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User-Friendly Guide to Spoken Balinese

the colloquial language of the island of Bali in Indonesia...

formulated by Benjamin Victor during the 9th International Coral Reef Symposium in Bali, Indonesia

Oct. 2000

Balinese is the native language of the people of Bali, a relatively small island of 3 million people in the lesser Sunda island chain in the southern portion of the Indonesian archipelago and one of the many island cultures that comprise the present nation of Indonesia. It has been said that there are at least 1200 languages spoken in Indonesia, and the official language is now Bahasa Indonesia (often shortened to Bahasa, which means "language"), a lingua franca for communication between modern Indonesians. Bahasa Indonesia is an easy language to learn and pronounce, with a simple and efficient structure (leaving out verb conjugations and tenses) and straightforward pronunciation. Almost everyone on Bali speaks Bahasa Indonesia in addition to Balinese and many speak a little English as well. The island is one of the most visited by tourists and historically has been a focus of interest by Westerners because of the natural beauty of the island and the exceptional friendliness and openness of the Balinese people.

The Balinese language, in contrast, has unusual sounds, like words that start with ng, which Westerners find particularly difficult to pronounce correctly. Although Balinese also dispenses with verb conjugations and tenses, it does have a variety of social distinctions based on a form of caste system inherited from India in the distant past. As a result there are often several ways of saying the same thing, depending on whom you are speaking with. Fortunately the most different form, almost a different language, is used when speaking with high caste individuals or priests, and therefore plays little role in daily communication with foreigners. That still leaves formal language and familiar language, not too different from the french vous and tu, but applying to many words, not just pronouns. Even more, when one includes the colloquiallisms used every day by Balinese, there can be a bewildering variety of words for the same thing. An additional complication is that pronunciations can vary from region to region, although most Balinese recognize the accents from other parts of Bali.

So why learn Balinese when everyone on Bali speaks Bahasa Indonesia (BI)? Well, I have never been in a place where people are more overjoyed by your attempt to speak their language than in Bali. Why? Perhaps because their language is under pressure from Bahasa Indonesian, perhaps also because they are an exceptionally exuberant and friendly culture anyway, and also maybe because the language can be difficult to pronounce and as a result they never hear Westerners speaking it. For whatever reason, trying to speak colloquial Balinese always astonished people on Bali and resulted in immediate smiles and warmth (and lower prices and lots of help in speaking and learning and whatever else one was trying to accomplish). I can guarantee it is quite an astounding experience, nothing like the response one gets to their basic Spanish or rudimentary French in other parts of the world.


Much of the problem in pronunciation by Westerners is, simply enough, a result of the Westernization of the spelling-out of the native word. Balinese words as written (with Indonesian-type vowels) would be sounded out by a Westerner in a way that no Balinese could understand.

I shall spell out words so that they sound as they do in Balinese, so one can read them phonetically and actually speak the language. The traditional spelling of foreign words in guide books creates new and unintelligible languages spoken only by hapless tourists (perhaps in a futile effort to replace those unfortunate local dialects going extinct on a daily basis in remote areas of the world). I will write the word out phonetically as english words- and, if that is not possible, as segments in bold of english words, so anyone should be able to pronounce them with a little practice (so "bay" like baby or "beast" like bee-sting or "bubble" like bus-billabong). Make sure the portions not in bold are not pronounced, so surf sounds like "sir" without the "r" sound at the end (like on the BBC).

PRONOUNS (there are many variants)

I, me (very familiar or low rank)= chi-young

I, me (for a grown-up, not a kid or low-life or really close pal)= tea-young, you (basic, without caste or gender)= goose

You (male, familiar, equal or a bit older, like bro' in ebonics, means older brother)= bleep

You (male, clearly older, respectful, means father)= bus-purr)

You (female, young, i.e. not a "Mom" type)= gecko

You (female, familiar, equal, means sister)= mm-balk

You (female, like a "Mom")= may-may

He, him, she, her, they, them= urine (or your, in a sorta Southern US accent)



Yes= say yah!, No= sing, maybe= me-rib

Please= rum-reebok-sung (in BI= coelecanth)

Thank you- m'door-sue-box-summer, (a lot= add pea-sun at the end) (in BI= terry-muck-hussy)

and= budge-buck, with= missy, many= lieu (as in French), more= b'win, almost= dusty

there= D-2, here= D-knee; where?= D-judge; from (a place)= de (as in French)

What?, huh?= upper? (light on the ending "r", like the BBC would say it)

What's that? What did you say? huh?= nuppy?; I don't know= sing nun-swung

What is that (nearby)= nuppy nicky; What is that (over there)= nuppy nick-her

What is that called?= nuppy nicky was-ton-nay; bye-bye= dull-dull

Where are you going? (also a greeting, like "Hello")= le (as in French)-car-key-judge

"I'm going to the USA"= le-car-cur bum-merry-cut (=Amerika)

Welcome! (in BI)= sell-a-mutt dull-tongue

Good morning! (in BI)= sell-a-mutt buggy; Good afternoon= sell-a-mutt see-young

Good late afternoon!= sell-a-mutt saw-ray; Good night= sell-a-mutt mull-bum

Good night (ready to sleep)= sell-a-mutt tea-door (roll your rrrs)

Answer all of these with just the suffix, i.e. buggy! or with "same to you"= summer-summer (BI) or the correct Balinese putt-oogh (like in Dutch, a hard throat-clearing ggghhh)

when leaving you say...= sell-a-mutt tingle-gull; the response from the one staying= sell-a-mutt judge-lunch

"I want to buy it"= le (French) car milly, how much is it (does it cost?)= jesus coo-dirt

"What is your name"= syrup was-ton-nay? or syrup udder-nay? or syrup was-ton eater?

"My name is"= udder-nay

"How old are you?"= above-coo-dirt ooh-moray; "I am six years old"= ooh-moor tea-young nim tea-bun

"You are very pretty..." something of a come-on= ee-lord gym-gecko guttee

The following phrases amuse Balinese people greatly... I recommend liberal usage at all times-

Really! You ain't kidding! Absolutely!= suck-under (said with emphasis), also chuck-dee!

No lie! I ain't kidding! Gimme a break!= sing ooh-loo ooh-look! (literally "no lie")

I promise you! Would I kid you?= tea-young midge cajun-jesus

No problem! Don't worry about it, "no worries, mate" (Australian)= sing-ken-ken or sing-mogrify-reebok

I am just joking= tea-young midge cajun-dull

Crazy people!= just-le-midge lung-uhh! (juhluhmuh lunguh- all the same "uhh" sound, very funny...)



minute= minute, hour= jumble, day= Hawaii, week= humming goose, month= boo-lunch, year= tea-bun

Now for the bad news: the numbers used with time are not the same as regular numbers- many are converted to an ing suffix, some are completely different (like one), but some stay the same......

one= above, two= doo-swung, three= rattle-look-king, four= putt-tongue, five= limo-mung, six= nimrod, seven= pee-too-king, eight= coot-puss, nine= bitsy-young, ten= dull-surf

eleven= saw-lusty, twelve= raw-rusty, thirteen= rattle-look-lusty, fourteen= putt-plus, fifteen= maw-lusty, sixteen= nimrod-lusty, seventeen= pee-two-lusty, eighteen= pull-herd coot-puss, nineteen= see-young-awe-lusty

twenty= doo-swung dull-surf, twenty-one= doo-swung dull-surf bill-sick (i.e. the last part of the number is from the regular numbers, not the time numbers....amazing, huh?), etc.; thirty-three is "three (time), ten, three (non-time)"; forty-two is "four (time), ten, two (non-time)"; fifty= sick-coot limo-mung, sixty= "six, ten", seventy= "seven (time), ten", eighty= ooh-look-king dull-surf, ninety= bitsy-young dull-surf, a hundred= sum-obtuse, a thousand= bitsy-you (for money= tully), a million= jew-tummy.

"I am twenty six years old"= ooh-moor tea-young doo-swung dull-surf nimrod tea-bun (or "age I two ten six years")

What time?= jumble coo-dull (or "hour, how much?"); eleven o'clock PM= saw-lusty putt-oong (or "eleven night")

How long?= ping coo-dull (or "time, how much?"); answer in units and then number, i.e. "day, six"

How many times?= same, but the answer is ping nimrod "time, six"

today (immediate, like now)= a (like above) Johnny, later= near-(like saying "near" in a Boston accent) noon, already= surf-dirt

before, or ago= ee, yesterday= ee-bee, day before yesterday=ee-pee-wonderful; the rest are ee-(number, units)

"I was in Bali five days ago"= tea-young cur-bubble-lee ee-limo-mung Hawaii (or "I to Bali ago five days")

after, or in (the future)= bin, tomorrow= money, day after tomorrow= bin-pee-wonderful; the rest are bin-(number, units)

"I am leaving in eight weeks"= tea-young pee-dun chuck-brung-cut bin coot-puss humming-goose (or "I leave in/after eight weeks")

long time= minute-club, "I will stay long in Lombok"= tea-young minute-club cur-shalom-balk (or "I long-time to Lombok")



like= demon, want= moody, (and this is the hard one...) speak/talk/say= running-awe-maw-ing (ngomong)

(another hard one) eat= running-ah-jungle (ngajung), drink= minute-tim, work= men-guy-ee, sleep= poo-list

to have (like the Spanish "hay", like "it exists")= udder, "is there fish here" or "do you have fish"= D-knee udder bay (here have fish?)

to have (personal possession)= running-ooh-lah, "do you have a wife/husband?"= running-ooh-lah coor-nun?

remember= inge-ton, forget= running-feng-supper or subpoena

buy= milly, "I want to buy it"= le (French) car-milly

learn= mill-a-judge, understand= running-ear-tee, ask= mitt-a-ken

stay= running-awe-yaw-ng, scuba dive= knee-lump



breakfast= some-mung, lunch= tip-running-ah-yee, dinner= bully-tongue, please= rum-reebok-sung

food= muck-a-nun, rice= nun-hussy, chicken= see-yup, fish= bay, banana= beautiful

water= yeah (like a quick "yes"), coffee= caw-pee, milk= sue-sue, ice= the letter "s"

"I would like chicken"= tea-young moody see-yup, "Do you have milk?"= udder sue-sue?

sugar= goo-lump, salt= goo-yummy, pepper= tummy-beautiful, hot sauce= some-bulge, ketchup= cut-chip (a-sin, soya= soy sauce)

to order (in a restaurant)= allay, the bill, check= maya, more= b'win, finished= sue-dull


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