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Acehnese language

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Acehnese language

Bahsa/Basa Acèh
بهسا اچيه
Native to Indonesia
Region Aceh, Sumatra
Ethnicity Acehnese
Native speakers
3.5 million  (2000 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 ace
Glottolog achi1257[2]
Aceh province, Sumatra

Acehnese language (Achinese) is a Malayo-Polynesian language spoken by Acehnese people natively in Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia. This language is also spoken in some parts in Malaysia by Acehnese descendents there, such as in Yan, Kedah.


As of 1988, "Acehnese" is the modern English name spelling and the bibliographical standard, and Acehnese people use the spelling "Acehnese" when writing in English. "Achinese" is an antiquated spelling of the English language tradition. "Atjehnese" is an antiquated spelling of a Dutch tradition and an outdated Indonesian one. The spelling "Achehnese" originates from a 1906 English translation of the Dutch language Studien over atjesche klank- en schriftleer. Tijdschrift voor Indische Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 35.346-442 by Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje, 1892. In Acehnese the language is called Basa/Bahsa Acèh. In Indonesian it is called Bahasa Aceh.[3]

Classification and related languages

Acehnese belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian branch of Austronesian. Acehnese's closest relatives are the other Chamic languages, which are principally spoken in Vietnam. The closest relative of the Chamic family is the Malay language family, which includes languages also spoken in Sumatra such as Gayo, the Batak languages and Minangkabau as well as the national language, Indonesian.

Paul Sidwell notes that Acehnese likely has an Austroasiatic substratum.[4]


Regencies in Aceh with Acehnese language majority

Acehnese language is located primarily in coastal region of Aceh. This language is spoken in 10 regencies and 4 cities in Aceh, those are:


  1. Sabang
  2. Banda Aceh
  3. Lhokseumawe
  4. Langsa

North-East Coast

  1. Aceh Besar
  2. Pidie
  3. Pidie Jaya
  4. Bireuen
  5. North Aceh
  6. East Aceh (except in 3 subdistricts, Serba Jadi, Peunaron and Simpang Jernih where Gayo language is spoken)

West-South Coast

  1. Aceh Jaya
  2. Nagan Raya
  3. Southwest Aceh (except in subdistrict Susoh where Aneuk Jamee language is spoken)
  4. South Aceh (mixed with Kluet language and Aneuk Jamee language)


Bilingual sign about tsunami warning in Indonesian and Acehnese
Oral monophthong vowels in Acehnese are shown in the table below.[5]
Close i ɯ u
Close-mid e ə o
Open-mid ɛ ʌ ɔ
Open a

In addition to the modern 26 letter basic Latin alphabet, Acehnese uses the supplementary letters è, é, ë, ô, and ö, making a total of 31 letters in its orthography.

Hikayat Prang Sabi

The table below shows the Acehnese consonant phonemes and the range of their realizations.[6]

Labial Labio-
Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop p b t d c ɟ k g ʔ
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Incomplete nasal mb nd ɲɟ ŋg
Trill r
Fricative f s z ʃ h
j w


  • Syllable-final k always represents /ʔ/ save in certain recent loans
  • /f/, /z/, and /ʃ/ are borrowed sounds, and are often replaced by ph, dh, and ch respectively
  • /mb/, /nd/, /ɲɟ/, and /ŋɡ/ are also known as "funny nasals"[7]


Acehnese features a split ergative system. Intransitives that align with the agent of a transitive verb (Sa) always show agreement by a proclitic (1). Meanwhile, intransitives that align with the patient of a transitive verb (Sp) may optionally show agreement by an enclitic (2). Volitionality is the determining factor for whether an intransitive verb is Sa or Sp.[8]

(1) Jih ka=ji=jak.
"He has gone."
(2) Gopnyan ka=saket=geuh.
he INCHOATIVE=sick=3
"He is sick."

Writing system

Formerly, Acehnese language was written in Arabic script called Jawoë or Jawi in Malay language. The script is less common nowadays. Now, Acehnese language is written in Latin script since colonization by the Dutch; with the addition of supplementary letters. The additional letters are é, è, ë, ö and ô.[9] The sound ɨ is represented by 'eu' and the sound ʌ is represented by 'ö' respectively. The letter 'ë' is used to represent the schwa sound which forms the second part in the diphthongs.


So far there has been no complete research about dialects of the Acehnese language. However, there are at least 10 dialects in the Acehnese language. The dialects are Pasè, Peusangan, Matang, Pidië, Buëng, Banda, Daya, Meulabôh, Seunagan and Tunong.[10]



  1. ^ Acehnese at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Achinese". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Durie, "The So-Called Passive of Acehnese," p. 104.
  4. ^ Sidwell, Paul. "Dating the separation of Acehnese and Chamic by etymological analysis of the Aceh-Chamic lexicon." (Archive, Alternate, Archive)
  5. ^ Pillai & Yusuf (2012:1031), citing Asyik (1987:17)
  6. ^ Asyik (1982:3)
  7. ^ Asyik (1982:2), citing Lawler (1977)
  8. ^ Durie, Mark (1988). "Preferred argument structure in an active language", Lingua 74: 1–25. Cited in Donohue, Mark (2008). "Semantic alignment systems: what's what, and what's not". In Donohue, Mark & Søren Wichmann, eds. (2008). The Typology of Semantic Alignment. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 36
  9. ^ Ejaan Bahasa Aceh
  10. ^ Sulaiman, B. 1981. Kedudukan dan Fungsi Bahasa Aceh di Aceh. Jakarta: Pusat Pembinaan dan Pengembangan Bahasa


  • Al-Harbi, Awwad Ahmad Al-Ahmadi (2003), "Acehnese coda condition: An optimality-theoretic account", Umm Al-Qura University Journal of Educational and Social Sciences and Humanities (Umm al-Qura University) 15 (1): 9–21 
  • Pillai, Stefanie; Yusuf, Yunisrina Qismullah (2012), "An instrumental analysis of acehnese oral vowels", Language and Linguistics 13 (6): 1029–1050 
  • Asyik, Abdul Gani (1982), "The agreement system in Acehnese", Mon–Khmer Studies 11: 1–33  Archive
  • Durie, Mark. "The So-Called Passive of Acehnese." Language. Linguistic Society of America, Vol. 64, No. 1 (Mar., 1988), pp. 104–113 - Available at Jstor:
  • Legate, Julie Anne. 2012. Subjects in Acehnese and the Nature of the Passive. Language, Vol. 88.
  • Thurgood, Graham (2007), The Historical Place of Acehnese: The Known and the Unknown 

Further reading

  • Asyik, Abdul Gani (1987), A contextual grammar of Acehnese sentences  (Archive)
  • Daud, Bukhari. "Writing and reciting Acehnese: perspectives on language and literature in Aceh." (PhD thesis, unpublished) School of Languages and Linguistics, The University of Melbourne. 1997. Handle: 10187/15468. Research Collections (UMER), 284013.
  • Daud, Bukhari and Mark Durie. Kamus bahasa Aceh (Volume 151 of Pacific linguistics). Pacific Linguistics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University, 1999. ISBN 0858835061, 9780858835061.
  • Durie, Mark (1985), A grammar of Acehnese : on the basis of a dialect of North Aceh  (Archive) (Verhandelingen van het Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde)." Foris Publications, 1985. ISBN 9067650749, ISBN 978-9067650748.
  • Durie, Mark. "Grammatical Relations in Acehnese." Studies in Language, 1987. vol. 11, no2, pp. 365–399. ISSN 0378-4177. DOI 10.1075/sl.11.2.05dur.
  • Durie, Mark. "Proto-Chamic and Acehnese mid vowels : towards Proto-Aceh-Chamic." 1988. (Archive)
  • Durie, Mark. "Control and decontrol in acehnese." [sic] Australian Journal of Linguistics. Volume 5, Issue 1, 1985. p. 43-53. Published online: 14 August 2008. DOI:10.1080/07268608508599335.
  • Lawler, John M. (University of Michigan) "On the Questions of Achnese 'Passive'." Archive

External links

  • Learning Acehnese in Indonesian
  • Learning Acehnese in English and Indonesian
  • Acehnese literature resources
  • Acehnese language in the World Atlas of Language Structures Online
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Acehnese
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