Language (Giambelli, 1995)

The language spoken in Nusa Penida is basically Balinese, but incorporates some peculiar local variations. A 1922 note by Nengah Patra (in Haga 1924a:460-2) plus two articles at the beginning of the 1930's, by Grendeng (1930) and Tantra (1933) had already mentioned a small list of words that were used in Nusa Penida and found to be different from usage in Bali.

I report here some of the most significant variations found throughout the island and still in use:

Nusa Penida Balinese Indonesian English
beleh befog bodoh stupid
gel lega senang content/happy
geleng cenik kecil small
he liu banyak many/much
huani muani laki-laki men
japa dija di mana where
japan nyapan nanti later
limun sandikala sore between 5-6 PM
luluh luh perempuan woman
naneng ngoyong diam silent/quiet
nyadin ngugu mempercayai believe/trust
peributan semeng subuh between 5-6 AM

Table: comparison between Balinese termes from Nusa Penida and Bali, with Indonesian and English glosses. 

In a subsequent study Ngurah Bagus (Ngurah Bagus et Altri 1981:70) defined the language as a Balinese dialect. He indicated minor differences in respect to standard Balinese, in the position of some syllables, and in the peculiar use of a cluster of vocal and consonant phonemes.22

In a different study focused on lexical variations throughout Nusa Penida, Iran Adhiti (1984) identified the presence of a dialect that incorporates four basic linguistic variations. She argues that these variations are historically determined for they bear the mark of the original Balinese dialects that early convicts brought with them to the island. The writer has divided Nusa Penida in three parallel bands plus a fourth one identified on the island of Lembongan. The linguistic variations and their Balinese sources are defined as follow: the first band is located in the northern area of Nusa Penida (desa Batununggul). Prevalent here is the Klungkung dialect because in this area officers of the Klungkung kingdom settled. The place is still used as the island's administrative centre and is densely populated by civil servants coming from Klungkung and Bali. The central area of Nusa Penida is identified as having a common dialect but of unspecified origin. The southern part of Nusa Penida, in the belt that reaches the south coasts from Batumadeg, the spoken language bears influences of the Karangasem region. Finally on the island of Lembongan the dialect shows influences from the Gianyar and Bangli regencies.

seming serangen ped

Image above: road sign on the way to Seming Serangan, Nusa Penida (by author, 2009)

In more general terms, on the north coast both Indonesian and Balinese languages are spoken widely, in the centre-south of the island Indonesian tends to be spoken only by the most recent generations, while the local form of Balinese dialect is the common medium for the older people. Younger people who have been able to study are all bilingual and speak both Indonesian and Balinese.

The high form of Balinese language (Basa Bali Alus in any of its variants) is not widely spoken on the island. Beside being known on the north coast of Nusa Penida, because of the presence of Klungkung officers, such linguistic expertise was formerly cultivated and primarily fostered by jeroan (i.e. houses that claim a link with the Klungkung royalty). These jeroan are still deemed to use among themselves a form of high Balinese while commoners use a lower version of the same language. In social interaction a commoner addressing a member of a jeroan ought to use a form of high Balinese while a jeroan member is required to reply in lower Balinese. In places where jeroan are absent only lower forms of Balinese are spoken.

Now due to compulsory study of the Balinese language at primary school (sekolah dasar) the situation is changing. All children are made aware of the different linguistic levels enshrined in Balinese and are taught some rudiments of high Balinese even this if is not spoken within the family compound.

In sociological terms the relative diffusion of Basa Bali Alus seems to be an indirect indication of the peripheral position of the island in relation to Bali caste groups, for the island was not, and still is not, inhabited by a sufficient number of triwangsa primary users and proponents of high Balinese in its different forms.


  • Giambelli, Rodolfo A. - Reciprocating with Ibu Pretiwi. Social organisations and the importance of plants, land and the ancestors in Nusa Penida, Department of Anthropology Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies The Australian National University. Canberra 1995, p.22-23

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