Search for resources by:

Definitions of materials Definitions of levels
Exclude Websites
Advanced Search
Please note: Due to project funding termination in summer 2014, this database is no longer actively being maintained. We cannot guarantee the accuracy of the listings.


Javanese Citations   Javanese Links   Select a New Language

Number of Speakers: 75 million

Key Dialects: Western Javanese, Central Javanese, and Eastern Javanese.

Geographical Center: Java island, Indonesia. Within Java, the language is spoken primarily in the central and eastern regions of the island, as well as in northern coastal west Java.

Along with Sundanese, Javanese is the principal native language of Java. With its 75 million speakers, Javanese is the second most spoken Austronesian language. Only Indonesian, with its 180 million speakers, ranks higher. On a worldwide scale, Javanese is the twelfth most widely spoken language on the planet.

With respect to the language’s geographic distribution on Java, Javanese is spoken principally in the central and eastern regions. In addition, Javanese is spoken in the northern coastal regions of the western portion of the island, mainly around Banten and Cirebon. A non-trivial number of Javanese speakers have settled on other islands in Indonesia. Approximately 7.5 million Javanese speakers reside on the island of Sumatra in the Sumatera Utara (northern Sumatra) and Lampung (southern Sumatra) provinces. Other Javanese settlements include Papua, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Maluku. In addition to these regions, Javanese is spoken in the former Dutch colony of Suriname, New Caledonia, Madura, Bali, Lombok, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Netherlands.

Javanese is a Sundic language of the Western Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family. Although it is related to Indonesian, it is most closely related to Malay, Sundanese, Madurese, and Balinese.

Three principal regional dialects are recognized: Western, Central, and Eastern Javanese. Each dialect admits of a fair number of sub-dialects. The primary dimension along which these dialects vary is pronunciation (e.g. pronunciation of the phoneme [a], realization of neighboring identical phonemes (i.e. [ili], [utu], [apa]), etc…), although a number of lexical/vocabulary differences exist as well. Overall, mutual intelligibility among dialects is relatively high.

Nine sub-dialects of Western Javanese are recognized: North Banten, Krawang, Indramayu (Dermayon), Cirebon (Basa Cerbon), Brebes/Tegal, Banyumasan, Jawa Serang, North Coast, and Ciamis. These dialects are spoken in the north coast region of the West Java province and have been considerably influenced by Sundanese. As such the Western Javanese lexicon contains many archaic Sundanese words.

The Central Javanese dialect, which is comprised of the Surakarta, Yogyakarta, Muria, and Semarangan sub-dialects is considered the most refined form of Javanese, and as such, standard Javanese is based on this dialect. In particular, standard Javanese is based on the Surakarta dialect, and to a lesser extent, the Yogyakarta variety of Javanese.

Eastern Javanese is spoken across the majority of the East Java province, from the eastern banks of Kali Brantas in Kertosono to Banyuwangi. Unlike the other dialects, Eastern Javanese is considerably influenced by Madurese. This influence is most obvious in the Madurese borrowings in the vocabulary. The Banyuwangi sub-dialect spoken in the easternmost region of Java is perhaps the most deviant of the Javanese dialects.

For the most part, Javanese is written in one of two scripts: the Javanese orthography Aksara, a descendent of the Brahmi script of India, and a modified Roman script. In addition, Javanese is written in a modified Arabic script by a smaller subset of the population.

The traditional Javanese orthography is over 1,200 years old and is believed to have evolved from a Pallava script of southern India. Variants of this script are also used to write Sundanese, Madurese, Balinese, and Sasak. The Aksara script is a syllabary orthography consisting of twenty consonant graphemes, each with an inherent [o] vowel (transliterated as ‘a’). In this respect, the Javanese script is similar to the Abugida system most famously associated with the Devanagari orthography used to write Hindi.

Following the revision of the Indonesian alphabet in 1974, the Roman orthography has become the most commonly used writing system. In addition to the standard letters of the alphabet, four digraphs are used. Ng is used to designate the velar nasal and ny represents pre-vocalic palatalized n. In addition, the symbols th and dh are used; the latter is used as in English spelling, the former represents retroflex [d].

The Javanese phoneme inventory consists of six vowel phonemes (plus 2 allophones) and twenty-one consonant phonemes (plus another two allophones), depending on the analysis. The consonant inventory is characterized by a number of retroflex articulations and a stop/nasal series with a five-way contrast regarding place of articulation (e.g. stops and nasals may be labial, dental, retroflex, palatal, or velar). Concerning the retroflex articulations, Javanese and Madurese are notable in that they are the only Austronesian languages that have retroflex phonemes. Other Austronesian languages (Achinese and Balinese, for example) make use of retroflex articulations, however, in these languages the retroflex consonants are allophones not independent phonemes. A number of retroflex allophones are also attested in Javanese. Phonetically, the so-called “voiced” stop series is actually voiceless; “voiced” stops such as [b], [d], and [g], for example, are pronounced with a breathy voice phonation. A number of linguists believe that these properties (e.g. retroflex phonemes and breathy voiced stops) stem from Indic influence. The syllable structure of the language is (C)(C)(C)V(C). In eastern and central Javanese, only voiceless stops may occur in word-final position. Consonant clusters are tolerated in syllable-initial position, however, only a limited number of clusters are allowed. For example, nasal-consonant (e.g. ombe ‘drink’) and consonant-semi vowel (e.g. Cw, Cr, Cy, Cl]) sequences are the only licit combinations. As in other Austronesian languages, native Javanese roots are bisyllabic.

Morphologically, Javanese is an agglutinative language with a rich variety of derivational and inflectional morphology. That is, grammatical information is encoded by way of numerous affixes attached to roots and stems, as opposed to independent/free-standing particles. Regarding the types of affixation allowed by the language, prefixation, suffixation, infixation, and circumfixation are all attested. Reduplication and compounding are also productive morphological operations in the language, primarily affecting nouns and adjectives. Javanese nouns inflect for number (either via reduplication or certain “locative” suffixes), while verbs inflect for mood (indicative, imperative, subjunctive) and voice (active voice [otherwise known as “actor voice”] and passive voice (otherwise known as “object voice”)). Verbs and nouns may additionally bear a number of other affixes. Tense and aspect are encoded by way of independent auxiliary morphemes as opposed to verbal affixes. Although there are a number of aspectual and modal particles, there is only one true tense marker in the language, namely the future marker.

Syntactically, Javanese is an SVO language. However, despite the fact that standard grammars describe the language as having a fairly strict SVO order, the major constituents of a declarative clause may appear in almost any order in colloquial use. This is illustrated below. The following data comes from Davies 1999.

(1) Bambang n-girim layang nang Tono. (S V O IO)
Bambang active-send letter to Tono
‘Bambang sent the letter to Tono.’

(2) N-girim layang nang Tono Bambang. (V O IO S)
(3) N-girim layang Bambang nang Tono. (V O S IO)
(4) N-girim Bambang layang nang Tono. (V S O IO)
(5) Nang Tono Bambang n-girim layang. (IO S V O)
(6) Nang Tono n-girim layang Bambang. (IO V O S)
(7) Nang Tono n-girim Bambang layang. (IO V S O)

Despite this relative freedom of word order in declaratives, the order of constituents in interrogatives is much more strict. Elsewhere in the grammar, the syntax is fairly head-initial. Prepositions are attested and they precede their objects. Demonstratives and nominal modifiers such as adjectives follow the nominal expressions they are associated with. As is the case with many Austronesian languages, Javanese is a topic-drop language. As such, pronominal subjects may be omitted (i.e. fail to be pronounced) when the entity they refer to in the discourse has been previously mentioned (i.e. when contextually salient). For example, sentence (8) below can also be uttered as (9) without loss in meaning. (Again, the following data is taken from Davies 1999.)

(8) Dheke n-delok Siti.
He/she active-look at Siti
‘He/she saw Siti.’

(9) N-delok Siti.

Also similar to many Western Austronesian languages, Javanese manifests the so-called “indefiniteness constraint” on subjects. In other words, indefinite subjects are excluded from appearing in subject position in the language. Only proper names and nouns marked with definite articles may appear in this position.

Lexically, Javanese has a rich vocabulary. Many foreign loan words have been incorporated into the Javanese lexicon. In addition to a host of native Austronesian loan words, the bulk of the language’s borrowings come from Sanskrit. Arabic, Dutch, and Malay words comprise the predominant remainder of loan words found in Javanese.

Sociolinguistically, as is the case with other Austronesian and East Asian languages, Javanese grammar varies depending on the social context. Three distinct registers are found, each employing its own distinct grammatical rules, phonology, and vocabulary. Ngoko is the colloquial register and is used among related/familiar people or in contexts when people of higher status communicate with people of lower status. The second register is Madya. It is an intermediate register typically used in situations that are neither formal nor informal, such as communication between strangers. Krama is the formal register. Krama is the official style used in public speech and is used when members of lower status communicate with their superiors. Given the complexities of each register, the majority of Javanese do not master all three styles. Most speakers typically only master Ngoko and possibly Madya. Those who have mastered all three styles, however, are held in high esteem.

At least 45% of the Indonesian population are either of Javanese descent or live in an area where Javanese is the dominant language. Most Javanese speakers are bilingual and speak Indonesian for official and business purposes, as well as to communicate with non-Javanese Indonesians. Although one of the most widely spoken languages of the world, Javanese is neither a national language of Java, nor does it have official status anywhere in Indonesia. Nonetheless, it is recognized as a regional language in three Indonesian provinces, namely, Central Java, East Java, and Yogyakarta. In these provinces, Javanese is taught in schools, is the language of religious expression, and is used in electronic and printed forms of mass media. In Madura, Bali, Lombok, and West Java (namely Sunda), Javanese is used as a literary language.

Historically, Javanese served a variety of socially important roles. For example, prior to the Dutch occupation of South Sumatra in the late 18th century, Javanese was the court language of Palembang. In addition, Javanese literature dates back more than twelve centuries, and as such, is considered one of the classical languages of the world. In this respect, Javanese is regarded as important in that it is one of the few Austronesian languages whose preserved literature dates from before the nineteenth century. Along with Malay and Indonesian, Javanese is considered among the most dominant languages of the Indonesian archipelago, given the influence of the language on the development of those languages surrounding it. Linguistically speaking, Javanese (along with Malay) is perhaps the most well studied of the Indonesian languages.

Scholars recognize three stages in the development of Javanese: Old Javanese (including the period up to the 15th century), Middle Javanese (up to the 18th century), and Modern Javanese (present-day Javanese). The Javanese language can be traced back to at least 450 A.D. via the Sanskrit “Tarumanegara inscription”, although accounts regarding the origins of the Javanese people and their language are largely speculative. The oldest attestation of a work composed entirely in Javanese is the “Sukabumi inscription”, a work that dates from 804 A.D., which is a copy of the original, dated 120 years earlier. The 8th and 9th centuries marked the beginning of the Javanese literary tradition, punctuated by the Buddhist treatise Sang Hyang Kamahayanikan and a Javanese rendition of the Sanskrit epic Ramayana. In 1293, the eastward expansion of the Hindu-Buddhist-Eastern Javanese empire known as Majapahit resulted in the spread of the Javanese language and writing system to Bali and Madura. Around the middle of the 14th century, Javanese replaced Balinese as the language of government and literature in Bali. The Majapahit empire fell to Islamic forces around the turn of the 16th century, signaling the end of the Hindu Javanese empire. This ushered in the rise of the Islamic Javanese empire known as Mataram II, which was originally a vassal state of Majapahit. As the empire conquered a number of Sundanese areas of western Java, the Javanese language and culture spread westward. In its wake, Javanese became the dominant language, absorbing and heavily influencing languages like Sundanese, as was the case with Balinese in the 14th century. In later years, contact with Dutch colonizers and other Indonesian ethnic groups influenced the character of the language in numerous ways, the most notable being the influx of foreign loanwords.

Clynes, Adrian and C. Rudyanto. 1995. Javanese. In Darrel T. Tryon (ed.), Comparative Austronesian Dictionary: An Introduction to Austronesian Studies. Berlin: Mouton de Gruytor.

Davies, William D. 1999. Madurese and Javanese as Strict Word-Order Languages. Oceanic Linguistics 38: 152-167.

Dudas, K.M. 1976. The Phonology and Morphology of Modern Javanese. Ph.d. dissertation, University of Illinois.

Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (Editor). 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth Edition. Dallas: SIL International.

Horne, Elinore C. 1961. Beginning Javanese. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.

Horne, Elinore C. 1961. Intermediate Javanese. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.

Keeler, Ward. 1984. Javanese: a Cultural Approach. Athens, Ohio: Center for Southeast Asia Studies.

Robson, Stuart. 1992. Javanese Grammar for Students. Clayton, Australia: Center of Southeast Asian Studies, Monash University.

Suharno, Ignatius. 1982. A Descriptive Study of Javanese. Canberra, Australia: Research School of Pacific Studies.

Sumukti, R.H. 1971. Javanese Morphology and Morphophonemics. Ph.d. dissertation, Cornell University.

Uhlenbeck, E.M. 1950. The Structure of the Javanese Morpheme. Lingua 2: 239-270.

Uhlenbeck, E.M. 1978. Studies in Javanese Morphology. The Hague: Nijhoff.

Return to the list of language portals


 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

  • You may use and modify the material for any non-commercial purpose.
  • You must credit the UCLA Language Materials Project as the source.
  • If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.

Creative Commons License