Malay (/məˈleɪ/;Malay: Bahasa Melayu) is a major language of the Austronesian family. It has an official status in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. It is spoken by 290 million people across the Strait of Malacca, including the coasts of the Malay Peninsula of Malaysia and the eastern coast of Sumatra in Indonesia, and has been established as a native language of part of western coastal Sarawak and West Kalimantan in Borneo. It is also used as a trading language in the southern Philippines, including the southern parts of the Zamboanga Peninsula, the Sulu Archipelago and the southern predominantly Muslim-inhabited municipalities of Bataraza and Balabac in Palawan.
As the Bahasa Kebangsaan or Bahasa Nasional (National Language) of several states, Standard Malay has various official names. In Singapore and Brunei it is called Bahasa Melayu (Malay language); in Malaysia, Bahasa Malaysia (Malaysian language); and in Indonesia, Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language) and is designated the Bahasa Persatuan/Pemersatu ("unifying language/lingua franca"). However, in areas of central to southern Sumatra where the language is indigenous, Indonesians refer to it as Bahasa Melayu and consider it one of their regional languages.
Standard Malay, also called Court Malay, was the literary standard of the pre-colonial Malacca and Johor Sultanates, and so the language is sometimes called Malacca, Johor, or Riau Malay (or various combinations of those names) to distinguish it from the various other Malayan languages. According to Ethnologue 16, several of the Malayan varieties they currently list as separate languages, including the Orang Asli varieties of Peninsular Malay, are so closely related to standard Malay that they may prove to be dialects —these are listed with question marks in the infobox at right or on top (depending on device). There are also several Malay trade and creole languages which are based on a lingua franca derived from Classical Malay, as well as Macassar Malay, which appears to be a mixed language.
The history of the Malay language can be divided into five periods: Old Malay, the Transitional Period, the Malacca Period (Classical Malay), Late Modern Malay, and modern Malay. It is not clear that Old Malay was actually the ancestor of Classical Malay, but this is thought to be quite possible.
Old Malay was influenced by Sanskrit literary language of Classical India and a scriptural language of Hinduism and Buddhism. Sanskrit loanwords can be found in Old Malay vocabulary. The earliest known stone inscription in the Old Malay language was found in Sumatra, written in the Pallava variety of the Grantha alphabet and dates back to 7th century – known as the Kedukan Bukit inscription, it was discovered by the Dutchman M. Batenburg on November 29, 1920 at Kedukan Bukit, South Sumatra, on the banks of the Tatang, a tributary of the Musi River. It is a small stone of 45 by 80 centimetres (18 by 31 in).
The earliest surviving manuscript in Malay is the Tanjong Tanah Law in post-Pallava letters. This 14th-century pre-Islamic legal text produced in the Adityawarman era (1345–1377) of Dharmasraya, a Hindu-Buddhist kingdom that arose after the end of Srivijayan rule in Sumatra. The laws were for the Minangkabau people, who today still live in the highlands of Sumatra.
The Malay language came into widespread use as the lingua franca of the Malacca Sultanate (1402–1511). During this period, the Malay language developed rapidly under the influence of Islamic literature. The development changed the nature of the language with massive infusion of Arabic, Malayalam and Sanskrit vocabularies, called Classical Malay. Under the Sultanate of Malacca the language evolved into a form recognisable to speakers of modern Malay. When the court moved to establish the Johor Sultanate, it continued using the classical language; it has become so associated with Dutch Riau and British Johor that it is often assumed that the Malay of Riau is close to the classical language. However, there is no connection between Malaccan Malay as used on Riau and the Riau vernacular.
One of the oldest surviving letters written in Malay is a letter from Sultan Abu Hayat of Ternate, Maluku Islands in present-day Indonesia, dated around 1521–1522. The letter is addressed to the king of Portugal, following contact with Portuguese explorer Francisco Serrão. The letters show sign of non-native usage; the Ternateans used (and still use) the unrelated Ternate language, a West Papuan language, as their first language. Malay was used solely as a lingua franca for inter-ethnic communications.
Malay is a member of the Austronesian family of languages, which includes languages from Southeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean, with a smaller number in continental Asia. Malagasy, a geographic outlier spoken in Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, is also a member of this language family. Although each language of the family is mutually unintelligible, their similarities are rather striking. Many roots have come virtually unchanged from their common ancestor, Proto-Austronesian language. There are many cognates found in the languages' words for kinship, health, body parts and common animals. Numbers, especially, show remarkable similarities.
Within Austronesian, Malay is part of a cluster of numerous closely related forms of speech known as the Malayan languages, which were spread across Malaya and the Indonesian archipelago by Malay traders from Sumatra. There is disagreement as to which varieties of speech popularly called "Malay" should be considered dialects of this language, and which should be classified as distinct Malay languages. The vernacular of Brunei - Brunei Malay -, for example, is not readily intelligible with the standard language, and the same is true with some varieties on the Malay Peninsula such as Kedah Malay. However, both Brunei and Kedah are quite close.
The closest relatives of the Malay languages are those left behind on Sumatra, such as the Minangkabau language, with 5.5 million speakers on the west coast.
Rencong alphabet, native writing systems found in Malay Peninsula, central and South Sumatra. The text reads (Voorhoeve's spelling): "haku manangis ma / njaru ka'u ka'u di / saru tijada da / tang ", which is translated by Voorhoeve as: "I am weeping, calling you; though called, you do not come" (hitu adik sa- is the rest of 4th line.
Malay is now written using the Latin script (Rumi), although an Arabic script called Arab Melayu or Jawi also exists. Rumi is official in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia.
Rumi and Jawi are co-official in Brunei only. Names of institutions and organisations have to use Jawi and Rumi (Latin) scripts. Jawi is used fully in schools, especially the Religious School, Sekolah Ugama, which is compulsory during the afternoon for Muslim students aged from around 6–7 up to 12–14.
Efforts are currently being undertaken to preserve Jawi in rural areas of Malaysia, and students taking Malay language examinations in Malaysia have the option of answering questions using Jawi.
The Latin script, however, is the most commonly used in Brunei and Malaysia, both for official and informal purposes.
Historically, Malay has been written using various scripts. Before the introduction of Arabic script in the Malay region, Malay was written using the Pallava (during Hindu-Buddhist era), Kawi and Rencong alphabets; these are still in use today, such as the Cham alphabet used by the Chams of Vietnam and Cambodia. Old Malay was written using Pallava and Kawi script, as evident from several inscription stones in the Malay region. Starting from the era of kingdom of Pasai and throughout the golden age of the Malacca Sultanate, Jawi gradually replaced these scripts as the most commonly used script in the Malay region. Starting from the 17th century, under Dutch and British influence, Jawi was gradually replaced by the Rumi script.
Malay is spoken in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, parts of Thailand and southern Philippines. Indonesia and Brunei have their own standards, Malaysia and Singapore use the same standard. The extent to which Malay is used in these countries varies depending on historical and cultural circumstances. Malay is the national language in Malaysia by Article 152 of the Constitution of Malaysia, and became the sole official language in Peninsular Malaysia in 1968 and in East Malaysia gradually from 1974. English continues, however, to be widely used in professional and commercial fields and in the superior courts. Other minority languages are also commonly used by the country's large ethnic minorities. The situation in Brunei is similar to that of Malaysia. In the Philippines, Malay is spoken by a minority of the Muslim population residing in Mindanao (specifically the Zamboanga Peninsula) and the Sulu Archipelago. However, they mostly speak it in a form of creole resembling Sabah Malay. Historically, it was the language of the archipelago prior to Spanish occupation. Indonesian is spoken by the overseas Indonesian community in Davao City, and functional phrases are taught to members of the Philippine Armed Forces and to students.
Orthographic note: The sounds are represented orthographically by their symbols as above, except:
/ð/ is 'z', the same as the /z/ sound (only occurs in Arabic loanwords originally containing the /ð/ sound, but the writing is not distinguished from Arabic loanwords with /z/ sound, and this sound must be learned separately by the speakers).
/θ/ is represented as 's', the same as the /s/ sound (only occurs in Arabic loanwords originally containing the /θ/ sound, but the writing is not distinguished from Arabic loanwords with /s/ sound, and this sound must be learned separately by the speakers). Previously (before 1972), this sound was written 'th' in Standard Malay (not Indonesian)
the glottal stop /ʔ/ is final 'k' or an apostrophe ' (although some words have this glottal stop in the middle, such as rakyat)
Malay originally had four vowels, but in many dialects today, including Standard Malay, it has six. The vowels /e, o/ are much less common than the other four.
Table of vowel phonemes of Standard Malay
Orthographic note: both /e/ and /ə/ are written as 'e'. This means that there are some homographs, so perang can be either /pəraŋ/ ("blond") or /peraŋ/ ("war") (but in Indonesia perang with /e/ sound is also written as pirang).
Some analyses regard /ai, au, oi/ as diphthongs. However, and can only occur in open syllables, such as cukai ("tax") and pulau ("island"). Words with a phonetic diphthong in a closed syllable, such as baik ("good") and laut ("sea"), are actually two syllables. An alternative analysis therefore treats the phonetic diphthongs , and as a sequence of a monophthong plus an approximant: /aj/, /aw/ and /oj/ respectively.
There is a rule of vowel harmony: the non-open vowels /i, e, u, o/ in bisyllabic words must agree in xheight, so hidung ("nose") is allowed but *hedung is not.