Balinese language is another language entirely, it is not the same language as Indonesian. with a completely different vocabulary and grammar and much more complex rules for its use. Bahasa Bali is the native language of the Balinese people. The Balinese language has unusual sounds.

Like as words that start with “ng”, which Westerners find a little difficult to pronounce it correctly. Although Balinese also leaving out the 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 with whom you are speaking. An additional complication is that pronunciations can be vary from region to region, although most Balinese recognize the accents from other parts of Bali. Balinese is greatly complicated by its caste influences.

There’s high Balinese, low Balinese and even middle Balinese, plus a number of variations of the three. Middle Balinese has an even more restricted vocabulary. It’s mainly used when one wishes to be very polite but doesn’t want to emphasize caste differences. Initially a conversation between two strangers would commence in the high language.

At some point the question of caste would be asked and then the level adjusted accordingly. Whenever there are trends of emphases of a greater democratization in public society, any vestiges of apparent feodalism give way to modern movements for democracy equality and non-discrimination; this also in areas where status or social-level in society has hitherto been much determined by the rather sensitive issue of the system of castes.

Traditional norms as a kind of “language-obeisance” with relation to inter-class relationships, are on the decline.

Traditionally, however language rules in Bali had to be observed irrespective of age, position or sex. Traditional “rules of Caste” that had so long been considered an unflinching exigency are becoming less pronounced and less rigorous. Albeit, in the face of modern trends the determination of language-usage of certain categories of words, is still much espoused and very much in vogue in Bali.

However, significant adjustments have been proposed at more recent Language-Seminars on the Island, and this, no doubt, will have its effects and repercussions in Balinese Society today.


Differences between Balinese and English

One of the most obvious differences between Balinese and English is that Balinese has “levels,” a fact which has been pointed out repeatedly in these volumes. And it is frequently mentioned in guidebooks and in the literature in general.

Although they do not always accurate representations in the literature may make this seem quite complicated, from the point of view of the average Balinese householder, the level rules are quite straightforward. He uses variations of one kind of speech to talk to his wife, family and friends. We can call “Low Balinese.”

He uses another variety to talk to people of higher caste, strangers or people of status and importance. This is Medium Balinese. He uses yet a third style, High Balinese, to speak to “pedandas”.

Few Balinese know much High Balinese, for the simple reason that they seldom have any occasion to wishes to ask the pedanda for holy water or to participate in a ceremony, the group simply takes along one of the few people in the village who is fluent in High Balinese.

The differences in these levels are quit marked, however. It is not a matter of changing the pronunciation of a few words, the substitution of few polite personal pronouns, or the change of an accent here and there.

In many cases the Low, Medium, and High words are etymologically distinct.

For example, the words for “he” or “she” in the three levels are, “yeh”, “toya”, and “tirtha.” Caste and its accompanying system of difference and respect is something that Westerners almost instinctively recoil from, but it is imbedded in Balinese society in deep, complicated, and not necessarily “bad” ways.

Interesting things happen when people of different status engage in a conversation. High caste people talk to low caste people in Low Balinese.

And low caste people talk to high caste people in Medium or High Balinese. Let us suppose that there are three people, a pedanda, an Anak Agung and a sudra, having a conversation.

So why do we learn Balinese when everyone on Bali speaks Bahasa Indonesia ?

Usually, Balinese people don’t expect a guest to be able to speak some of their language, but nonetheless they will be appreciate and be more overjoyed by your attempt to speak their language.

For whatever reason, trying to speak a little bit Balinese language will always surprised Balinese people and resulted in an immediate smiles and warmth (and often lower the prices when you bargain during your shopping activities) and invites lots of help in learning and practising the Balinese language.

Who knows ? If you could just try to remember at least 120 Balinese words or more, and practise it, of course, you might will get your chance to open doors of discovery in Bali as you would never have otherwise.