Modern Malay Language

The modern Malay alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet. It has 26 letters, similar to the English language alphabet. It is written in Rumi and Jawi. Rumi uses the Latin alphabet, while Jawi uses Arabic script. In Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore, the Latin Malay alphabet is the official Malay script while in Brunei, it is the co-official script with Jawi.

One interesting fact about the Malay alphabet you may need to know when assigning a linguist is that it has a ‘phonemic orthography’, which means we pronounce Malay words just as they are spelt. The Malay language is not a tonal language like Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese and does not use tones to differentiate words or their nuances.

Malay Borrowed Terms

Many Malay words are borrowed from other languages such as Arabic, Sanskrit, Tamil, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese and English. Examples of words borrowed from English can be exemplified e.g. the word “bus” which in Malay translation reads ‘bas’. The Malay translation for “lori” is “lorry”. It is “kaunter” for “counter”, “sains” for “science”, “sistem” for “system”, “televisyen” for “television” and “universiti” for “university” and so on.

Bahasa Indonesia and Brunei

To highlight the distinction, the Malay language in Indonesia and Brunei is quite different than that in Malaysia and Singapore mainly in terms of pronunciation, vocabulary, and usage. This is why it’s important that the translation of English to Bahasa Indonesia is performed by native speaker translators who are proficient in identifying the differences in the choice of words for the respective locale. Unlike Standard Malay, Bahasa Indonesia is largely influenced by Dutch and Javanese. However, the similarities make it quite easy for the speakers to still understand each other.

As an example:

  • The word for ‘post office’ when we translate English to Malay is “pejabat pos”, but “kantor pos” when we translate English to Indonesian.
  • A few more differences or similarities between how we translate English to Malay and provide an English to Indonesian translation:
  • The word ‘money’ is “wang” when translated from English into Malay for Malaysia, but “uang” when we translate into Indonesian.
  • The word for ‘cake’ is written as “kuih” in Malaysia, but “kue” when translated in Indonesian.
  • The word for ‘because’ is written as “kerana” in Malaysia, but “karena” in Indonesian.
  • The word ‘university’ is “universitas” in Indonesian translation, and so on.

Scholars have made considerable efforts to further expand the Malay language. Influential academics include the moniker Za’ba, a prominent Malaysian writer, and Malay linguist, who has always been a role model. He has written Malay and English texts in various topics such as language, literature, economy, religion, education and politics. In 1936, he became the first scholar to significantly elaborate and expand the Malay grammar in a comprehensive way by publishing a series of grammar books entitled ‘Pelita Bahasa’.

Other important works by Za’ba include Ilmu Bahasa MelayuIlmu Mengarang Melayu and Daftar Ejaan Melayu: Jawi-Rumi, apart from some excellent translation works.

Additional well-known scholars in the Malay language are Munsyi Abdullah (known as ‘Bapa Sastera Melayu Moden’) and Asmah Haji Omar (Malay grammar expert after Za’ba). Among the popular works of Asmah Haji Omar are Essays on Malaysian Linguistics, An Introduction to Malay Grammar, Susur Galur Bahasa Melayu and Ensiklopedia Bahasa Melayu.

The Malay language is regulated by the Institute of Language and Literature Malaysia (Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka). This is the government body which has the role of coordinating the use of the Malay language and literature and it is of great help for any linguists. The Government body has the sole authority to enact specific policies relating to the Malay language.

We hope you now have some basic knowledge about the Malay language. Learn more about our approach and Malay translation services, so please don’t hesitate to contact us today!
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