Practice English Speaking&Listening with: The Malay Language (Bahasa Melayu)

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Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Langfocus channel and my name is Paul.

Today's topic is the Malay language, or "Bahasa Melayu" as it's called in Malay.

People outside of Southeast Asia may not be very familiar with Malay,

but if we include all speakers of all varieties of Malay, it is one of the top ten most widely spoken languages in the world

And when I say widely, I mean by a large number of people.

It has around 77 million native speakers and around 173 million second language speakers

for a total of about 250 million speakers.

Of course, different sources give different numbers, but something like that.

It's spoken in Malaysia where it has around 18.5 million native speakers out of a population of around 32 million people

Malaysia is an ethnically and linguistically diverse place with large communities of people speaking Chinese

and Indian languages as well as numerous indigenous minority languages.

Everyone in Malaysia now learns Malay at school.

But some speakers of other languages either aren't fluent in Malay

or they choose not to speak it very much after they graduate from school.

Singapore's another ethnically diverse place where Malays are a minority.

The Malay language is spoken by around 700,000 people there or 13 % of the population .

It is also spoken by around 266 thousand people or about 64% of the population of Brunei.

What TF? It's not broon-EYE it's Brunei, idiot!

Oh yeah sorry, in English, we say Brunei.

- Oh my god, you slaughtered the word Brunei haha. - Ok, uh... Brunei.

So like I was saying it's spoken by around 266 thousand people or about 64% of the population of Brunei.

It is also spoken by around 1 million people, in southern Thailand adjacent to Peninsular Malaysia.

And Malay is spoken by around 11.23 million people in Indonesia

But that's only part of the story. There were also about 43 million native speakers of Bahasa Indonesia

and around a hundred and fifty-five (million) second language speakers of Bahasa Indonesia.

So, what's Bahasa Indonesia?

Well, when speaking of the Malay language, we need to distinguish between Malay dialects,

which vary from place to place and the standardized forms of the language.

The first standardized form of the language is Bahasa Melayu which is used in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore

and functions as an umbrella language for all of the malay dialects that are spoken there.

The second standardized form of the language is Bahasa Indonesia

and is used in Indonesia and functions as a lingua franca between speakers of different languages

because there are hundreds of languages in Indonesia.

I plan to focus specifically on Indonesian in a different video in the future.

This is interesting: in Malaysia, the official name of Malay is "Bahasa Malaysia",

meaning the "language of Malaysia" instead of "Bahasa Melayu" which means the "language of the Malays"

This name was chosen to show that the language is a language for all Malaysian citizens and not only for ethnic Malays.

But some people want to change the name back to Bahasa Melayu.


Malay is the most widely spoken language in the Austronesian language family.

The Austronesian languages can most likely be traced back to a common ancestor

Proto-Austronesian, in what is now Taiwan around 5200 years ago.

Various dialects arose from Proto-Austronesian.

One of them being Proto-Malayo-Polynesian which began splitting up into various languages,

around 4,000 years ago as Austronesian people expanded to the South from Taiwan.

The Malayo-Polynesian sub-branch includes most of the Austronesian languages outside of Taiwan.

A Proto-Malayic language, the ancestor of all Malay dialects,

probably originated on the island of Borneo more than 2,000 years ago,

before its speakers migrated West to Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula

Old Malay.

The beginning of the Common Era and by that I mean after the year 1 CE or 1AD - same thing by the way -

was a time of great Indian influence in the region And, during this time, Old Malay emerged.

It was highly influenced by sanskrit and written in Indian scripts like Pallava

The oldest known incriptions of old Malay are the Kebukan Bukit, which were found in Sumatra

and dig back to the seventh century CE.

The oldest thought Malay manuscript that still exists today is that Tanjung Tanah.

A legal text from the 14th century, still before Islam was widespread in the area.

Classical Malay.

Islam soon became dominant in the area and trade with the Muslim world increased,

resulting in a lot of Arabic and Persian vocabulary entering the language

and resulting in the adoption of the Jawi script

Jawi is a version of the Arabic script that was modified to suit the Malay language

During the Malacca Sultanate, which was like a kingdom,

and its successor the Johor Sultanate, Malay became widely used as a lingua franca.

During this time, Islamic literature greatly affected the language, with more Arabic and Persian vocabulary entering Malay

And because Malacca was a busy international port with people from various countries,

Malay also absorbed vocabulary from different languages like Tamil and Chinese languages.

During this Classical Malay Period, Malay evolved into something relatively similar

to the Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Indonesia of today.

There were actually two forms of Malay that became widespread during this time period.

First, there was the formal Classical Malay which was the state language and the language of courts and literature.

And there was Bazaar Malay or Melayu Pasar

a low language spoken by traders as a lingua franca throughout the archipelago.

Bazaar Malay is thought to have been a pidgin language featuring vocabulary from Malay

but influenced by other languages, such as Chinese languages.

And there were also local Malay dialects that varied from place to place.

Pre-modern Malay.

In the 19th century, European colonial powers were dominating the region,

with the Dutch in Indonesia and the British in Malaysia.

During this time period, improvements to the printing press made Malay books and newspapers more widely available to the common people.

So that, literary Malay or Classical Malay was no longer just the language of the courts and the elite.

The literary Malay of the Malacca and the Johor Sultanates - in other words, Classical Malay -

was recognized by the British and by the Dutch as the standard form of the language

and became the language of Education.

One notable change during the colonial period was the adoption of the Rumi writing system,

the use of Roman characters to write Malay, instead of the Jawi Script.

And English loanwords began to trickle into Malay, in the areas under British control.

Modern Malay

The abundance of Malay literature in the 19th century sparks new enthusiasm for the language.

And Malay linguists began their efforts to standardize and modernize the language.

In 1936, the Malay scholar Za'aba published a series of books called "Pelita Bahasa"

in which he updated the grammar of Classical Malay, forming the basis of Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Indonesia

In both Malaysia and Indonesia, the standard form of Malay became an important part

of their respective nationalist movements and their struggles for independence.

When Indonesia declared independence in 1945, Bahasa Indonesia became the national language

and, when Malaysia became independent in 1957, Bahasa Melayu became the national language.


Bahasa Melayu is the standard form of Malay used in Malaysia and Singapore and Brunei.

And it's the form of the language taught in schools but there are numerous spoken dialects of Malay

that vary not only from country to country but also from state to state and from town to town.

With differences in pronunciation and vocabulary.

The Malay spoken and Sabah and Sarawak tends to be more similar to that spoken in Brunei and Singapore

but different from the dialects in West Malaysia.

And some states in West Malaysia are known for being quite divergent

For example, the dialect of Kelantan.

Kelantan borders Thailand to the north where a similar dialect is spoken.

The difference is that in Kelantan, everyone learned standard Malay at school

but, in southern Thailand, everyone learns Thai at school.

This makes cross dialect communication harder for speakers of Malay in Thailand.

But, for speakers of other Malay dialect, standard Malay is a unifying force

and speaking a little more formally can help people bridge communication gaps.

Standard Malay is also the form of Malay learned by non-Malays at school.

So Standard Malay is sometimes the language of inter-ethnic communication.

Though some people choose to speak English instead.

So, what is Malay like?

Like most Austronesian languages, Malay is not a tonal language.

It has simple phonology and every written character represents only one sound in most cases.

It has a simple SVO sentence structure.

For example:

meaning "I eat vegetables"

I don't eat meat

Now, let's add a modal verb.

I don't want to eat meat

I don't want to eat meat or drink milk.

Malay grammar is simple First of all, there's no grammatical gender.

There are also no noun cases.

There is also no plural form in Malay.

If you want to make a plural explicit, you re-duplicate the word or repeat the word.

"Orang" means a person

"orang-orang" means "people".

And, speaking of orang : fun fact !

"orang" means "a person" in Malay. "hutan" means "forest" in Malay.

"orang hutan" means "forest person", also known as orangutan, cool!

That's the etymology of the word "orangutan", but also in Malay the animal's name is "orang utan" with no "h"

If you want to modify a noun, you add the modifying word after the noun.

The word for book: buku

Now, let's add a demonstrative pronoun. "Buku itu" = "that book"

or with a possessive pronoun "buku saya" = "my book" or "buku buku saya" = "my books"

or with an adjective "buku mahal" = "an expensive book"

In Malay, there is no copula verb (to be ) at least in regular speech.

And there is no definite or indefinite article. So "buku mahal" could also mean "the book is expensive"

But to be more clear, you might say "Buku itu mahal"

Prepositions in Malay are very straightforward and intuitive ... = "I come from Canada"

= "I want to go to the night market"

"There is a discount for students". In this sentence, "Ada" means "there is".

One of the things that makes learning Malay fun is that there are no verb conjugations

The form of the verb stays exactly the same regardless of whether it's in present tense, past tense or future tense.

So we have the verb meaning to eat. In present tense, "makan". In past tense, "makan". In future tense, "makan".

The tense is determined by specifying a time period like:

"He will eat later" or by using an adverb before the verb:

he will eat

"he already ate" ; or

"he is currently eating" or "he's eating now".

And there are some other adverbs like this.

But, of course, it's not quite that simple because we have the verb "makan", "to eat"

but we also have the verb "dimakan" = "to be eaten" and "termakan" = "to be eaten accidentally"

And we have the verb "memakan" = "to consume".

Then, we have "memakankan" = "to feed something to someone"

These are examples of one of Malay's most challenging features for learners:

its system of building words from roots and affixes.

Up above, we created some new verbs but we can also create other types of words.


someone who eats

means a meat eater.

Malay makes extensive use of this kind of affixation.

Let's look at one more example using the root word "ajar" which means "to teach".


to learn

to teach

"to be taught" (intransitive) as in "I'm being taught"

transitive as in "the lesson is being taught"

to study

to be studied




to be educated

All of these affixes might seem overwhelming at first but they're fairly systematic.

And once you get used to the function of all of the different affixes,

then it helps you to understand words that you've never heard before

and it helps you to guess how to say words that you don't know yet.

That sounds useful!

Standard Malay is a very user-friendly language for learners, especially if you're used to learning more complex languages.

The biggest challenge that you likely face is the difference between the formal language

and the casual language and the dialectal variation that you'll encounter. Especially different pronunciation.

But by learning the standard polite form of Malay, you form a good basis for communication

and you can learn the more colloquial style of communication as you go.

Stay tuned for a future episode in which I cover "Bahasa Indonesia" and I'll focus in on that form of Malay specifically.

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especially the ones on the screen right now for their generous support every month.

Thank you for watching and have a nice day!

By the way, "Bahasa" means "language".

The Description of The Malay Language (Bahasa Melayu)