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 or Bahasa Malaysia, which mean Malay, or Malaysian, language. The latter term, which was introduced by the National Language Act 1967, was predominant until the 1990s, when most academics and government officials reverted to the older term, which is used in the Malay version of the Federal Constitution. 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 standard Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia are largely mutually intelligible versions of the same language. However, many Malay dialects are not as mutually intelligible: e.g. Kelantanese pronunciation is difficult even for some Malaysians to understand, while 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 Malacca. 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. Root words are either nouns or verbs, e.g. masak (to cook) yields memasak (cooks, is cooking, etc.), memasakkan (cooks, is cooking, etc. [something]), dimasak (cooked - passive) as well as pemasak (cook - person), masakan (cooking, cookery). Many initial consonants undergo mutation when prefixes are added: e.g. sapu (sweep) becomes penyapu (broom); panggil (to call) becomes memanggil (calls, is calling, etc.), tapis (sieve) becomes menapis (sieves, is sieving, etc.)
Another distinguishing feature of Malay is its use of measure words (penjodoh bilangan).
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.
Before the 20th century, Malay was usually written in a modified form of Arabic known as Jawi. Since then, Malay written with Roman letters, known as Rumi, has almost completely replaced Jawi in everyday life. The romanisations originally used in Malaya and the Dutch East Indies reflected their positions as British and Dutch possessions respectively.
In Indonesia, the vowel in the English word 'moon' was formerly represented in Bahasa Indonesia as oe, as in Dutch, and was retained in some proper names long after 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 initial consonant of the English 'chin' was represented in Bahasa Malaysia as ch, whereas in Indonesian, it continued to follow Dutch and used tj. Hence the word for 'grandchild' used to be written as chuchu in Malaysia and tjoetjoe 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: hence cucu. 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, while the old Indonesian j for the semivowel at the beginning of the English 'young', 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 largely 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.
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 is spoken at a more languorous pace. Many vowels are pronounced (and were formerly spelt) differently in Peninsular Malaysia: tujuh is pronounced (and was spelt) tujoh, pilih as pileh, etc., and many final a 's tend to be pronounced as schwas.
|ENGLISH ||BAHASA MALAYSIA||BAHASA INDONESIA|
|March||Mac - from English||Maret - from Dutch Maart|
|August||Ogos||Agustus - from Dutch Augustus|
|ticket||tiket||karcis - from Dutch kaartje|
|pharmacy||farmasi||apotik - from Dutch apotheek |
|Sunday||Ahad||Minggu - from Portuguese Domingo|
|restaurant||restoran||rumah makan - literally eating house|
|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|
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, Bahasa Indonesia 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. Most residents of the five southernmost provinces of Thailand — a region that, for the most part, used to be part of an ancient Malay kingdom called Pattani — speak a dialect of Malay called Yawi (not to be confused with Jawi), which is similar to Kelantanese Malay, but the language has no official status or recognition.
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)
- bendera - flag (from Portuguese bandera)
- bihun - rice vermicelli (from Hokkien bi-hun)
- bomba - fire brigade (from Portuguese bomba, "pump")
- buku - book (from English)
- dunia - world (from Arabic dunya)
- 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 min)
- roti - bread (from Sanskrit)
- sharia - Islamic law (from Arabic)
- sistem - system (from English)
- sains - science (from English)
- tauhu - beancurd (from Hokkien tao-hu)
- teh - tea (from Hokkien tε)
- teko - teapot (from Hokkien tε-ko)
- had - limit (from Arabic hadd)
- waktu - time (from Arabic waqt)
- kuda - horse (from Hindi kudh)
- unta - camel (from Hindi unth)
Several Malay words have been borrowed into English. See the list of words of Malay origin at Wiktionary, the free dictionary and Wikipedia's sibling project.
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 - Good morning
- Selamat tengahari - Good afternoon
- Selamat petang - Good evening (note that 'Selamat petang' must not be used at night as in English. For a general greeting, use 'Salam sejahtera')
- Selamat malam - Good night
- Jumpa lagi - See you again
- Apa khabar? - How are you?
- Baik - Fine, good
Not to be confused with the Malayalam language, spoken in India.