Early kingdoms era
, native writing systems found in Malay Peninsula, central and
. The text reads (Voorhoeve's spelling): "haku manangis ma / njaru ka'u ka'u di / saru tijada da / tang [hitu hadik sa]", which is translated by Voorhoeve as: "I am weeping, calling you; though called, you do not come" (in modern Malay "Aku menangis, menyeru kau, kau di seru, tiada datang [itu adik satu]").
Indonesian is a
register of "Riau Malay",
 which despite its common name is not the Malay dialect native to the
Riau Islands, but rather the
Classical Malay of the
Malaccan royal courts.
 Originally spoken in Northeast
 Malay has been used as a
lingua franca in the Indonesian
archipelago for half a millennium. It might be attributed to its
Old Malay language (which can be traced back to the 7th century). The
Kedukan Bukit Inscription is the oldest surviving specimen of Old Malay, the language used by
Srivijayan empire. Since the 7th century, the Old Malay language has been used in
Nusantara (Indonesian archipelago), evidenced by Srivijaya inscriptions and by other inscriptions from
coastal areas of the archipelago, such as
those discovered in Java.
Old Malay as lingua franca
Trade contacts carried on by various
ethnic peoples at the time were the main
vehicle for spreading the Old Malay language, which was the main
communications medium among the traders. Ultimately, the Old Malay language became a
lingua franca and was spoken widely by most people in the archipelago.
Indonesian (in its standard form) is essentially the same language as the official
Brunei standards of Malay. However, it does
differ from Malaysian in several respects, with differences in pronunciation and vocabulary. These differences are due mainly to the Dutch and Javanese influences on Indonesian. Indonesian was also influenced by the Melayu pasar (literally "market Malay"), which was the lingua franca of the archipelago in colonial times, and thus indirectly by other spoken languages of the islands.
Malaysian Malay claims to be closer to the classical Malay of earlier centuries, even though modern Malaysian has been heavily influenced, in lexicon as well as in syntax, by English. The question of whether High Malay (Court Malay) or Low Malay (Bazaar Malay) was the true parent of the Indonesian language is still in debate. High Malay was the official language used in the court of the
Johor Sultanate and continued by the Dutch-administered territory of
Riau-Lingga, while Low Malay was commonly used in marketplaces and ports of the archipelago. Some linguists have argued that it was the more common Low Malay that formed the base of the Indonesian language.
Dutch colonial era
Dutch East India Company (VOC) first arrived in the archipelago, the Malay language was a significant trading and political language due to the influence of
Malaccan Sultanate and later the
Portuguese. However, the language had never been dominant among the population of the Indonesian archipelago as it was limited to mercantile activity. The VOC adopted the Malay language as the administrative language of their trading outpost in the east. Following the
bankruptcy of the VOC, the
Batavian Republic took control of the colony in 1799 and it was only then that education in and promotion of Dutch began in the
colony. Even then, Dutch administrators were remarkably reluctant to promote the use of Dutch compared to other colonial regimes. Dutch thus remained the language of a small elite: in 1940, only 2% of the total population could speak Dutch. Nevertheless, it did have a significant influence on the development of Malay in the colony: during the era of
colonization the language that would become Indonesian absorbed a large amount of Dutch vocabulary in the form of
Birth of Indonesian language
session held in July 1938 in Jakarta, where Indonesian was formally used for the first time by Jahja Datoek Kajo.
nationalist movement that ultimately brought Indonesian to its national language status rejected
Dutch from the outset. However, the rapid disappearance of Dutch was a very unusual case compared to other colonized countries, where the colonial language generally has continued to function as the language of politics,
technology, and other important areas for a significant time after independence.
 Soenjono Dardjowidjojo even goes so far as to say that, "Indonesian is perhaps the only language that has achieved the status of a national language in its true sense" since it truly dominates in all spheres of
Indonesian society. The ease with which Indonesia eliminated the language of its former colonial power can perhaps be explained as much by Dutch
policy as by Indonesian nationalism, though. In marked contrast to the
Spanish and Portuguese, who pursued an
assimilation colonial policy, or even the
British, the Dutch did not attempt to spread their language among the indigenous population. In fact, they consciously prevented the language from being spread by refusing to provide education, especially in Dutch, to the native Indonesians so they would not come to see themselves as equals.
 Moreover, the Dutch wished to prevent the Indonesians from elevating their perceived social status by taking on elements of Dutch culture. Thus, until the 1930s, they maintained a minimalist regime and allowed Malay to spread quickly throughout the archipelago.
Dutch dominance at that time covered nearly all aspects, with official forums requiring the use of Dutch, although since the Youth Congress (1928) the use of Indonesian as the national language was agreed on as one of the tools in the pro-independence struggle. As of it,
Mohammad Husni Thamrin inveighed actions underestimating Indonesian. After some criticism and protests, the use of Indonesian was allowed since the Volksraad sessions held in July 1938.
 By the time they tried to counter the spread of Malay by teaching Dutch to the natives, it was too late, and in 1942, the Japanese conquered Indonesia and outlawed the use of the Dutch language. Three years later, the Indonesians themselves formally abolished the language and established Bahasa Indonesia as the national language of the new nation.
Adopted as national language
was the result of second
in October 1928. On the last pledge, there was an affirmation of Indonesian language as a unifying language
throughout the archipelago.
The adoption of Indonesian as the country's national language was in contrast to most other post-colonial states, as neither the language with the most native speakers (in this case, Javanese) nor the language of the former European colonial power (in this case, Dutch) was to be adopted, but rather a local language with many fewer native speakers than the most widely spoken local language (nevertheless, Malay was the second most widely spoken language in the colony after Javanese, and had many L2 speakers using it for trade, administration, and education).
In 1945 when Indonesia declared its independence, Indonesian was formally declared the national language,
 although then it was the native language of only about 5 per cent of the population, whereas Javanese and Sundanese were the
mother tongues of 42–48 percent and 15 percent respectively.
 It was a combination of
practical concerns that ultimately led to the successful adoption of Indonesian as a national language. In 1945, Javanese was easily the most prominent language in Indonesia. It was the native language of nearly half the population, the primary language of politics and
economics, and the language of
religious, and literary tradition.
 What it lacked, however, was the ability to unite the diverse Indonesian population as a whole. With thousands of islands and hundreds of different languages, the newly independent country of Indonesia had to find a national language that could realistically be spoken by the majority of the population and that would not divide the nation by favoring one ethnic group, namely the Javanese, over the others. In 1945, Indonesian was already in widespread use;
 in fact, it had been for roughly a thousand years. Over that long period of time, Malay, which would later become Indonesian, was the primary language of
travel. In addition, it was the language used for the propagation of
Islam in the 13th to 17th centuries, as well as the language of instruction used by Portuguese and Dutch missionaries attempting to convert the indigenous people to
 The combination of all of these factors meant that the language was already known to some degree by most of the population, and it could be more easily adopted as the national language than perhaps any other.
Over the first 53 years of
Indonesian independence, the country's first two presidents,
Suharto constantly nurtured the sense of national
unity embodied by Indonesian, and the language remains an important component of Indonesian identity today. Through a language planning program that made Indonesian the language of
education, and nation-building in general, Indonesia became one of the few success stories of an
indigenous language effectively overtaking that of a country's colonizers to become the
de jure and
de facto official language.
 It is a unique and somewhat unusual story, especially considering the historical dominance of Javanese; a diverse collection of peoples were able to compromise to hold the nation together. Today, Indonesian continues to function as the language of
national identity as the Congress of Indonesian Youth envisioned, and it also serves as the language of education,
 Despite still being a second language to most Indonesian citizens, it is unquestionably the language of the Indonesian nation as a whole, as it has had unrivaled success as a factor in nation-building and the strengthening of Indonesian identity.
Modern and colloquial Indonesian
Road-signs in an airport terminal
Indonesian language used on a bus advertisement
While Indonesian is spoken as a
mother tongue by only a small proportion of Indonesia's large population (i.e. mainly those who reside within the vicinity of
Jakarta and other large predominantly Indonesian-speaking cities such as
Balikpapan), over 200 million people regularly make use of the national language, with varying degrees of proficiency. In a nation that boasts more than 700 native languages and a vast array of ethnic groups, it plays an important unifying and cross-archipelagic role for the country. Use of the national language is abundant in the media,
workplaces, among members of the Indonesian upper-class or nobility and also in many other formal situations, although the 2010 Indonesian Census shows that only 19.94% of people over 5 years old speak mainly Indonesian at home.
Standard and formal Indonesian is used in books and newspapers and on television/ radio news broadcasts; however, few native Indonesian speakers use the formal language in their daily conversations. While this is a phenomenon common to most languages in the world (for example, spoken English does not always correspond to written standards), the degree of "correctness" of spoken Indonesian (in terms of grammar and vocabulary) by comparison to its written form is noticeably low. This is mostly due to Indonesians combining aspects of their own local languages (e.g.,
Chinese) with Indonesian. This results in various "regional" Indonesian dialects, the very types that a foreigner is most likely to hear upon arriving in any Indonesian city or town. This phenomenon is amplified by the use of
Indonesian slang, particularly in the cities.
The most common and widely used colloquial Indonesian is heavily influenced by
Betawi language, a
Malay-based creole of
Jakarta, amplified by its popularity in Indonesian popular culture in mass media and Jakarta's status as the national capital. In informal spoken Indonesian, various words are replaced with those of a less formal nature. For example, tidak (no) is often replaced with the Javanese nggak or the even simpler gak, while seperti (like, similar to) is often replaced with kayak (pronounced kai-yah). Sangat or amat (very), the term to express intensity, is often being replaced with Javanese-influenced banget.
As for pronunciation, the diphthongs ai and au on the end of base words are typically pronounced as /e/ and /o/. In informal writing the spelling of words is modified to reflect the actual pronunciation in a way that can be produced with less effort. For example, capai becomes cape or capek, pakai becomes pake, kalau becomes kalo.
In verbs, the prefix me- is often dropped, although an initial nasal consonant is often retained, as when mengangkat becomes ngangkat (the basic word is angkat). The suffixes -kan and -i are often replaced by -in. For example, mencarikan becomes nyariin, menuruti becomes nurutin. The latter grammatical aspect is one often closely related to the Indonesian spoken in Jakarta and its surrounding areas.