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About the story
What’s with this “Wren” thing?
   The oldest extant version of the fable we are presenting here appeared in 1913 in the first volume of a two-volume anthology of Low Saxon folktales (Plattdeutsche Volksmärchen “Low German Folktales”) collected by Wilhelm Wisser (1843–1935). Read more ...

Bahasa Melayu

A mix of ancient, traditional, colonial, contemporary,
futuristic, bustling and diverse, the capital Kuala Lumpur
represents Malaysia to an extreme degree. The only
official language is Malay.

Language information: The name “Malay” is rather ambiguous. It may represent a large and diverse language group, the standard languages of Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia combined, or specifically the standard language shared by Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam. While Indonesian and some of its close relatives used in Indonesia are varieties of Malay as well, we are here referring to “Malay” in the narrowest sense, namely to Malay (Bahasa Melayu) of Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam.
     Standard Malay and non-standard Malay varieties are currently used by over twenty million persons as a native language and by many more as a second language. Together they make up the native language of well over half of Malaysia’s population and of the majority of the population of Brunei Darussalam. In Malaysia, Malay is also used as the primary lingua franca (Bahasa Malaysia) by virtually all non-Malay residents, most of whom use other languages natively and in their home environments. This is reinforced by the fact that Standard Malay is the only official language of the country, though Chinese varieties and English are widely used as well. In Malaysia, primary use of the Malay language is legally considered a fundamental condition for being considered ethnically Malay, the other conditions being the practice of Islam and of Malay culture. This makes the minority of non-Muslim persons with cultural and linguistic Malay heritage legally non-Malays but makes Malaysian converts to Islam legally Malays if they adopt Malay language and culture as well. These considerations are of importance because citizens’ ethnicities are official, and Islamic law applies to Malays and to other Muslims while civil law applies to others. Singapore has four official languages: English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese, and Tamil. Of these, Malay is officially considered the national language, although it is currently used by barely 14% of the population as the first language. Because of its status and because of the importance of relations with Malaysia, Malay is widely taught in Singapore as well.
     Malay in the narrowest sense is used in other countries as well, most importantly in Australia (especially on the Cocos and Christmas Islands), Indonesia (primarily in central eastern Sumatra, the Riau Islands and parts of coastal Borneo), Myanmar (Burma) and the southern parts of the Philippines and Thailand, also in the United Arab Emirates, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom.

Old Malay, usually written with the Indic-derived Pallava
script, may well be the common ancestor of Malay in
general and one of the ancestors of related languages,
such as Sundanese, Javanese and Balinese.

            Old Malay, mostly the Kawi variety, seems to have been used in various parts of what are now Malaysia and Indonesia. It may well be the ancestor of today’s Malay in both countries, and it contributed heavily to the development of related languages, such as Sundanese, Javanese and Balinese. It was strongly influenced by Sanskrit and other Indic languages since most Malays of those days had become Hinduist and Buddhist and had strong ties with India and with other thusly influenced parts of Southeast Asia. Due to advanced navigation skills and thus due to superior mobility among coastal Malays, Malay language, culture and religion came to be carried over large areas of the Indonesian Archipelago and into the southern parts of the Philippines. With them traveled the Pallava script, and several local scripts came to be developed on it. Soon the Malay language reached the status of an interethnic lingua franca, and a good number of Malay-based pidgin and creole languages sprung up.
     No doubt, improved communication facilitated the spread of Islam when it began to gain a foothold in the Malay-speaking world in the 14th century. This was accompanied by the spread of large numbers of Perso-Arabic loanwords. Furthermore, the Arabic script came to be adapted to Malay and to some other varieties, though the Indic-derived Javanese script remained in place until fairly recently. Under European domination, Malay and Indonesian adopted the Roman script, but under the domination of different countries there was no coordination effort. A Dutch-based system came to be used in Indonesia while a more internationally-based one came to be used under British domination. It was only in the second half of the 20th century that an international standard for Malay and Indonesian was created. In Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam, however, many people remained faithful to the Arabic-based Jawi script, and resurgence of Islamic values has been favoring increased interest in this script of late.
     The Malay varieties used to be on an almost seamless continuum until the beginning of European colonial expansion in the region. Portuguese and Dutch powers were the first to establish trading posts and fortresses, especially in the southern parts of the Peninsula, such as in Melaka (Malacca). Dutch power eventually acquired and for a long period maintained power over most of the Archipelago, while Britain established itself in what are now Malaysia and Singapore. Especially the western varieties of Malay acquired numerous Portuguese loanwords, Dutch influenced most of the island varieties and English influenced the varieties of the rest. This played a role in the eventual creation of two Malay standard languages: Malay and Indonesian.
     While English vs Dutch loanwords are striking features that divide Malay and Indonesian, they are not the only ones. As islanders acquired it, Indonesian Malay came to be spoken on non-Malay substrates. Peninsular Malay, on the other hand, came to be spoken on various indigenous language substrates of its region. This is noticeable for instance in the use of pronouns reflecting social stratifications in different cultures. Also, many words, while shared by Malay and Indonesian, have undergone independent semantic shifts. Finally, there are considerable phonological differences between them. Indonesian vowels are “clear” and the language is perceived as being spoken in a “staccato” style, while Western Malay applies “reduction” of non-stressed /a/ and /e/ (usually to [ǝ]) and to many people sounds “soft” in comparison. However, the two standard languages are largely mutually intelligible, especially in writing, so that the large body of Malay and Indonesian literature reaches readers in both countries.
     Not only does Malay have numerous dialects but a good number of new language varieties have been developed from it as well, for example the following:
Ambonese Malay (Bahasa Ambon) Dutch- and Portuguese-influenced creole of Ambon Island as well as Buru, Seram, Geser-Gorom and South-West Maluku islands, Indonesia,
Baba Malay (Bahasa Baba-Nyonya) or Peranakan Malay (Bahasa Peranakan) Malay-based language varieties with numerous Chinese, Indic and Western elements, spoken by descendants of “Straits Chinese” in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia (Baba Malay of Java has strong Javanese influences as as well.)
Bachanese Malay (Bahasa Bacan) Malay-based language with numerous admixtures used in the Bachan islands of Northern Maluku, Indonesia
Bandanese Malay (Bahasa Banda) Dutch- and Portuguese-influenced creole of the Banda Islands, Indonesia
Batavian Malay (Bahasa Betawi) mostly used by the Batavian (Betawi) people of Jakarta (formerly called Batavia), descendants of a conglomeration of Southeast Asians; considered a dialect of Indonesian
Bazaar Malay (Pasar Melayu, Bahasa Melayu Pasar) pidgin language, non-natively spoken simplified Malay varieties that have been developed for intercultural interaction (It is very often these varieties with which non-Malays learn to get around and then proclaim that Malay (including Indonesian) is “simple” and “easy.”)
Indonesian (Malay) (Bahasa Indonesia) Malay-based language specific to Indonesia, with Sundanese, Javanese and other substrata as well as numerous Dutch loans
Kupangese Malay (Bahasa Kupang) Malay-based language with numerous Portuguese and Dutch loans spoken in the western part of Timor Island
Larantukan Malay (Bahasa Larantuka) Pidgin language of Eastern Flores, Indonesia, based on Kupang Malay and containing numerous Portuguese loans
Malay of Papua and West Irian Jaya Papuan-influenced pidgin, also understood in parts of Papua New Guinea
Manadoan Malay (Bahasa Manado) Malay-based language with numerous Portuguese and Dutch loans spoken in Northern Sulawesi (Celebes), Indonesia
Penang Malay (Melayu Pulau Pinang) Malay variety greatly influenced by languages of numerous immigrant communities on Penang, Malaysia
Sarawak Malay (Melayu Sarawak) Malay variety greatly influenced by local Dayak varieties of Sarawak, Indonesia
Ternatean Malay (Bahasa Ternate) Malay-based language with numerous Portuguese and Dutch loans spoken on the Sulu Islands, Indonesia
   Due to centuries of contacts between Europe and the Malay-speaking world, Western languages have adopted several Malay words, English for instance “amuck” (< amuk ‘fit of rage’, ‘attack’), “prahu” (< perahu ‘boat’), “kampong” (< kampung ‘village’), “sarong” (< sarung ‘sheath’, ‘wrap’), “baju” (< baju ‘coat’, ‘shirt’, ‘dress’) and “kris” (< keris ‘dagger’). Furthermore, the poetic quatrain form known in the West as “pantun,” “pantoon” or “pantoum” is derived from Malay literature and the Malay word pantun.

Genealogy: Austronesian > Malayo-Polynesian > Western > Sundic > Malay > Western

Historical Lowlands language contacts: Dutch, English

    Click to open: [Translation]Click here for different versions. >

Author: Reinhard F. Hahn

© 2011, Lowlands-L · ISSN 189-5582 · LCSN 96-4226 · All international rights reserved.
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