For a laid back country such as Indonesia, the people can seem surprisingly status conscious to the new arrival. One of the ways in which this social order is established and maintained is through the language one uses in conversation.
Unlike some other languages in the archipelago (notably Sundanese and Javanese) modern Indonesian does not have well defined language levels which indicate the status of each party in conversation, although there are certainly words one would not use in a discussion with one's boss, one's friend's parent and so on.
As a general rule, it is easier and safer to err on the side of politeness and always use saya for a first person pronoun and Bapak or Ibu for a second person pronoun, but to do so would exclude you from most everyday speech.
Master the phrases below and be prepared to receive compliments aplenty.
In Indonesian instead of referring to the person you are talking to as you and yourself as I/me, people often use their name, or term of address. Using someone's title instead of a second person pronoun (you, your etc.) is normally considered the most polite way of addressing someone, as long as you don't use the incorrect title... Referring to yourself by name sounds a little childish if you are the person with lower social standing, and patronising if the reverse is true. In most cases unless speaking with small children, or unless you are a small child, it's safer to stick with saya.
|own name||Standard Indonesian||Almost exclusively used in conversation between adults and small children. One's title is also often used. This can also be used to hint at your preferred form of address.
e.g. Pak Bambang: "Selamat pagi, Tuan John"John: "Selamat pagi Pak, Mas John minta kopi biasa"
|Bapak, Ibu||Standard Indonesian||Mr, Mrs. Most respectful, used when the addressee is above the age of 20 or so in a formal setting. Note: unless used in conjunction with a name Pak is not considered a second person pronoun, that is, Pak Bambang, or Bapak can be used in place of kamu but Pak by itself can not.|
|Tuan (m), Nyonya (f)||Malay||Sir, Madam. Very formal, used almost exclusively for white expatriates, Tuan and Nyonya were used during colonial times and to many ears sound a little too colonial for contemporary society, although are still used in legal documents.|
|Mas (m), Mbak(f)||Javanese||An English equivalent would be buddy or mate (or miss for the feminine), but can also be used as a title (e.g. Mas John, Mbak Vanessa). More formal than using the person's name directly, but still too informal to use unless the person is younger or you know them very well and they are around the same age.|
|Akang/Kang; Aang; Aa(m), Teteh; Ceuceu(f)||Sundanese||Practically identical to Mas or "Mbak" respectively but only really heard in Sundanese speaking areas; i.e. Bandung, and other places in West Java and Banten. Extended form is Akang.
How to use. "where to go, brother?"="pergi kemana,A -or- Kang -or- Ang?" "where to go, sister?"="pergi kemana, Teh -or- Ceu?" Brother John = Akang/Aa/Aang John Sister Mary = Teh/Ceu Mary
|Bang, Bung (m)||Betawi||Practically identical to Mas but only really heard in Jakarta. Extended form is Abang|
|Bli (m), Mbo (f)||Balinese||Practically identical to Mas'/"Mbak"' but only used in Bali.|
|saya||Standard Indonesian||Safest option for most conversations, though may seem overly formal if one is speaking with a child|
|aku||Standard Indonesian, also Javanese||More familiar, used when the speaker is of a lower or similar social status and wants to be respectful, yet familiar. e.g. in discussions with one's friend's parents and so on. Used more commonly by the Javanese where it is slightly closer to saya|
|gua, gue||Chinese via Betawi||Very familiar, used between people of a similar social standing and only in informal situations. While coming from Jakarta, it is now common among the youth throughout the archipelago and adults in major cities.|
|aye||Betawi||Similar to gue, only really heard in Jakarta.|
|wo||Chinese||Used only by ethnic Chinese in conversation with other ethnic Chinese in some areas of Jakarta, Medan and other areas with high concentrations of ethnic Chinese|
|I||English||Used mainly by Ethnic Chinese in Jakarta and other areas with high concentrations of ethnic Chinese, pronounced as the English I, it functions as all forms of the first person pronoun just as other Indonesian first person pronouns. e.g. ini buku I = this is my book, I mau pulang = I'm going home, tolong jemput I = please pick me up.|
As a general rule, Indonesians tend to use a person's title or their given name (often in conjunction with their title) in place of a true second person pronoun in spoken language. This sounds less childish (as the younger person) or patronising (as the older person) than doing so with the first person pronoun and is probably your safest bet in most instances.
|Anda||Standard Indonesian||You. Very formal. While theoretically the most correct form of standard Indonesian, you rarely hear it outside of advertisements and prepared speeches; and even then only rarely.|
|Kamu||Standard Indonesian||You. Informal. Used between people of a similar social standing or when the speaker is older or of a higher social standing than the the addressee.|
|Loe||Chinese via Betawi||You. Very informal, used between people of a similar social standing and only in informal situations. While coming from Jakarta, it is now common among the youth throughout the archipelago and adults in major cities|
|Ente||Betawi||You. Relatively informal|
|You||English||Occupies the same cultural position as I above. Also used in places where it would be grammatically incorrect in English. e.g. You mau ke mana? - Where are you going?, Ini punya you - This is yours.|