Listening Tip #2: Notice the Honorifics

Respect and formality are very important in the Indonesian culture and is conveyed strongly in the language. If you have learnt Indonesian for a while, I’m sure you have heard these words before:

Bapak (Pak), Ibu (Bu), Kakak (Kak), Adik (Dik), Tante, Om

Yes, they are words that are used in family context. But what’s interesting is the way these words are used in the culture as honorifics. Look at the illustration below:

Rudi: Pak Joko(1), Bapak(2) sudah makan siang?

Joko: Belum Rudi(3). Kamu(4) sudah?

Rudi: Sudah, Pak. Tadi saya makan dengan Bu Sinta(5).


(1) Rudi referred to Joko as ‘Pak Joko’, meaning that either Pak Joko is older than him or Pak Joko is his boss. Basically, the social structure requires Rudi to show respect to Joko.

(2) Rudi did not use ‘Kamu’ to refer to Joko. Instead he used ‘Bapak’.

(3) Joko did not use ‘Pak’ to refer to Rudi, meaning that either Rudi is younger than him or Rudi is his subordinate.

(4) Joko used ‘Kamu’ to refer to Rudi.

(5) Rudi referred to another person named Sinta with ‘Bu’ even though he’s not talking to her directly to retain the degree of politeness as Sinta might be someone older or his superior.


When you have a conversation with someone older than you, it is impolite to use the word ‘anda’ or ‘kamu’ to refer to them. Instead, Indonesian will replace the word ‘you’ into any appropriate honorifics such as Bapak, Ibu, Kakak, Adik, Tante, Om or any other relevant honorifics.

When you have conversation about someone older than you, it is also preferable to avoid using ‘dia’ and refer to them using honorific + name (Om Joko) to retain adequate degree of politeness.

Why is this important?

1. By listening to how people use honorifics in their conversation, you can quickly figure out the degree of respect that you also need to show when speaking to or speaking about the person.

2. In some cases, you will also be able to identify the person who holds power (in the office), the oldest (in the family), the seller (in the marketplace) or the leader (in an organisation). This will give you better understanding of the context of the conversation.


In the next post I will look at the difference between ‘waktu’, ‘ketika’ and ‘kapan’ in Indonesian. Have a lovely weekend!

Have a question regarding this topic? Post your question below!

Listening Tip #2: Notice the Honorifics

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