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Malay language


Bahasa Melayu
بهاس ملايو

Spoken in: Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, southern Thailand, southern Philippines, adjacent parts of Indonesia
Total speakers: 7–18 million
Ranking: 54

  Western Malayo-Polynesian
      Local Malay

Official status
Official language of: Malaysia,Brunei Darussalam,Singapore
Regulated by: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (Hall of Language and Scripture)
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ms
ISO 639-2(B) may
ISO 639-2(T) msa

The Malay language, also known locally as Bahasa Melayu, is an Austronesian language spoken by the Malay people who are native to the Malay peninsula, southern Thailand, Singapore and parts of Sumatra. It is the official language of Malaysia and Brunei, and one of the four official languages of Singapore. It is also used as a working language in East Timor.

The official standard for Malay, as agreed upon by Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, is Bahasa Riau, the language of the Riau Archipelago, long considered the birthplace of the Malay language.

In Malaysia, it is known as Bahasa Melayu (though for a few years it was officially called Bahasa Malaysia) or Malay (formerly, Malaysian) language. Similarly, Indonesia adopted a form of Malay as its official language upon independence, naming it Bahasa Indonesia. In Singapore and Brunei it is known simply as Malay or Bahasa Melayu. The reason for adopting these terms is political rather than a reflection of linguistic distinctiveness, as Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia are in fact versions of the same language. An exception would be the dialect spoken in the Malaysian state of Kelantan, which has very difficult intelligibility with other forms of Malay. Javanese Malay tends to have a lot of words unique to it which will be unfamiliar to other speakers of Malay. The language spoken by the Peranakan (Straits Chinese, a hybrid of Chinese settlers from the Ming Dynasty and local Malays) is a unique patois of Malay and the Chinese Dialect of Hokkien, which is mostly spoken in the former Straits Settlements of Penang and Melaka. The use of this interesting language is dying out however, with the Peranakan now choosing to speak either Hokkien or English.

Malay is an agglutinative language, meaning that the meaning of the word can be changed by adding the necessary prefixes or suffixes. Generally the root word tends to be a verb with quantitative prefixes added to nouns which are root words.


Differences between Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia

The differences between the two are comparable to the differences between British English and American English. Both are mutually intelligible, but with differences in spelling and vocabulary. Bahasa Indonesia differs from Bahasa Malaysia in having words of Javanese and Dutch origin. For example, the word for 'post office' in Bahasa Malaysia is "pejabat pos", whereas in Bahasa Indonesia it is "kantor pos", from the Dutch word for office, kantoor.


In colonial times, the sound 'u' (as in 'moon') was represented in Bahasa Indonesia as 'oe', as in Dutch. In many proper names, the old 'Dutch' spelling was retained after the official spelling of this sound was changed to 'u' during the Japanese occupation (hence the spelling of the name of the first President, Sukarno as Soekarno). Similarly, until 1972, the sound 'ch' was represented in Bahasa Malaysia as 'ch', whereas in Indonesian, it continued to follow Dutch and used 'tj'. Hence the word for 'brand' or 'stamp' used to be written as chap in Bahasa Malaysia and tjap in Bahasa Indonesia, until a unified spelling system was introduced in 1972 (known in Indonesia as Ejaan Yang Disempurnakan or the 'Perfected Spelling') which removed most differences between the two varieties: Malaysian 'ch' and Indonesian 'tj' became 'c', Indonesian abandoned the spelling 'dj' (for the consonant at the beginning of the word 'Jakarta') to conform to the 'j' already in use in Malaysia. The old Indonesian 'j' for the semivowel sound at the beginning of the English 'young', which also still followed Dutch orthographic conventions, was replaced with 'y' as in Malaysia. Likewise, the velar fricative which occurs in many Arabic loanwords, which used to be written 'ch' in Indonesian, became 'kh' in both countries. Although the representations of speech sounds are now identical in the Indonesian and Malaysian varieties, a number of minor spelling differences remain, usually for historical reasons. For instance, the word for 'money' is written as 'wang' in Malaysia, but 'uang' in Indonesia.


In colloquial forms of the language, the word for 'not', tidak, is contracted to tak in both languages (well used in neighbouring parts of Indonesia such as Sumatra), while in Java the word enggak is used [with the 'e' representing a schewa sound, and the 'k' being unreleased]. Hence 'tidak ada' or 'don't have', becomes either 'tak ada' or 'enggak ada'.


Pronunciation also tends to be very different, with East Malaysia and Indonesia speaking a dialect called Bahasa Baku, where the words are pronounced as spelt and enunciation tends to be clipped, staccato and faster than the Malay spoken in the Malay Peninsula which tends to pronounce the final 'a' in words as a schwa and is spoken at a more languorous pace. (Kepada (meaning: for) is pronounced in Baku as 'kepaDAH' and in Peninsula Malay as 'kePAde')

March Mac - from English Maret - from Dutch Maart
August Ogos Agustus - from Dutch Augustus
can boleh bisa
challenge cabaran tantangan
speak bercakap berbicara
shop kedai toko
ticket tiket karcis - from Dutch kaartje
pharmacy farmasi apotik - from Dutch apotheek
Monday Isnin Senin
Sunday Ahad Minggu - from Portuguese Domingo
restaurant restoran rumah makan - literally eating house
because kerana karena
hospital hospital rumah sakit from Dutch structure "ziekenhuis"
zoo zoo kebun binatang, derived from Dutch "dierentuin"
television televisyen televisi- from Dutch televisie
university universiti universitas - from Dutch universiteit
head office ibu pejabat kantor pusat
car kereta mobil

Extent of use

The extent to which Malay is used in these countries varies depending on historical and cultural circumstances. Bahasa Malaysia became the sole official language of Malaysia in 1968, but English is still widely used, especially by the minority Chinese and Indian communities, and because of its importance as the language of international business, and the situation in Brunei is similar. By contrast, Bahasa Indonesia has successfully become the lingua franca for its disparate islands and ethnic groups, and because the colonial language, Dutch, is no longer spoken. (In East Timor, which was a province of Indonesia between 1976 and 1999, it is widely spoken, and recognised under its Constitution as a 'working language'.) In Singapore, Malay was historically the lingua franca among people of different races, but this has given way to English, but it retains the status of national language, and the national anthem, Majulah Singapura is entirely in Malay. In southern provinces of Thailand, Malay is spoken among the people remnant from ancient Malay kingdom called Pattani, but has no official status or recognition.

Loan Words

The Malay language has many words borrowed from Arabic (in particular many religious terms), Sanskrit, Portuguese, Dutch, certain Chinese dialects and more recently, English (in particular many scientific and technological terms). Some examples follow:

  • bahasa - language (from Sanskrit)
  • bihun - rice vermicelli (from Hokkien beehoon)
  • bomba - fire brigade (from Portuguese bomba, "pump")
  • buku - book (from English)
  • dunia - world (from Arabic duniyya)
  • gereja - church (from Portuguese igreja)
  • keju - cheese (from Portuguese queijo)
  • komputer - computer (from English)
  • limau - lemon (from Portuguese limão)
  • mentega - butter (from Portuguese manteiga)
  • mee/mi - noodles (from Hokkien mee)
  • roti - bread (from Sanskrit)
  • sharia - Islamic law (from Arabic)
  • sistem - system (from English)
  • sains - science (from English)
  • tauhu - beancurd (from Hokkien tauhu)
  • teh - tea (from Hokkien teh)
  • teko - teapot (from Hokkien teh ko)

Loan words from Malay in English include 'durian'; 'sarong' 'orangutan' (from orang hutan or 'forest person'); 'amok' ('berserk'), as in 'to run amok'; 'compound' (from kampung or 'village'); and 'paddy', as in 'paddy-field' or 'rice paddy' (from 'padi', referring to the rice plant Oryza sativa). The term 'bint' for a young woman, from binte ('daughter of', itself a loan word from Arabic) has been in use since 1843 (ie. Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir - Hikayat Abdullah) and even earlier.

Malay language has also heavily influenced the forms of colloquial English spoken in Singapore (Singlish) and Malaysia (Manglish).

Some simple phrases in Malay

  • Selamat datang - Welcome
  • Terima kasih - Thank you
  • Selamat pagi (from sunrise until 11am)- Good morning
  • Selamat tengahari (from 11am until 1pm)- Good afternoon
  • Selamat petang (from 1pm until dusk) - Good evening
  • Selamat malam (from dusk) - Good night
  • Jumpa lagi - See you again
  • Apa khabar? - How are you?
  • Baik - Fine, good

See also

External link

  • Ethnologue report for Malay
  • Malay - English Dictionary

Not to be confused with the Malayalam language, spoken in India.

Last updated: 02-07-2005 21:21:48
Last updated: 03-18-2005 11:16:12