Skip to end of metadata
Go to start of metadata

Indonesians have a very rich conception of status, age and familiarity being the two main components that constitute their forms of address.  A lot of the forms relate to family member names.  What I like about this is how it seems to make everyone an insider.  Indonesians don't judge on the basis of gender or race or class, but they very much do on the basis of relative location. 

Bapak:  literally "father" (although the actual word for father is "ayah") now is used to refer to any older man (like 'sir').  Often shortened to pak.  The Indonesians love to shorten things.   

 Ibu:  literally "mother" refers to any older woman (Madam, miss, Mrs.). Shortened to Bu.

engkau/ kau/ kamu: "you" among intimate equals, children, juniors, or pupils.

 Nona: "miss" very formal.  Not used for women past middle age.

Nyonya: "Mrs." formal.  For married women.

Tuan:  literally "Lord" originally "tuhan" this is a remnant of Dutch colonialism when Indonesians would refer to the Dutch in this manner.  It is generally taboo now, except when referring to God. 

Saudara: lit "cousin" for Mr. or Miss.  This term was pumped by the government for awhile (Indonesian has only been around officially since the 40s) but it never really caught on.  It is, however, a staple in Indonesian-English dictionaries.  Before I went to Indonesia, I listened to a US government-issued tape for diplomats headed to Indonesia and it was used prolifically.  Especially as "saudara-saudara" meaning "ladies and gentlemen." 

 you:  apparently it is common to substitute the nicely neutral English "you" to avoid having to navegate some potentially awkward social situations.

Sdr. Cook: Mr. Cook

kakak:  My favorite, because it's what the kids called me.  literally "big sister" it gets shortened to "kak" for most people and is used on both older girls and boys.  


  1. Mar 04, 2009

    In Singapore/Malaysia/Indonesia there's a mixed culture called Straits Chinese or Peranakan or Baba-Nyonya which is made up of the mixing of Chinese immigrants (mostly Hokkien and Teochew) with the native Malay and Indonesian peoples, that developed a very unique culture, costume and food -- VERY yummy!

    Also, there's a restaurant in New York (on Mulberry St in Chinatown) called Nyonya, which serves really excellent Malaysian and Indonesian food.