese is mainly spoken in the Indonesian island of Java. In Java, Javanese is spoken on the north coast of West Java, Central and East Java. In Sunda (West Java), Madura, Bali and Lombok, Javanese is also used as a literary language. Even in Palembang, South Sumatra, Javanese language was the court language before their palace was sacked by the Dutch in the late 18th century.

Javanese is one of the Austronesian languages, which has been attested quite early. Javanese in various stages of its development is one of the classical languages of Southeast Asia and can also be regarded as one of the classical languages of the world as well, with a vast literature spanning more than 12 centuries. Scholars divide the development of Javanese language in four different stages:

Old Javanese From 9th century
Middle Javanese From 13th century
New Javanese From 16th century
(Sometimes) Modern Javanese From 20th century

Although many manuscripts containing the older literature have been found throughout the island of Java, it is however particularly to the Balinese people, that much of the older literature has been preserved. Javanese is the Austronesian language with the richest written literature covering all fields. Javanese has been written with the Javanese script, a descendant of the Brahmi script of India, Arabo-Javanese script, Arabic script that is modified for Javanese and Latin script. Although not an official language anywhere, Javanese is by far the Austronesian language with the largest number of native speakers. It is estimated that it is spoken or understood by at least 80 millions people. At least 45 % of the whole population of Indonesia is of Javanese descent or live in an area where Javanese is the dominant language. Four out of five presidents of Indonesia since 1945 are of Javanese descent. It is therefore not surprising that Javanese has a deep impact on the development of Bahasa Indonesia or Indonesian, the national language of Indonesia, which is a modern dialect of Malay. Totally there are three main dialects of Modern Javanese: Western Javanese, Central Javanese and Eastern Javanese. There is a dialect continuum from Banten in the extreme west of Java to Banyuwangi, in the foremost eastern corner of the island. The Central Javanese variant, based on the speech of Surakarta (and also to a degree of Yogyakarta), is considered as the most ‘refined’ Javanese dialect. Accordingly standard Javanese is based on this dialect. These two cities are the seats of the four Javanese principalities, heirs to the dynasty of Mataram II, which once reigned over almost the whole of Java and beyond. Eastern Javanese dialect is ranged from eastern banks of Kali Brantas in Kertosono until Banyuwangi. However, the dialect is always referred to Surabayan speech. Recently, since 2003 an East Java local television (JTV) has broadcast some of its programmes in East Javanese dialect (based-on Surabayan and Malangan speeches). The programmes are Pojok kampung (News in East Javanese dialect), Kuis RT/RW, Pojok Perkoro(criminal programme in the dialect) and many more. While in West Java particularly in the north coast , the dialects are distincts for Sundanese influences and still maintain many archaic words. The dialects are Jawa Serang, North coast, Indramayu or Dermayon and Cirebonan or Basa Cerbon. The dialects are more or less mutually intelligible. However the most aberrant dialect is the dialect of Balambangan or Banyuwangi in the most-eastern part of Java. It is generally known as Basa Osing. Osing is the word for negation and is a cognate of the Balinese ‘tusing’, Balinese being the neighbouring language directly to the east. In the past this area and beyond used to be in possession of Balinese kings and warlords. As in many languages of Eastern Asia, for example as in Korean, Japanese, Thai, as well the neighbouring Austronesian languages, there are several styles in Javanese speech, which indicate politeness.


These are the phonemes of Modern Standard Javanese.


Front Central Back
i   u
@ o
(è)   (ò)

The pronunciation of the vowels is rather complicated. But the main characteristic of the standard dialect of Surakarta is that, /a/ in open-word final syllables and penultimate syllables is pronounced as [(&ograve)] as in English ‘hot’ or in French ‘os’. For the structure of Javanese syllable please refer below. Words consisting of more than three syllables are broken up in groups of words containing two syllables for the pronunciation.


Labial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop p b t d th dh   tS dZ k g
Fricative     (sh) s     h
Semi-vowels w l r   j    
Nasal m n (nh)td>   N  

  • The phonemes between parentheses are allophones; the retroflex phonemes are represented as C+h; the palatal nasal is written with a tilde, other symbols are SAMPA.
Javanese, together with Madurese, are both the only Austronesian languages to possess retroflex phonemes. Madurese even possesses aspirated phonemes including at least one aspirated retroflex phoneme. Some scholars assume this might be an influence of the Sanskrit, but other scholars believe this can also be an independent development within the Austronesian super family. Interesting to note is the fact that 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. By the way, Achinese and Balinese also possess a retroflex voiceless stop, but this is merely an allophone of /t/. As in other Austronesian languages, native Javanese roots consist of two syllables. A Javanese syllable can be of the following type: nCsvVC. n=nasal, C=consonant, sv= semivowel (/y/, /r/, /l/ and /w/), V=vowel and C=consonant. But a bi-syllabic root is in Modern Javanese of the following type: nCsvVnCsvVC.

Javanese script


Javanese is, like other Austronesian languages, an agglutinative language. Base words can be modified using extensive apply of affixes.


Modern Javanese usually has SVO word order. But Old Javanese particularly had VSO or sometimes VOS word orders. Even in Modern Javanese archaic sentences using VSO structure can still be made.


Modern Javanese: ‘Dheweke (S) těka (V) neng (pp.) kĕdhaton (O)’.

Old Javanese: ‘Těka (V) ta (part.) sira (S) ri (pp.) ng (def. art.) kadhatwan (O)’.

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 from the rest of the sentence. Also 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 this is expressed by auxiliary words as in Malay such as yesterday or by other tense indicators such as already. On the other hand, there is a complex system of verb affixes to express the different status of the subject and object. As other Austronesian languages, Javanese is an agglutinative language.

But 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. Topic is the head of the sentence, comment is the modifier. So our Javanese above-mentioned sentence could then be described as follows:

Dheweke = topic tĕka = comment neng kĕdhaton = setting.


Javanese has a rich vocabulary, not only do native Austronesian words make up the vocabulary but also many foreign borrowings as well. Sanskrit has had a deep and lasting impact on the vocabulary of the Javanese language. In the Old Javanese – English Dictionary, written by professor P.J. Zoetmulder s.j. (1982), no less than 12.500 out of a total entry of 25.500 consist of borrowings from Sanskrit. It is obvious that this large number doesn’t say anything about their usage. It is merely 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.

Many Sanskrit words are still in use nowadays. Modern Javanese speakers refer to much of the Old Javanese and Sanskrit words as kawi words, which roughly can be translated as ‘literary’. Other borrowings include loanwords from Arabic, Dutch and Malay. But their numbers are considerably much lower than the Sanskrit borrowings. The number of the Arabic loanwords is much lower than in Malay. These Arabic loanwords are usually concerned with Islamic religion, but some words have entered the basic vocabulary such as pikir, 'to think' (Arabic, fikr), badan, 'body', mripat, 'eye' (thought to be from Arabic ma’rifah 'knowledge' or as a derived meaning 'vision', hence ‘eyes’). But usually these Arabic words also have their native Austronesian and or Sanskrit equivalents. In this case mripat = mata (Austronesian), soca, netra (Sanskrit), badan = awak (Austronesian), slira, sarira, angga (Sanskrit), pikir = galih, idhĕp (Austronesian), manah, cipta, cita (Sanskrit).

Dutch loanwords usually have the same form and meaning as in Indonesian but there are few exceptions. For examples: pit, 'bicycle' (Dutch fiets) for Indonesian ‘sepeda’, pit montor 'motor bicycle' (Dutch motorfiets) for Indonesian ‘sepeda motor’ and sepur ‘train’ (Dutch spoor, i.e. (rail)track) for Indonesian ‘kereta api’. The latter is interesting, as ‘sepur’ also exists in Indonesian. Its meaning has preserved the Dutch meaning more faithfully, i.e. railway tracks.

Due to the status of Malay as lingua franca of the Indonesian archipelago in former times and later as the official and national language of Indonesia, there has been an influx of Malay and Indonesian vocabulary recently. Many of these are concerned with the bureaucracy or politics.


As in many languages of Eastern Asia, for example as in Korean, Japanese, Thai, as well the neighbouring Austronesian languages, there are several styles, sometimes called levels, in Javanese speech, depending on the social context. These styles are characterised by their own vocabulary, grammatical rules and even has distinct prosody.

In Javanese these styles are called:

  1. Ngoko, this is the informal speech, between friends and close relatives. It is also used by persons with a higher status to persons with a lower status, for example older people to younger people or bosses to subordinates.
  2. Madya, this is the intermediary form between ngoko and krama . For example people on the street, where one does not want to be too informal or does not want to be too polite either, use it.
  3. Krama, this is the polite or the formal style. Used between persons of the same status without wanting to be informal. This is also the official style used for a public speech, announcement etc.

However, there are also 'meta-style' words, these are the honorifics and humilifics. When one talks about oneself, one has to be humble. But when one speaks of someone else with a higher status or whom one wants to be respectful to, honorific terms are used. Status is defined by age, social position etc. The humilific words are called krama andhap words while the honorific words are called krama inggil words. For examples, children often use the ngoko style when talking to the parents. But they have to use krama inggil words both inggil and andhap. Below some examples are provided to explain these different styles.

Ngoko: Aku arěp mangan (I want to eat)

Madya: Kula ajěng nědha.

Krama: (Neutral) Kula badhe nědha. (Humble) Dalěm badhe nědha.

Mixed: (Honorific) Bapak kěrsa dhahar ? (Do you want to eat? Addressed to someone with a high(er) status. Literally meaning: Does father want to eat?) (reply towards persons with lower status) Iya, aku kěrsa dhahar. (Yes, I want to eat). (reply towards persons with lower status, but without having the need to express one’s superiority) Iya, aku arěp mangan. (reply towards persons with same status) Inggih, kula badhe nědha.

The employ of these different styles is very complicated and imposes good knowledge of the Javanese culture. These different styles are one of the things, which make it difficult for foreigners to learn Javanese. On the other hand, these different styles of speech are actually not mastered well by the majority of Javanese. Most people, especially the less educated ones only master the first style and a rudimentary form of the second style. Persons who have correct mastery of these different styles are held in high esteem.

Short history of Java and Javanese language

The earliest evidence of writing in Java is an inscription, which is dated around 450. However, this inscription is found on the western part of Java, home of the Sundanese people. Furthermore more importantly, this inscription, which bears the name ‘Tarumanegara inscription’, is written in Pallava script, and is in Sanskrit. After this, there are many inscriptions found scattered in all parts of Java. Some are in (Old) Malay, the rest is in Sanskrit although sometimes interspersed with few Javanese words: nouns, place names, proper names and titles. The oldest inscription found in Indonesia is by the way the inscriptions of Kutai, in eastern part of Borneo. Palaeographers date these inscriptions, which are written in Sanskrit using the Pallawa script, from between 350–450. But the oldest dated inscription, which is entirely written in Javanese, dates exactly, after conversion in Gregorian calendar, from March 25, 804. This is the so-called Sukabumi inscription , which comes from the district of Pare, Kediri regency, East Java. Its contents are about the construction of a dam for an irrigation canal near the river rī Harijing (nowadays Srinjing). This inscription is written in a more modern form of Pallava script. After this all inscriptions were written in Javanese. A note must be added to this however. This inscription of Sukabumi, is but a copy of the original and was made some 120 years later. Only this copy is preserved. In Java not only copies of manuscripts were made, also of inscriptions. There exists another inscription, which is dated nearly as old as the above mentioned. This inscription is dated 856. It contains a short poem in Javanese but in Indian metres (kāwya), which is devoted to a king. This inscription is an original one, i.e. it is not a copy. The 8th and 9th century is also marked with the emergence of the Javanese literary tradition with Sang Hyang Kamahayanikan, a Buddhist treatise and the Kakawin Ramayana, a Javanese rendering in Indian metres of the (Vishnuistic) Sanskrit Rāmyaņa epic. Although Javanese as a written language appeared considerably later than Malay (already in the 7th century), the Javanese literary tradition is a continuous one up till present time and the oldest works such as the above mentioned Rāmyaņa and also Javanese rendering of the Indian Mahabharata epic are still studied assiduously. The Malay literary tradition only started in 1600, although recently some codices written in an archaic form of Malay in the old indigenous script sort (i.e. an Indian derived) are found. But these are very rare exceptions.

The expansion of the Javanese culture, including Javanese script and language started in the late 13th century with the emergence of the Hindu-Buddhist East-Javanese Empire Majapahit (1293), with expansion eastwards to Madura and Bali. The Javanese campaign in Bali (1363) has had a deep and lasting impact. As already mentioned, the Balinese people preserved much of the older literature of Java and even created their own in Javanese idioms. The Balinese language ceased to be written until the 19th century when writing of Balinese was resumed. Before it was widely used in inscriptions but with the introduction of the Javanese administration, the Javanese language replaced the Balinese as language of the administration and literature.

The foundation of the Majapahit Empire also saw the rise of a new language, i.e. Middle Javanese. This language is an intermediate form between Old Javanese and New Javanese. In fact Middle Javanese is already close to New Javanese. Speakers of Modern Javanese with some education and well acquainted with literary Javanese should be able to read works written in Middle Javanese without too much difficulty.

Then in the 16th century, a new era began in Javanese history. A new empire rose. This was the Islamic Central Javanese empire Mataram II (Mataram I was a Buddhist Central Javanese kingdom). The Mataram Empire rose after the demise of Majapahit, the last Hindu Javanese Empire, due to internal disturbances and attacks by Islamic forces of the Demak kingdom on the north coast of Java. It is popularly believed that Majapahit collapsed in 1478 as there is a chronogram in a Javanese chronicle which says that Majapahit when collapsed it was sirna ilang krĕtaning bumi , ‘vanished and gone was the prosperity of the world’. These words have the following value: ‘0 0 4 1’. These figures should be read backwards and thus make: ‘1400’ or 1400 Anno Sakae (1478). Ironically, the Mataram Empire rose as an Islamic kingdom, which sought revenge for the demise of the Hindu Majapahit Empire, for it was a vassal state, by first crushing Demak, the first Javanese Islamic kingdom. But in fact, Majapahit might last into in the beginning of the 16th century after it was weakened.

During this era Javanese culture spread westwards and gained ground in areas of the Sundanese people with the conquests of Mataram. Many areas, which were previously Sundanese in western parts of Java, became Javanese speaking. More than a third of the former Sundanese area where Sundanese was spoken earlier became Javanese. A similar situation took place as in Bali, the Sundanese language ceased to be written until it was resumed again the 19th century. In the meantime it underwent heavy influences of the Javanese. Some 40% of the vocabulary is believed to have been derived from Javanese. Although in name Islamic, the Mataram II empire preserved many elements of the older culture and incorporated those in the new religion or redefined those, as the Islam was (and is) often just a garb. This is the reason why Javanese script is still in use in contradiction with 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 (Jawi script).

The 16th century, together with the rise of Islam, also 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 but with numerous Arabic loanwords. This is not strange as these early New Javanese documents are Islamic treatises.

Intensive contacts with Dutch and also with other Indonesian gave rise to a simplified form of Javanese and influx of foreign loanwords. Some scholars dub the spoken form of Javanese in the 20th century as Modern Javanese although this is essentially still the same language as New Javanese.

Demographic distribution of Javanese speakers

Javanese is spoken by Javanese communities throughout Indonesia, neighbouring S.E.-Asian countries, the Netherlands, Suriname, New Caledonia and other countries. But the biggest concentration of the speakers is found in Java, which is divided in six provinces and in the neighbouring Sumatran province Lampung. Below a table with an estimated number of native speakers is provided.

Provinces % of TP Total Population Number of Speakers
Banten >5% 9.000.000 > 500.000
Jakarta n.a. 10.000.000 n.a.
West Java 15% 30.000.000 5.700.000
Central Java 97% 34.000.000 32.980.000
Yogyakarta 80% 3.500.000 2.800.000
East Java 78% 38.000.000 30.400.000
Lampung 80% 7.000.000 5.600.000
Total a 139.000.000 77.980.000

From various sources. Image:Java_languages.JPG
Languages Spoken in Java

In 1981 a poll was conducted in Jakarta, one of the question they had to fill was the language they used, but the number which came out for Javanese was far too low, only about 235.000 speakers in Jakarta. At the time population of Jakarta was 6.650.000. It is estimated that at least 33 % of the population is of Javanese descent and as such speak Javanese or have knowledge of it. In Jakarta, all regional languages of Indonesia are spoken and also various foreign languages such as Dutch, English, some Indian and also various Chinese languages. It is estimated that in Jakarta and surroundings with a total population of some 20.000.000, some 10 % of the population is of Chinese ancestry; whether mixed or pure. The situation of the Chinese is not well known but it seems that most of them are of Hakka descent. 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. The rest of the population mainly speak Sundanese and Indonesian as this province borders directly on Jakarta. As a consequence many Jakartanese commuters live here in many suburbs. In fact they make some 33% of the population of Banten. The number of the descendants of the Central Javanese conquerors with their distinct dialect is at least 500.000. But there are recent settlers as well, this number is unfortunately not known. In the province of West Java, many people especially those who live in the areas bordering Central Java speak Javanese. Central Java is the cultural homeland of the Javanese. Yogyakarta, which also lies in Central Java, is a special district based on the former sultanate of Yogyakarta. This area is given special privileges and has the status of a province. But as there are many universities and schools in this area, many people from whole Indonesia and even beyond study here. So the number of the speakers of Javanese is somewhat low. The province East Java is also home of the Madurese people who number almost a quart of the population there (mostly on the isle of Madura). But many Madurese actually have some knowledge of colloquial Javanese. Since the 19th century, Madurese was also written with the Javanese script. Unfortunately, the aspirated phonemes of Madurese are not reproduced in writing. The 19th century scribes in fact 'forgot' or were ignorant of the fact that the Javanese script actually also possess these characters. In Lampung, the original inhabitants, the Lampungese only make up some 10 % of population, the rests are re-settlers the so-called transmigrants, and most of them are Javanese who already settled here since the 19th century. In the former Dutch colony Suriname (formerly called Dutch Guiana), some 15 % of the population is of Javanese descent out of a total population of some 500.000. This makes thus about 75.000 speakers of Javanese. The Javanese of Suriname is one of the five largest ethnic groups living there. The others are Creoles (descendants of African slaves), Hindustani, Chinese and various Native American tribes. Although Javanese is not an official language, it has a recognised status as a so-called regional language in three Indonesian provinces where the biggest concentration of the Javanese people are found, i.e. Central Java, Yogyakarta and East Java. Javanese is taught at schools and is also used in mass media, both electronically and printed. There is however no daily newspaper in Javanese anymore.

The Dialects

There are three main groups of Javanese dialects based on the subregion where the speakers live. They are: Western Javanese, Central Javanese and Eastern Javanese. The Central Javanese is considered as the standard Javanese with the speakers spread fom north to south of Central Java province, speak in many dialects, such as: Muria, Semarangan, Surakarta and Yogyakarta. The Western Javanese has been affected by Sundanese language. The speakers inhabit throughout West Java province, where most of Sundanese people live, to western part of Cntral Java province, also speak in many dialects, such as: Banten, Indramayu, Cirebonan, Banyumasan amd Tegal. The Eastern Javanese is spoken by Javanese people live in the most of East Java province except Madura island. it has been affected by Madura speaking. The main dialect is Surabaya.

The differences among these dialectical groups are the pronunciation and a little bit of vocabulary. Most of the javanese people accept the pronunciation of the phonem 'a' as (@) except those who live in the western. So there is a different kind of pronunciation of the word 'apa'(Eng.=what): (apa?)in Western Javanese and (@:P@:) in Central and Eastern Javanese. When there is a condition of phonem stem VCV (Vowel-Consonant-Vowel) with the same vowels , Central Javanese drop the second vowel into another sound, with the formula: (i) becomes (e) and (u) becomes (o). The western remain the sound (i) and (u), meanwhile the Eastern go forth the sound (e) and (o). So the word 'cilik' (Eng.= small), pronounced as (cilik) in Western, (cile?) in Central, and (ce:le?) in Eastern. The word 'tutup' is pronounced as (tutup) in Western, (tutop) in Central and (to:top) in Eastern. The vocabulary of Javanese language is enriched by the dialectal words. For example to get the meaning of 'you', the western say 'rika' (rika?) and the eastern do 'kon' (k@n) for the Central and standard 'kowe' (kowe/). Another sample is the way to express 'how', the western (Tegal dialect) speak 'kepriben' (ke^pribe/n) or (Banyumasan dialect) 'kepriwe' (ke^priwe/), Eastern give the way 'yok apa' (y@k?@p@), while the standard is 'piye' (piye/).

See also

Hans Ras

External links

  • Javanese Writing System
  • Ethnologue report on Javanese

Last updated: 02-06-2005 07:15:10
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01