Indonesian 101

Compared to European languages, Indonesian has a strikingly small use of grammatically gendered words; the same word is used for he and she or for his and her. Most of the words that refer to people (family terms, professions, etc.) have a form that does not distinguish between the sexes; for example, adik can both refer to a (younger) brother or sister; no distinction is made between girlfriend and boyfriend. In order to specify gender, an adjective has to be added: adik laki-laki corresponds to brother but really means male younger sibling. There is no word like the English man that can refer both to a male person and to a human being in general.

Note: There are some words that are gendered, for instance putri means daughter, and putra means son; words like these are usually absorbed from other languages (in these cases, from Sanskrit through the Old Javanese language). In Jakarta and some other areas, abang may be used for older brother; kakak (older sibling) is then used to mean older sister.

Plurals are expressed by means of reduplication, but only when the plural is not implied by the context. Thus person is orang, and people is orang-orang, but one thousand people is seribu orang, as the numeral makes it unnecessary to mark the plural form. (Reduplication has many other functions, however).

There are two forms of we, depending on whether you are including the person being talked to.

The basic word order is SVO. Verbs are not inflected for person or number, and there are no tenses; tense is denoted by time adverbs (such as yesterday) or by other tense indicators, such as sudah, meaning already. On the other hand, there is a complex system of verb affixes to render nuances of meaning and denote active-passive voices. Such affixes include prefixes, infixes, suffixes, and their combinations; all of which are often ignored in daily conversations.

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