Indonesian slang

Indonesian slang (bahasa gaul or bahasa prokem) is an informal language in Indonesia. Despite its direct origins, Indonesian slang often differs quite significantly in both vocabulary and grammatical structure from the most standard form of Indonesia's national language.


Its native name, bahasa gaul (the 'social language'), was a term coined in the late 1990s where bahasa means 'language' and gaul means 'social', 'cool' or 'trendy'. Similarly, the term bahasa prokém (a more out-dated name for Indonesian slang) created in the early 1980s means 'the language of gangsters'. Prokém is a slang form of the word préman and was derived from the Dutch word vrijman (English: freeman; lit. gangster).

Indonesian slang is predominantly used in everyday conversation, social milieus, among popular media and, to a certain extent, in teen publications or pop culture magazines. For those living in more urbanized regions of Indonesia, Indonesian slang language often functions as the primary language medium for communication in daily life. While it would be unusual to communicate orally with people on a casual basis with very formal Indonesian, the use of proper or 'good and correct' Indonesian ("bahasa Indonesia yang baik dan benar") is abundant in the media, government bodies, schools, universities, workplaces, amongst some members of the Indonesian upper-class or nobility and also in many other more formal situations.

Indonesian slang has evolved rapidly. This is, in part, due to its vocabulary that is often so different from that of standard Indonesian and Malaysian and also because so many new words (both original and foreign) are quite easily incorporated into its increasingly wide vocabulary list. However, as with any language, the constant changing of the times means that some words become rarely used or are rendered obsolete as they are considered to be outdated or no longer follow modern day trends.


At present, there is no formal classification for Indonesian slang language as it is essentially a manipulated and popularized form of the Indonesian (the national language of Indonesia).

Indonesian is part of the Western Malayo-Polynesian subgroup of the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian languages. According to the Ethnologue, Indonesian is modelled after Riau Malay, a form of Old Malay originally spoken in Northeast Sumatra.[1]

Geographic distribution

Indonesian slang language is mostly spoken in urban regions of the Indonesian archipelago. Variations of slang language can be found from city to city, mainly characterised by derivatives of the different local ethnic languages. For example, in Bandung, West Java, the local slang language contains vocabulary from the Sundanese language while the slang found in Jakarta tends to be heavily influenced by English or the old Batavian dialect (i.e. the language of the original inhabitants of Jakarta or Batavia as it was known during the Dutch colonial period). For more information relating to the geographics of Indonesian slang and regional influences, please see "Region Specific Slang" below.

Official status

Indonesian slang language is not an official language of Indonesia. However, it is a modified form of the Indonesian language and is widely used for everyday communication and in informal situations even though sometimes mixed with formal Indonesian in formal situations, except in state ceremony, business meeting, and sacred prayers.


Indonesian slang generally uses the same pronunciation as standard Indonesian, although there are many influences from regional dialects on certain aspects such as accent and grammatical structure. Loan words adopted from foreign languages (especially European) such as English or Dutch are often transliterated according to the modern Indonesian orthography. For example, 'please' is often written as plis. Another closely related phenomenon to arise in recent years is the formation of complex nouns or phrases created using a combination of English and Indonesian (slang) in the one sentence. A prime example of this is the phrase "so what gitu loh!", meaning "who cares?!" or quite simply "so what!" with added emphasis from the phrase "gitu loh". "Gitu" is an abbreviated form of the Indonesian word "begitu" meaning "like that/ such as", while "loh" (also spelt lho) is a particle commonly used in slang or conversational Indonesian to show surprise or instigate a warning. In these cases of combined, interlingual phrases, the original spelling (and quite often the pronunciation) of the foreign word(s) are retained. Hence, the English component of the Indonesian slang phrase "so what gitu loh!" remains relatively unchanged as far as spelling and pronunciation are concerned.


The overall structure of Indonesian slang is not all that different from formal Indonesian, although in many cases sentences are simplified or shortened when necessary. The differences between formal and colloquial Indonesian are most evident in vocabulary and grammatical structures (e.g. affixes).


The structure of the Indonesian slang language is mostly derived from formal Indonesian, however its vocabularly is a different story altogether. Indonesian slang vocabulary is enriched by a combination of derivatives or loan words/ structures from foreign languages such as Min Nan commonly referred to as Hokkien, English, and Dutch, as well as local ethnic languages such as Batavian, Sundanese, and Javanese. However, in many cases, new words are simply created at random, their origins often quite obscure.

• A large proportion of the vocabulary used in Indonesian slang language was developed from formal Indonesian through several methods,[2] most of which are listed below:

• Some words are simply transliterated from English, for example:

• Some words originated from LGBT community (especially among transvestites) usually adding the nasal-sounded suffix -ong in the end of the base word. This was also an attempt among LGBT community to alter the word to become more "French-sounding" thus sounds more sexy, for example:

• Many words also emerged without following the above rules at all, many of which have their own unique history and/or origin. For example:


Many slang particles are used in the end of a sentence. Usually, these particles do not directly change the sentence's meaning, in the sense that the truth conditions remain the same. However, they can have other effects, such as emphasizing a sentence, or suggesting hesitancy. They can be used to reinforce the social link between speaker and listener.[3]

For example, the sentence Dia datang (she/he comes) could be modified by one of the following particles:

Particles can also be used to introduce questions. The following examples could both be translated as How could she come?:

Vocabulary evolution



The 1980s was the era of bahasa prokém. At this time slang language vocabulary was formed by inserting the infix -ok- after the first consonant of a word, and deleting the last syllable, creating a totally new word. "Prokem" itself is a prokem word, created by adding -ok- to preman and removing the -an.

For example, the word Bapak was broken into B-ok-apak and the last -ak is deleted, and the resulting word is Bokap which, until this day, is used as a slang term for Father.

The word Sekolah (School) was transformed into Skokul, but this word slowly become outdated and by the 1990s the word was no longer used, and changed to Sekul or simply Skul, reminiscent of the English word "school".

Other notable words such as mémblé (ugly, frowning), kécé, (beautiful, good looking) from the words "keren cekali" (very cool), the sentence attribute Nih yé, and the exclamation Alamakjan! all emerged in the same decade.

New Millennium

Much of the slang language created post-2000 originated from the Indonesian LBGT community. The latest method for transforming a word is to take a different word which has a similar sound. For example, the word mau (want), is replaced with the word mawar originally meaning rose. Despite its creativity and originality, this latest form of Indonesian slang can be quite complicated to understand, even to the native Indonesians themselves. For example: Akika tinta mawar macarena originates from the sentence written in proper Indonesian - Aku tidak mau makan meaning 'I don't want to eat'.

The abbreviations often used to mask insult, such as kamseupay (totally lame) abbreviation of kampungan sekali udik payah (really provincial, rurally lame).

Region specific slang

Jakarta slang

Jakarta including Botabek is the capital city of Indonesia with a population of more than 20 million people. Consequently, such a huge population will undoubtedly have a role in the Jakarta slang evolution. Much of the slang evolved from the Betawi dialect.

Some prominent examples:

The following words are taken from Hokkien (Fukkien) Chinese, and commonly used in transactions.

However, many Indonesians of non-Chinese descent do not know the meaning of the transaction words above. Sometimes the word "perak", literally "silver", is used to describe small denominations of currency.

Bandung slang

Bandung is the capital city of West Java province with a predominantly Sundanese culture. The Sundanese language has three levels or forms, namely: high (polite), middle class, and low (impolite). Bandung slang often uses the Low Sundanese pronouns along with the many other Sundanese translations of popular Indonesian.

Some examples:

Javanese slang

These slangs are shared across Central Java and Yogyakarta where Javanese is predominantly spoken. Like Sundanese which are spoken in Bandung, Javanese also has 3 different set of vocabularies, based on the politeness level. Common people usually talk with a mix between low-Javanese, middle-Javanese, and Indonesian. Some non-Javanese residents added their own dialects to the pot, resulting what is called the Central Java slang


Jogjakarta slang is also known as Basa Walikan, literally means 'Reverse Language' .

It is a transformation of Javanese, in which Javanese consonants are switched with one another, as shown below:

With the above rules, the expletive expression Matamu! (which literally means: 'Your Eyes!') becomes Dagadu!. The following website automatically performs this transformation: Walikan Translator


Malang slang is inverted alphabetical word (mostly from Javanese and little bit from Indonesian). The way is just read from end of the word. Example: Ongis Nade comes from Singo Edan (the nickname of Arema Cronus F.C.), "Helum" comes from "Muleh" (Go home in Javanese), and some name of place like "Sawojajar" become "Rajajowas".


As the second largest city in Indonesia and the capital of East Java, Surabaya uses a rougher dialect of Javanese and has a fairly complete list of its own slang. Javanese language originated from the Central Javanese farmland and by the time it reached the coastal area of East Java, it changed from its original polite form into a more impolite version with the creation or further adaptation of many new 'Javanese-style' words and swearwords.

Medan slang

Medan is the capital of North Sumatra Province. Most of the slang from Medan are heavily influenced by Hokkien and Karo language. For example, "bapa" for "father", "nande" for "mother", "tutup lampu" for "turn off the light", "buka radio" for "turn on the radio". Another example of Medan slang is by adding "punya" at the end of the sentence. For example, "mobil aku punya" for "my car". They also have the tendency to confuse between e and é.

Jambi & Palembang slang

Jambi and Palembang slang mostly involves changing the letter at the end of the word with letter 'o'. However, not all words can be modified to include the characteristic 'o', as this rule applies mostly to words ending with the letter 'a'. Sometimes Palembang use shorter-version of word by erase first syllables, like 'segala' in standard Malay-Indonesian to 'galo'.

Another characteristic pattern of Jambi and Palembang slang involves the addition or replacement of the final letter of a word with 'k'.

Another classic Malay Sumatran dialect also prevailed in most of Sumatran cities, from Palembang to Bengkulu, Jambi and Pekanbaru. These classical Malay words such as nian is used in Sumatran cities instead of sangat or banget (very).

Pontianak slang

Pontianak slang is influenced by Malay, Teochew and Dayak and sometimes combined with Hakka. It is spoken in the Malay dialect. These slang varieties are spoken throughout West Kalimantan.

Makassarese slang

Makassarese slang is highly influenced by the native Makassarese dialect and sometimes combined with Chinese accents. The slang, in the end, sounds more informal and 'rude', as going with the tough image of Makassarese people. The possessive word for you (kamu) has three degrees of politeness: -ta (very formal and respectful), -mu (neutral), and -nu (informal). For example:

Meanwhile, the word for you itself is divided into two, the formal ki and the informal ko.

Ini mi? -> 'This one?' Biarkan mi -> 'Let it go' Ko sudah belajar mi? -> 'Have you studied?'. Ko derives from the informal Indonesian word Kau, which stands for 'you'. Sudah dimulaimi itu ulangan? -> 'Has the exam started?', literally, 'Has-been started-the exam?'

Ji is also often used in the end of words. Most often, it means 'only', or used to give a more assuring tone to a sentence.

Di functions more like a question tag, read with a glottal stop at the end, which makes it to be 'dik'

Aside from that, Makassarese more often speak with a heavier accent, mixing many of the Indonesian words with native Makassar words.

See also

External links

Look up indonesian slang in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.


  1. "Indonesian, A language of Indonesia". Ethnologue Languages of the World. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
  2. Bahasa ABG dalam Cerpen Remaja: Implikasi Pengajarannya bagi Siswa/i Sekolah Menegah di Australia
  3. "Particles". Bahasa Kita. Retrieved 27 February 2014.

External links

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