Malaysia is a country in Southeast Asia that is known not only for its beautiful terrain, but also the diverse influences that make up the unique and fascinating Malaysian culture. Consisting of two land regions separated by the East China Sea, the capital of Malaysia is Kuala Lumpur, and as of 2016 hosts a population of over 30 million people. In Malaysia, the national language is the Malaysian Language, which is a standardized form of the Malay language. Malaysian language today is written in the "Rumi script" ("Roman" script, using the same 26 letters as the English language) by law, but the use of the tradional Jawi script (an Arabic script) is not prohibited. A comparison of the two scripts can be found on the Omniglot website.
Malay is an exotic choice of a language to learn in the West. Not many universities in North America offer Malay as a subject. Mastering Malay, however, may prove to be very useful depending on your career aspirations and personal interests.
Malay is a major language in terms of its number of speakers. According to estimations, close to 80 million people speak Malay as their first, or mother, tongue. This alone places Malay in the same category as Italian or German, but many millions more speak Malay as a second language. Malay is official in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore, which brings the total number of speakers up to well over 200 million, about the same range as French or Russian.
For political reasons, the dialect of the Malay language spoken in the country of Indonesia is known as Bahasa Indonesia, or Indonesian language. Malay speakers from Malaysia and Indonesia, however, understand each other without any issues. The Roman (Western) script is now used to write Malay in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, but most Malay-speaking people are Muslims, and formerly the Arabic alphabet was used in writing. The Arabic alphabet is still used (along with Roman) in Brunei, a monarchy with strict Islamic traditions.
From the point of view of grammar, Malay is a fairly simple language. It has no grammatical gender category, no verb conjugation, no special verb forms or endings for past or future tense and no plurals. All of those details become clear in context. For instance, saya makan means "I eat" (now), but if you add the word sudah “already,” the phrase will assume the past tense: saya makan sudah, "I eat already," that is, “I ate”. In the same fashion, plural is expressed either by duplicating the word, for example, buku “book” and buku-buku “books” or using the word with a descriptor which implies plurality, for instance banyak “many”. Thus, banyak buku would mean “many books.”
Whether you are planning to travel to South-East Asia, conduct business there, or if you are interested in the history or politics of the region, knowledge of Malay may be very beneficial to you. If you simply want to try your hand at a reasonably easy and useful exotic language, Malay is a perfect choice. Here are a few handy websites for those who are interested in learning Malay: a basic course in 64 languages or this collection of web resources on Malay hosted by the University of Northern Iowa. If you need any assistance with any aspect of the Malay language, let us know. We are here to help you!
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