A bit of Sundanese

by Jasaritin

Many travelers find difficult to find Sundanese phrases in Bandung travel books or in Sundanese dictionaries, which are very rarely available, even in the city of Bandung itself. As a result they have to rely on their English or Indonesian language, which is sometimes not enough if you have to travel to West Java.

As an archipelago Indonesia has a lot of big and small islands, and as many as 583 languages and dialects in total, with the Indonesian language (Bahasa Indonesia) as the national language. Unlike in Bali where many people can speak English and few other foreign languages, such as Japanese, Dutch, and German, there are only very few I ndonesians who can speak English in many other cities in Indonesia, including in Jakarta, the capital.

This could be frustrating for the English speakers, especially those who can not even speak Indonesian language at all. But for those who can speak quite good Indonesian, sometimes they can also get frustrated if they have to travel outside Jakarta, such as to Bandung or other small towns in West Java. It is because there are still many people, especially in rural areas, who speak a local language, such as Sundanese and only a little Indonesian. Furthermore there are hardly any Sundanese pocket dictionaries for travelers in any book stores in Bandung, let alone in other cities in Indonesia. That's why the knowledge of some most used Sundanese words would be highly appreciated by travelers.

Despite the closeness between Indonesian and Sundanese, there are a few words in both languages which mean totally different things. Below are a few examples of Sundanese and Indonesian words which have conflicting meanings:

Word Meaning in Sundanese Meaning in Indonsian
Angkat To go To lift
Tuang To eat To pour
Suku Leg Tribe
Mangga Please, or as a response to 'punten' Mango (the fruit)
Luhur Above, on top of Noble
Duka (I) don't know Sorrow
Sepuh Old (people) To plate (e.g. metal)
Tong Don't Barrel
Abdi I, me Servant, slave, to devote
Mirah Cheap Ruby

Even if there are very few Bandung travel books which list the most-used words in Sundanese for travelers, not many of them explain the difference in meaning between these conflicting words. All these words are pronounced and spelled in the exact same way yet they all have totally different meanings. This can make the English speakers living in West Java, particularly in Bandung city, confused when they hear those words spoken by Sundanese people.

However to avoid this confusion, you do not have to learn too many Sundanese words, but a few mostly used idioms can certainly help you a lot. Below are some of the mostly used Sundanese words often found in many Bandung travel books:

  • Punten - means 'excuse me' and is a polite greeting to excuse yourself when you walk pass someone or a group of people.
  • Sami-sami - the word 'sami' literally means 'same' in English. This word is used as the response when someone says 'nuhun', which means 'thank you' to you.
  • Mangga - used as the response when someone says 'punten'.
  • Nuhun - means 'thank you' in Sundanese

Below are a few examples of simple phrases in Sundanese:

  • Abdi bade tuang - I want to eat
  • Punten, bade kamana? - Excuse me, (you) want to go where?
  • Tong tuang jeruk - Don't eat orange

More Sundanese phrases

Gramatically both Sundanese and Indonesian language are almost the same. Despite those conflicting words above, there are many words in both Sundanese and Indonesian which have exactly the same meaning. Anyway no matter how short your Bandung travel seems like, a few Sundanese words above would certainly help you a lot with your travel in West Java.

Submitted by Jasaritin from Bandung travel guide and tips.

More information about Sundanese


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