Acehnese language

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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
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

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 "Atjehnese" is an antiquated spelling of a Dutch tradition and an outdated Indonesian one.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[edit]

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 Austro-Asiatic 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

The following are phonemes of Acehnese.

Acehnese Vowels[5]
Front Central Back
oral nasal oral nasal oral nasal
Close i ĩ ɨ ɨ̃ u ũ
Close-mid e ɛ̃ ə ʌ̃ o ɔ̃
Open-mid ɛ ʌ ɔ
Open a ã

Vowels come mostly in oral/nasal pairs, though there are only three nasalized mid vowels while there are twice as many oral mid vowels. /ʌ/ is not strictly central, though it is shown here as such for aesthetic reasons. Similarly, /ɨ/ has also been represented as more back [ɯ].[citation needed] In addition to the monophthongal vowels above, Acehnese also possesses five oral diphthongs, each with a nasal counterpart:[5]

  • /iə ɨə uə ɛə ɔə/
  • /ĩə ɨ̃ə ũə ɛ̃ə ɔ̃ə/
Hikayat Prang Sabi
Acehnese Consonants[6]
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Stop p b t d c ɟ k g ʔ
Fricative s ʃ h
j w
Trill r

/s/ is laminal alveodental. /ʃ/ is technically postalveolar but is in the palatal column for aesthetic reasons.


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.[7]

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

Writing system[edit]

Formerly, Acehnese language was written in Arabic script called Jawoë or Jawi in Malay language. The script is less common nowadays.[citation needed] 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.[8] 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.[9]



  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. ^ a b Al-Harbi & Al-Ahmadi (2003:10)
  6. ^ Al-Harbi & Al-Ahmadi (2003:9–10)
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ Ejaan Bahasa Aceh
  9. ^ Sulaiman, B. 1981. Kedudukan dan Fungsi Bahasa Aceh di Aceh. Jakarta: Pusat Pembinaan dan Pengembangan Bahasa


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]