What Countries Speak Malay?

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In this article, we aim to provide you with fundamental insights into the Malay language, essential for those embarking on translation projects. Understanding these basics will prove invaluable as you prepare and execute your translation endeavors.

Where is Malay spoken?

Malay is spoken and understood in Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, The Philippines and in Southern Thailand. Today, it is officially recognized in four countries, namely Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and Singapore. Even though these countries share the same language, each of them has its own standards and uniqueness. The accent and style differ according to the historical-territorial context of each country.

History of Malay language

In Malaysia, Standard Malay is the official language of the country. It is known as Bahasa Melayu or Bahasa Malaysia. Bahasa means ‘language’ in Malay. The Malay language is widely used as a medium of instruction in schools and some higher educational institutions.

Malay is the official language of all government agencies, including the courts. According to the Federal Constitution of Malaysia, Malay is the official and national language of Malaysia. However, in international trade and commerce, the Chinese and Indians prefer to use English rather than Malay.

In Brunei, the situation is quite similar to Malaysia but the official languages of Brunei are both Malay and English. More than 50 per cent of the population speaks Malay while most Chinese and Indians use English as their preferred language in trading and business.

In Singapore, the situation is different. Malay used to be the lingua franca in Singapore, but today English has gained the status as a national language and, therefore, it is widely spoken by all of Singapore’s population.

In Indonesia, Malay is called Bahasa Indonesia and is the lingua franca among different ethnic groups. On the whole, 23 million people in Indonesia use it as their first language and 140 million use it as a second language. 

For more in-depth exploration, delve into the article titled “What is Manglish?”