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The Indonesian Writing System

Like standard Malay, modern Indonesian is written using the 26-letter Latin alphabet. This Indonesian alphabet, however, also includes the following 18 consonant and vowel letter combinations to represent unique sounds in the language: ai, au, ua, oi, oe, ua, bh, dh, kh, ny, ng, ngg, sh, sy, tj, ts and zh.1

In essence, the history of the Indonesian writing system is the same as that for Malay. The earliest Malay texts are written using an Indian script.2 Following the arrival of Islam in Southeast Asia in the 14th Century, Malay began to adopt a modified Arabic script as its writing system (known as Jawi). Three hundred years later, Dutch, British and Portuguese traders began to exert a tremendous influence on Southeast Asia that eventually led to a third transformation of the Malay writing system – converting it this time to the Latin alphabet. By the early 20th Century Jawi had all but been abandoned for the Latin system introduced by the Europeans and the latest transformation of the Malay writing system reached its apex in 1972 when the Malaysian and Indonesian governments implemented a common spelling reform (named the Ejaan Yang Disempurnakan or the “Perfected Spelling” in Indonesia).

Additional resources on the Indonesian writing system can be found on the Web at:

For information on The Indonesian Language, please see our Quick Facts Library.

1 “Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia)” Omniglot: A Guide to Writing Systems

[Accessed December 17, 2004]

2 “Indonesian (Bahasa Melayu)” Omniglot: A Guide to Writing Systems

[Accessed December 17, 2004]