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Language Information

Malay is spoken principally in Malaysia and, to a lesser extent, in neighboring Thailand and Singapore. Before 1945 its speakers extended through much of the Indonesian archipelago, but with the establishment of the Republic of Indonesia the Malay of that country was designated Indonesian. In Malaysia it is the mother tongue of about 10 million people, or about half the total population. Speakers in Thailand number one million, in Singapore 250,000.

Malay is a member of the MaIay-Polynesian family of languages Beginning in the 14th century, with the conversion of many Malays to Islam, a variation of the Arabic script known as Jawi was used for writing. In the 19th century the British constructed a Roman-based alphabet that is in general use today. It differs slightly from the one used in Indonesia, which was developed by the Dutch, but the resulting variations in spelling are in fact the only difference between the two languages. A few examples of these differences may be found in the article on Indonesian. Grammatical concepts in Malay differ radically from those in Western languages. Prefixes and suffixes as we use them are virtually absent, their functions being assumed by additional words. The plural of a noun is most commonly indicated by simply saying it twice, as in rumah-rumah in the passage below, which means "houses." After numbers, however, the noun reverts to the singular and an additional word is added, similar to the English construction "seven head of cattle." Malay has many of these "numerical coefficients"—one for people (orang—man), one for animals (ekor—tail), and others for flowers, jewels, threads, and even fishing nets. "Two cats" in Malay is dua ekor kuching ("two-tail-cat"), while "two children" is budak dua orang ("child-two-man").

Malay contains many words of Sanskrit and Arabic origin. English words of Malay origin include orangutan, gingham, sarong, bamboo, rattan, kapok, paddy, and amok.

Malay is spoken/used in the following countries:
Brunei, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand.

Language Family
Family: Malayo-Polynesian(Austronesian)
Subgroup: Indonesian

Copyright © Kenneth Katzner, The Languages of the World, Published by Routledge.

Writing Sample

Writing Sample


In about ten minutes' time the gunpowder exploded, with a noise like a clap of thunder. The masonry of the fort went up, in great masses the size of houses. Some pieces, as big as elephants, were hurled into the sea, others flew across the river and struck some houses on the other side. Everybody was thunderstruck by the noise, and amazed, because in all their lives they had never heard anything like it, and because they saw how great was the power of gunpowder, that it could lift rocks as big as houses.

ABDULLAH BIN AnDULKADIR, Hikayat Abdullah (autobiography)

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