Overview of the Malay Language
The earliest known text in Malay is a seventh century inscription found on a stone in Sumatra. By the fifteenth century, Malaysia had become a vital link in the great East-West trade routes, and the Malay language had become one of the most widely spoken and influential languages in the region. Today, it is spoken by millions of people in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Sumatra, and Brunei.
Malay is a member of the Austronesian language family. It is very similar to Indonesian, so much so that people who speak Malay and people who speak Indonesian can understand one another. However, the two languages do have some differences in pronunciation and vocabulary. Malay also tends to show a stronger British influence, while Indonesian leans more toward Dutch borrowings.
In addition to recent borrowings from English, Malay has in the past borrowed words from Arabic, Sanskrit, Dutch, Portuguese, and Chinese, all of which it came in contact with during the heyday of spice trade. Malay has left its mark on other languages, as well. English words of Malay origin include amok, paddy, cockatoo, and sarong.
The Malay Alphabet and Malay Pronunciation
Originally, Malay was written using an Indian script. In the fourteenth century, under the influence of Islam, an Arabic script called Jawi came to be used. This script was used for centuries, until a version of the Latin alphabet called Rumi was adopted in the seventeenth century. Rumi has replaced Jawi in most contexts in everyday life, although Jawi still sees occasional use in certain areas and certain contexts, particularly with regards to religion.
The pronunciation of the letters in the Rumi alphabet is similar to that in English. English speakers should note, however, that the Malay letter c is pronounced like English ch. Most Malay words are spelled the way they sound and are easily divided into syllables, which helps make Malay pronunciation easier to master.
Malay is an agglutinative language, meaning that new words are commonly formed by adding prefixes or suffixes to various roots. This practice can lead to some very long words, but it also makes it easy to spot words that are related. Malay nouns do not have gender, and plurals can often be indicated simply by doubling a word, as in rumah "house" and rumah-rumah "houses". Similarly, Malay verbs do not change form to indicate tense or person - such nuances are expressed using separate words such as adverbs or indicators of time. The word order of Malay sentences is subject-verb-object, just as in English.
All of these features can make Malay a fun and comparatively easy language for English speakers to learn. If you're interested in learning to speak Malay, check out Transparent Language's Malay software programs, which provide a fun and effective way to master the language. Good luck with your language learning!