Indonesian Riau: the simplest language in the world? (2023)

ByDoctor John McWhorter,Columbia University

Some languages ​​are so complex that children don't speak them until they are ten years old. This is not the case for English speakers, where at six you can almost speak and no one needs to stop. In many of the world's smaller languages, this takes longer. But sometimes some languages ​​can go to the other extreme when it comes to contact. What happens in such a situation?

Indonesian Riau: the simplest language in the world? (1)

Surprisingly simple language

An example of simplifying the verbal elements of a language is one of the Indonesian dialects. This is a dialect called Indonesian Riau. In the Sumatra region of the island, Riau Indonesian is spoken. It's a strangely simple language. Standard Indonesian is a normal language, as is the case with other languages. It has a very complex type of prefix and suffix. It has a variation between active and passive, which is quite contradictory for a beginner. Therefore, Standard Indonesian is quite normal.

But while some languages ​​like Tsez make you wonder how anyone could speak it without having an aneurysm, in the case of Indonesian Riau you wonder how anyone could speak the language and be understood because they speak very, very little.

There are no endings; without endings of any substance. No tones. No articles. There is no word order. You can put things in any order and the context will take care of it. Just point things out in time. In fact, for the most part, the Indonesian Riau lets the tension run wild. You can say “now” or “tomorrow” if you want to be explicit.

They also have some markers, but they don't use them very often. There is no verb “to be”. The same word means “he”, “she”, “it” and “they”. Therefore, there is only one word in the third person. There is very, very little in this language.

So context is everything. You almost think that no one could speak Indonesian Riau unless they were in front of someone who had the same experience, because it's all about context.


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An example of “eating chicken”.

For example, in the Indonesian riaupolloANDpollo;cantoANDcanto. Thenlike chicken. This is becoming a pretty famous example in the world of linguistics; This is called the “eating chicken” example.the chicken eats. This could meanthe chicken is eating; this could meanthe chicken ate; this could meanthe chicken will eat; Meaningthe chicken is eaten; this could meanchicken makes someone eat; this could meansomeone eats chicken; this could meanthis chicken that eats; this could meanWhere do you eat chicken?; this could meanwhen the chicken eats; this could meanhow does this chicken eat.Meaninglike chickenIt's all a matter of context.

Because, let's face it, spoken language is often context-specific. You don't normally stand in the valley and screamthe chicken eats. Chances are, if you say this sequence, there's a chicken somewhere interacting with its food and you're all looking at it anyway. Then you can probably handle it. Still, this is a very unusual state that the tongue can reach. Why would this happen?

This is a transcript of a series of videos.History of human language..Watch now, Wonderium.

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Human impact on the Indonesian Riau

Languages ​​always become more complex in isolation. Therefore, there is no reason for any language to basically fall to the ground like Indonesian Riau unless something extraordinary happens. And it wasn't an asteroid. It wasn't a controversial vote recount or anything like that. In fact, it was learning it as a second language. That was what happened.

In a region where people speaking several languages ​​related to Indonesian have gathered over the centuries, Riau Indonesian is spoken. This means that in this area Indonesian was spoken much more often as a second language than as a first language.

Just as we sweat in language learning classes, all adults around the world struggle with it. But most people wouldn't consider learning a language a hassle. The fact is that the need to learn a language completely is something like a hobby; a kind of Western obsession. As long as you get along, everything will be fine.

know more abouthistory of human language.

Abbreviated as Indonesian?

Indonesian Riau: the simplest language in the world? (3)

So people came to this region and learned Indonesian, but they were not Indonesians in the full sense of the word. Communication was still possible. The people living in this region of Riau are well off and lead prosperous and diverse lives and relationships. But this was not the Indonesian of old. It is not the Indonesian that is captured on the page you are learning today.

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Therefore, the languages ​​these people spoke natively tended to be complex, full of prefixes and suffixes and active and passive markings, like regular Indonesian. In fact, they are more complex than normal Indonesian. But these people have not completely learned the Indonesian language. As a result, Riau Indonesian is a type of abbreviated Indonesian that works well as a human language. But it ended up like this because of something like a train accident. It was interrupted; people didn't learn it well, and as a result it became a new type of language.

This kind of simplicity would never exist independently. There is no language that simply follows the path of nudity. Tongues, if you let them go, are like a cat's. The cat climbs the tree holding onto the tallest, thinnest branches and stays there until you knock it down hard. Likewise, languages ​​are always trying to become more complex.

But Riau Indonesian became one of the simplest languages ​​in the world precisely because other speakers of the language interacted with Indonesian, stripping it of almost all its complexity and leaving only the simplest elements of communication.

Indonesian Riau Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Where is Riau Indonesian spoken?

Riau Indonesiaspoken in a region on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia.

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Q. How is Indonesian Riau different from most other languages?

Indonesian Riau differs from most other languages ​​in its simplicity. There are no endings of any substance, tone, article or word order. Just point things out in time. For the most part, Indonesian riau leaves the tense unmarked, does not use many markers or the verb “to be”. Onlya third personword. There is very, very little complexity in this language.

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Q. What is a popular example of Indonesian Riau that shows its simplicity?

Phraselike chickenis an Indonesian expression from Riau that is becoming a quite famous example in the world of linguistics; called "the chicken is eating' example. In the Indonesian Riau,polloIt's chicken",cantoI feel."the chicken eatsIt can mean, depending on the context: the chicken is eating; the chicken ate it; the chicken will eat; he eats the chicken; someone eats chicken and many other similar interpretations.

keep reading
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Protolanguages ​​and their evolution
How Language Changes: From Latin to Romance Languages


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