Acehnese language

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Bahsa/Basa Acèh
بهسا اچيه
Pronunciation[bahsa at͡ʃeh]
Native toIndonesia
RegionAceh, Sumatra
Native speakers
3.5 million (2000 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-2ace
ISO 639-3ace
Aceh province, Sumatra
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The Acehnese language (Jawi: بهسا اچيه) is a Malayo-Polynesian language spoken by Acehnese people natively in Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia. This language is also spoken by Acehnese descendants in some parts of Malaysia like Yan, in 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 "Atjehnese" is the Dutch spelling and an outdated Indonesian one.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 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 13 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. Aceh Utara
  6. Aceh Timur (except in 3 subdistricts, Serba Jadi, Peunaron and Simpang Jernih where Gayo language is spoken)
  7. Aceh Tamiang (Mostly Manyak Payet and Kuala Simpang subdistrict, the rest of the district speaks a variety of the Malay language)

West-South Coast

  1. Aceh Jaya
  2. West Aceh
  3. Nagan Raya
  4. Southwest Aceh (except in subdistrict Susoh where Aneuk Jamee language is spoken)
  5. 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 ɨ~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 ɡ ʔ
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Post-stopped nasal mᵇ nᵈ ɲᶡ ŋᶢ
Trill r
Fricative f s z ʃ h
j w


  • Syllable-final orthographic ⟨k⟩ always represents /ʔ/ save in certain recent loans
  • /f/, /z/, and /ʃ/ are borrowed sounds, and are often replaced by ph,[clarification needed] dh,[clarification needed] and ch[clarification needed] respectively
  • The post-stopped nasals (orally released nasals) have been called "funny nasals".[7] They are distinct from the nasal-stop sequences /mb/, /nd/, /ɲɟ/, /ŋɡ/, e.g. in /banᵈa/ 'port' vs /mandum/ 'all'.[8]


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.[9]

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

Writing system[edit]

Formerly, the Acehnese language was written in an Arabic script called Jawoë or Jawi in the Malay language. The script is less common nowadays.[citation needed] Since colonization by the Dutch, the Acehnese language has been written in the Latin script, with the addition of supplementary letters. The additional letters are é, è, ë, ö and ô.[10] The sound /ɨ/ is represented by 'eu' and the sound /ʌ/ is represented by 'ö', respectively. The letter 'ë' is used exclusively to represent the schwa sound which forms the second part of diphthongs. The letters f, q, v, x, and z are only used in loanwords.

Grapheme Phoneme
Open syllable Closed syllable
a /a/ ba /ba/ ‘carry’ bak /baʔ/ ‘at, tree’
e /ə/ le /lə/ ‘many’ let /lət/ ‘pull out’
é /e/ baté /bate/ ‘cup, betel tray’ baték /bateʔ/ ‘batik’
è /ɛ/ /bɛ/ ‘smell’ bèk /bɛʔ/ ‘prohibitive "don't" (e.g. bèk neupajoh boh gantang lôn 'don't you eat my fries')'
ë /ə/ huë /huə/ ‘pull’ huëk /huəʔ/ ‘choke’
eu /ɯ/ keu /kɯ/ ‘front’ keuh /kɯh/ ‘so (e.g. nyan keuh), pronominal affix for second person (e.g. droe-keuh)’
i /i/ di /di/ 'in, from' dit /dit/ 'few, small amount'
o /ɔ/ yo /jɔ/ ‘afraid’ yok /jɔʔ/ ‘shake’
ô /o/ /ro/ ‘spill’ rôh /roh/ ‘enter’
ö /ʌ/ /pʌ/ ‘fly’ pöt /pʌt/ ‘pluck, pick’
u /u/ su /su/ ‘sound, voice’ sut /sut/ ‘remove, detach’
Grapheme Phoneme
Extra notes
b /b/
c /c/
d /d/
f /f/ Used in foreign words. Usually replaced with p (/p/).
g /g/
h /h/
j /ɟ/
k /k/, /ʔ/ at the end of a syllable.
l /l/
m /m/
mb /mb/
n /n/
nd /nd/
ng /ŋ/
ngg /ŋg/
nj /ɳʲ/
ny /ɲ/
p /p/
q /q, k/ Used in foreign words. Usually replaced with k (/k/).
r /r/
s /s/
sy /ʃ/
t /t/
v /v/ Used in foreign words. Usually replaced with b (/b/).
w /w/
x /ks/ Used in foreign words. Usually replaced with ks (/ks/).
y /j/
z /z/ Used in foreign words.


At least ten Achehnese dialects exist: Pasè, Peusangan, Matang, Pidië, Buëng, Banda, Daya, Meulabôh, Seunagan and Tunong.[13]



  1. ^ Acehnese at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Acehnese". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Durie (1988a:104)
  4. ^ Sidwell, Paul (2006). "Dating the separation of Acehnese and Chamic by etymological analysis of the Aceh-Chamic lexicon" (PDF). Mon-Khmer Studies. 36: 187–206.(Archive, Alternate, Archive)
  5. ^ Pillai & Yusuf (2012:1031), citing Asyik (1987:17)
  6. ^ Asyik (1982:3)
  7. ^ Asyik (1982:2), citing Lawler (1977)
  8. ^ Long & Maddieson (1993) "Consonantal evidence against Quantal Theory", UCLA Working Papers in Phonetics 83, p. 144.
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ Ejaan Bahasa Aceh
  11. ^ Omniglot
  12. ^ Omniglot
  13. ^ Sulaiman, B. (1981). Kedudukan dan Fungsi Bahasa Aceh di Aceh. Jakarta: Pusat Pembinaan dan Pengembangan Bahasa.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]