Old Javanese

Old Javanese
Bhāṣa Jawa
Region Central-Java, East-Java, Madura, and Bali
Era developed into Middle Javanese by the 13th century
Standard forms
Language codes
ISO 639-2 kaw
ISO 639-3 kaw (as Kawi)
Linguist list
Glottolog kawi1241  (Kawi)[1]

Old Javanese is the oldest phase of the Javanese language that was spoken in areas in what is now the eastern part of Central Java and the whole of East Java.

While 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. This inscription, 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 Pallava script; all consequent examples are written using Javanese script.


Old Javanese was not static, and its usage covered a period of approximately 500 years – from the Sukabumi inscription until the founding of the Majapahit empire in 1292. The Javanese language which was spoken and written in the Majapahit era already underwent some changes and is therefore already closer to the Modern Javanese language.

Austronesian origins

The most important shaping force on Old Javanese was its Austronesian heritage in vocabulary, sentence structure and grammar that it shared with its sister languages in Southeast-Asia.

Sanskrit influence

The Indian linguistic influence in Old Javanese language was almost exclusively Sanskrit influence. There is no evidence of Indian linguistic elements in Old Javanese other than Sanskrit. This is different from, for example, the influence of Indian linguistic in the (Old) Malay language.

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, no fewer than 12,500 of which are borrowed 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.


Despite the tremendous influence of Sanskrit on Old Javanese, the latter has remained an Austronesian language. However, Sanskrit has also influenced both the phonology and the vocabulary of Old Javanese. Old Javanese also contains the retroflex consonants, which might have been derived from Sanskrit. That is disputed by several linguists, who hold the view that it is also possible that the occurrence of these retroflex consonants was an independent development within the Austronesian language family.


A related question is the form in which Sanskrit words were loaned in Old Javanese. The borrowed Sanskrit words in Old Javanese are almost without exceptions nouns and adjectives in their undeclined form (Sanskrit lingga). A wordlist of 200 basic vocabulary items is available at the Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database which shows some of these loans.[2]

Old Javanese literature

Old Javanese literature can be divided in several genres such as the aforementioned kakawin and prose.


  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Kawi". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

Further reading

See also

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