Makassarese language

Makassarese (basa Mangkasara'), sometimes spelled Makasar, Makassar, or Macassar, is a language of the Makassarese people, spoken in South Sulawesi province of Indonesia. It is a member of the South Sulawesi group of the Austronesian language family, and thus closely related to, among others, Buginese.

Bahasa Makassar
ᨅᨔ ᨆᨀᨔᨑ Basa Mangkasara'
Native toIndonesia
RegionSouth Sulawesi (Sulawesi)
Native speakers
2.1 million (2000 census)[1]
  • Lakiung
  • Turatea
  • Marusu'-Pangkajene'
Lontara (present)
Latin (present)
Old Makassarese (historical)
Language codes
ISO 639-2mak
ISO 639-3mak


The following description of Makassarese phonology is based on Jukes (2005).[2]


Makassarese has five vowels: /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/. The mid vowels are lowered to [ɛ] and [ɔ] in absolute final position and in the vowel sequences /ea/ and /oa/.


Makassarese consonants
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Plosive voiceless p t c k ʔ
voiced b d ɟ ɡ
Fricative s h
Semivowel j w
Lateral l
Trill r
  • /ɲ/ is written ny before a vowel, n before c and j
  • /ŋ/ is written ng
  • /ɟ/ is written j
  • /j/ is written y
  • /h/ only occurs in loanwords
  • The glottal stop /ʔ/ only occurs in syllable-final position and is usually written as an apostrophe '


All consonants except for /ʔ/ can appear in initial position. In final position, only /ŋ/ and /ʔ/ are found.

Consonant clusters only occur medially and (with one exception) can be analyzed as clusters of /ŋ/ or /ʔ/ + consonant. These clusters also arise through sandhi across morpheme boundaries.

nasal/lateral voiceless obstruents voiced stops + r
m n ɲ ŋ l p t c k s b d ɟ ɡ r
/ŋ/ mm nn ɲɲ ŋŋ ll mp nt ɲc ŋk ns mb nd ɲɟ ŋg nr
/ʔ/ ʔm ʔn ʔɲ ʔŋ ʔl pp tt cc kk ss ʔb ʔd ʔɟ ʔg ʔr

The geminate cluster /rr/ is only found in root-internal position and cannot be accounted for by the above rules.

Sequences of like vowels are contracted to a single vowel, e.g. sassa "to wash" + -ang 'nominalizing suffix' > sassáng "laundry", ca'di "small" + -i 'third person' > ca'di "it is small".

Current writing systems

Although Makassarese is now often written in Latin script, it is still widely written using Lontara script, which once was used also to write important documents in Bugis and Mandar, two related languages from Sulawesi.

1. Jawi script
2. Lontara script
3. Latin script
4. Makasar script
5. Bilang-bilang (counting script)


Some common words/phrases in the Makassar language, transcribed in the Latin script, are as follows ( ' = glottal stop):

Writing system examples
Lontara Romanized Indonesian Translation
ᨅᨒ balla' rumah house
ᨅᨘᨒᨘ bulu bulu body hair/fur
ᨅᨅ bambang panas hot/warm
ᨌᨗᨄᨘᨑᨘ cipuru' lapar hungry
ᨉᨚᨕᨙ doe' uang money
ᨕᨗᨐᨚ iyo iya yes
ᨒᨚᨄᨚ lompo besar big/large
ᨔᨒᨚ sallo lama / lambat slow / long (time)
ᨈᨅᨙ tabe' permisi excuse me
ᨈᨙᨊ tena tidak ada none
ᨀᨑᨕᨙ karaeng raja king
ᨕᨄ ᨀᨑᨙᨅ? apa kareba? apa kabar? how are you?
ᨒᨀᨙᨀᨚ ᨆᨕᨙ? lakeko mae? kamu mau ke mana? where are you going?
ᨅᨒ ballang belang spotted
ᨅᨚᨈᨚ botto' bau smelly
ᨑᨈᨔ rantasa' berantakan untidy
ᨅᨈᨒ co'mo' gemuk fatty
ᨅᨗᨒ bella jauh far away
ᨁᨙᨒᨙ ᨁᨙᨒᨙ gele'-gele' geli ticklish
ᨀᨚᨀᨚ kongkong anjing dog
ᨍᨑ jarang kuda horse
ᨅᨙᨅᨙ bembe kambing goat
ᨆᨚᨈᨙᨑᨙ ammotere' pulang ke rumah return home
ᨂᨑᨙ angnganre makan eat

Historical writing system

Sample of a handwritten book, written in Makassarese using the Makasar script, of a diary of the Princes of Gowa. The palláwa punctuation signs, typical of this script, are drawn and colored in red, as well as a few proper names and some inserts in Arabic.
Museum display showing script comparison of Makasar (left), Lontara (center), and Bilang-bilang (right) at Balla Lompoa Museum, Sungguminasa, Gowa

Makassarese was historically written using Makasar script (also known as "Old Makassarese" or "Makassarese bird script" in English-language scholarly works).[3] In Makassarese the script is known as ukiri' jangang-jangang or huruf jangang-jangang ("bird letters"). It was used for official purposes in the kingdoms of Makasar in the 17th century but ceased to be used by the 19th century, being replaced by Lontara script.

In spite of their quite distinctive appearance, both the Makasar and Lontara scripts are derived from the ancient Brahmi script of India. Like other descendants of that script, each consonant has an inherent vowel "a", which is not marked. Other vowels can be indicated by adding diacritics above, below, or on either side of each consonant.

See also

  • Makassan contact with Australia


  1. Makassar at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Jukes, Anthony, "Makassar" in K. Alexander Adelaar & Nikolaus Himmelmann, 2005, The Austronesian languages of Asia and Madagascar, pp. 649-682, London, Routledge ISBN 0-7007-1286-0
  3. Pandey, Anshuman (2015-11-02). "L2/15-233: Proposal to encode the Makasar script in Unicode" (PDF).

Further reading

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