About Learning Malay with Berlitz
Malay is spoken in Malaysia and in a number of adjacent countries. In Malaysia it is the mother tongue of about 10 million people, or half the total population. There are also about 2 million speakers in the southernmost provinces of Thailand, as well as 500,000 in Singapore and 250,000 in Brunei.
For centuries Malay was also spoken along the eastern coast of Sumatra, and on the western, southern, and eastern coasts of Borneo (Kalimantan), which are now part of Indonesia. As this area lay on the great trade routes in colonial times, Malay became the lingua franca of much of present-day Indonesia. When the Republic of Indonesia was established in 1949, Malay was chosen over others as that country’s official language, though it was called Indonesian. There are some differences in vocabulary between the two countries, but their languages are essentially one and the same.
Malay is a member of the Austronesian family of languages. Beginning in the 14th century, with the conversion of many Malays to Islam, an adaptation of the Arabic script was used for writing. In the 19th century the British developed a Roman-based alphabet that is in general use today. It differed somewhat from the one developed by the Dutch for Indonesian, but in 1972 the two systems were made the same.
Prefixes and suffixes as we use them are virtually absent in Malay. Many grammatical functions are accomplished by adding an extra word. The plural of a noun is most commonly indicated by simply saying it twice, as in rumahrumah in the above passage, which means “houses.” After numbers, however, the noun reverts to the singular and an additional word is added, which serves as a “classifier” of the noun that follows. There are essentially three classifiers: orang (“person”) is used with people, ekor (“tail”) with animals and other living creatures, and buah (“fruit”) with inanimate objects. Thus “two children” in Malay is dua orang budak, and “two cats” is dua ekor kucing.
The centuries of colonial rule brought many Portuguese, Dutch, and English words into Malay, such as buku (book), pensel (pencil), siling (ceiling), and sekolah (school). English words of Malay origin include
gingham, sarong, bamboo, rattan, kapok, cockatoo, paddy, and amok. Orangutan is a combination of the Malay words orang (person) and hutan (forest). Compound, in the meaning “enclosed area,” comes from the Malay kampong, which means “village.”