Lombok Languages & Dialects

An introduction to the Languages and Dialects found in Indonesia, the language of Lombok, Sasak, and useful phrases to get you started



Languages and Dialects in Indonesia

Geographically, Indonesia is an incredibly vast archipelago, made up of 17,000 islands, but it is ethnically where the country comes into its own. With over 300 different ethnic groups, as well as over 600 distinct languages and dialects, numerous cultures and an array of religions, the country’s motto Unity In Diversity certainly rings true. Wherever you travel, you will find different dialects spoken, and even different levels within each dialect, each often mutually unintelligible. Fortunately, for Indonesians and foreigners alike, the country is unified through the lingua franca of Bahasa Indonesia. Bahasa Indonesia, or Indonesian, was modified from Malay, the language commonly used by the fisherman who roved from island to island pre Dutch colonization, and was adopted by the country as the official and literary language after Independence in 1945.

History of Sasak Language

Lombok is an island made up of nearly 3 million people, with the majority being of the Sasak ethnicity group. They speak both the official Bahasa Indonesia,the language of schools and work, and their own language, also called Sasak. Sasak is most similar to the language used on the neighbouring island of Sumbawa, as well as similarities to its other, more famous neighbour Bali. The written form of Sasak, which is rarely used, uses a script with a lot of the same aspects as Balinese. This written form is traditionally written on the lontar palm leaves, with some dating back to the 17th century. It is understood this script was influenced by the Majapahit empire in the 14th century. These days, the written Sasak on lontar palms is reserved for ceremonies named Pepaosan, but the spoken Sasak is first choice for home and social situations, particularly in more regional areas.

Characteristics of Sasak Language

Even within the Sasak language, there are 5 regional variations that seem to be defined by the way they utter the phrase Like this, Like that. Central East/Central West Lombok say Ngeno-ngene, Northerners say Kuto-Kute, while Central South Lombok prefers Meriak-meriku, Nggetó-Nggeté is used in Northeast Lombok and Menó-Mené in Central Lombok! As well as regional differences, there are low, medium and high levels showing differing forms of respect as appropriate for the person being addressed. This is also characteristic of the more well known Balinese and Javanese and is certainly no mean feat!

Common phrases in Sasak

While it is true an increasing number of Indonesians and people in Lombok speak English, and probably will want to practice with you, giving some Indonesian phrases a go will definitely enrich your experience, or at least give you and those around you a giggle. And if you really want to go for gold, try out some of these Sasak phrases!

Berem bay kabar? How are you? or Apa kabar? (literally: What’s news?) In Indonesian, is a goodie. There is no limit to how many times you can ask this of people a day.

Solah! Good, or ‘Bagus’ in Indonesian is the answer, regardless of how you actually feel! This one stop word also means beautiful, or ‘cantik’ in Indonesian.

Tampiasih: Thankyou, or the similar ‘Terima Kasih’ (often shortened to Ma kasih in colloquial language) in Indonesian, is uttered multiple times a day.

Ojok um bay? Where are you going? Or ‘Mau kemana?’ in Indonesian, is perhaps one of the most common phrases. Unlike in the English speaking world, nothing is too private in Indonesian culture, and your general movements are of utmost interest to everybody.

Lampat – lampat! Just out for a wander, or ‘Jalan-jalan’ in Indonesian, is the easiest way to get out of this question without everyone knowing your business.

AKu lapahk! I’m hungry, or the very similar ‘Aku lapar’ in Indonesian seems to be on repeat a lot; eating features prominently on this island!

So there you go. Whatever your reason for visiting Lombok, try and pick up some Indonesian, or to be really impressive, some Sasak. As far as spoken languages go, they are fairly simple, and the reward of being able to converse or at least show interest in the local people and culture goes a long way!





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