Malayan languages

Not to be confused with Malayalam.
Region Malay Archipelago
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ms
ISO 639-2 may (B)
msa (T)
ISO 639-3 msainclusive code
Individual codes:
mfb  Bangka
bve  Berau Malay
bvu  Bukit Malay
kxd  Brunei Malay
liw  Col
hji  Haji
jax  Jambi Malay
vkk  Kaur
meo  Kedah Malay
kvr  Kerinci
mqg  Kota Bangun Kutai Malay
kvb  Kubu
lce  Loncong
lcf  Lubu
mui  Musi
mfa  Pattani Malay
vkt  Tenggarong Kutai Malay
zmi  Negeri Sembilan Malay
Glottolog nucl1733  (Malayan)[1]
vehi1234  (Vehicular Malay)[2]

The Malay or Malayan languages are a group of closely related languages spoken by Malays and related peoples across Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Southern Thailand and the far southern parts of the Philippines. They have traditionally been classified as Malay, Para-Malay, and Aboriginal Malay, but this reflects geography and ethnicity rather than a proper linguistic classification. The Malayan languages are mutually unintelligible to varying extents, though the distinction between language and dialect is unclear in many cases.

Para-Malay includes the Malayan languages of Sumatra. They are: Minangkabau, Central Malay (Bengkulu), Pekal, Musi (Palembang), Negeri Sembilan (Malaysia), and Duano’.[3]

Aboriginal Malay are the Malayan languages spoken by the Orang Asli (Proto-Malay) in Malaya. They are Jakun, Orang Kanaq, Orang Seletar, and Temuan.

The other Malayan languages, included in neither of these groups, are associated with the expansion of the Malays across the archipelago. They include Malaccan Malay (Malaysian and Indonesian), Kedah Malay, Kedayan/Brunei Malay, Berau Malay, Bangka Malay, Jambi Malay, Kutai Malay, Loncong, Pattani Malay, and Banjarese.

There are also several Malay-based creole languages, such as Betawi, Cocos Malay, Manado Malay and Sabah Malay, which may be more or less distinct from standard (Malaccan) Malay.


The extent to which Malay and related Malayan languages are used in the countries where it is spoken varies depending on historical and cultural circumstances. Malay is the national language in Malaysia by Article 152 of the Constitution of Malaysia, and became the sole official language in West Malaysia in 1968, and in East Malaysia gradually from 1974. English continues, however, to be widely used in professional and commercial fields and in the superior courts. Other minority languages are also commonly used by the country's large ethnic minorities. The situation in Brunei is similar to that of Malaysia.

In Singapore, Malay was historically the lingua franca among people of different nationalities. Although this has largely given way to English, Malay still retains the status of national language and the national anthem, Majulah Singapura, is entirely in Malay. In addition, parade commands in the military, police and civil defence are given only in Malay.

Most residents of the five southernmost provinces of Thailand a region that, for the most part, used to be part of an ancient Malay kingdom called Pattani speak a dialect of Malay called Yawi (not to be confused with Jawi), which is similar to Kelantanese Malay, but the language has no official status or recognition.

Owing to earlier contact with the Philippines, Malay words such as dalam hati (sympathy), luwalhati (glory), tengah hari (midday), sedap (delicious) have evolved and been integrated into Tagalog and other Philippine languages.

By contrast, Indonesian has successfully become the lingua franca for its disparate islands and ethnic groups, in part because the colonial language, Dutch, is no longer commonly spoken. (In East Timor, which was governed as a province of Indonesia from 1976 to 1999, Indonesian is widely spoken and recognized under its Constitution as a 'working language'.)

Besides Indonesian, which developed from the Malaccan dialect, there are many Malay dialects spoken in Indonesia, it is divided into western and eastern groups. Western Malay varieties is predominantly spoken in Sumatra and Borneo, which itself is divided into Bornean and Sumatran Malay, some of the most widely spoken Sumatran Malay varieties are Riau Malay, Langkat, Palembang Malay and Jambi Malay. Minangkabau, Kerinci and Bengkulu are believed to be Sumatran Malay descendants. Meanwhile, Jakarta dialect (known as Betawi) also belongs to the western Malay group.

The eastern dialects are spoken in the easternmost part of the Indonesian archipelago and include: Manado dialect Manado Malay (in north Sulawesi) and Maluku, North Maluku and Papua dialects.

The differences among both groups are quite observable. For example, the word 'kita' means "we, us" in western, but means "I, me" in Manado, whereas "we, us" in Manado is 'torang' and Ambon 'katong' (originally abbreviated from Malay 'kita orang' (means "we people"). Another difference is the lack of possessive pronouns (and suffixes) in eastern dialects. Manado uses the verb 'pe' and Ambon 'pu' (from Malay 'punya', meaning "to have") to mark possession. So "my name" and "our house" are translated in western Malay as 'namaku' and 'rumah kita' but 'kita pe nama' and 'torang pe rumah' in Manado and 'beta pu nama', 'katong pu rumah' in Ambon dialect.

The pronunciation may vary in western dialects, especially the pronunciation of words ending in the vowel 'a'. For example, Malaysian pronounce 'kita' (inclusive we, us, our) as /kitə/, Kelantan and Southern Thailand as /kitɔ/, Riau as /kita/, Palembang as /kito/, Betawi and Perak as /kitɛ/.

Betawi and eastern dialects are sometimes regarded as Malay creole, because the speakers are not ethnically Malay.

Comparison of Malay varieties

A comparison of various varieties of Malay, plus three Para-Malay languages and one Aboriginal Malay languages:

English = Where are you going on this bicycle? May I go with you?

Language Sentence Spoken In
Varieties of Malay
Standard Court Malay (formal) Ke mana engkau hendak pergi dengan kereta angin itu?
Bolehkah saya ikut?
Ancient Malacca-Johor-Riau
Standard Malaysian Ke mana kamu mahu/hendak pergi dengan basikal itu?
Bolehkah saya ikut?
Standard Indonesian (formal) Kemana kamu akan mau pergi dengan sepeda itu?
Bisakah saya ikut?
Betawi Lo mau naék sepeda ke mané?
Boleh ikut nggak?
Jakarta (Indonesia)
Johor/Selangor/Singapore/Riau Archipelago Malay Kau nak pergi ke mane dengan basikal tu?
Boleh saye ikut?
Central and Southern States of Peninsular Malaysia including Pahang and Southern Perak and basis of the standard Malaysian language.
Bengkulu Malay Kau ndak pergi mano kek sepedo tu?
Aku bulih ikuik idak?
Bengkulu (Indonesia)
Jambi Malay Kau nak pergi ke mano naek sepedo tu?
Aku biso ikut dak?
Jambi (Indonesia)
Palembang Malay Kau nak pergi ke mano naek sepedo tu?
Aku pacak melok dak?
South Sumatra (Indonesia)
Bangka Malay Ka nek pergi ke mane naek ketangin tu?
Ku boleh ngikut dak?
Bangka Island (Indonesia)
Belitung Malay Ikam nak pergi ke mane naek ketangin tu?
Aku bisak ngikut ndak?
Belitung Island (Indonesia)
Banjar Ikam/kawu handak tulak ka mana basapeda tu?
Kawakah aku umpat?
South Kalimantan (Indonesia), Northern Perak (Malaysia)
Kedah Malay Hang nak pi mana naik gerek tu?
Aku ikut buleh dak?
Northern States of Peninsular Malaysia, Western part of Southern Thailand
Baling Malay Mu nok gi mano naik gerek tu?
Ku nak ikut buleh dak?
Eastern part of Kedah (Baling, Sik and Padang Terap), Yala, Pattani, Satun
Terengganu Malay Mung nok gi mane naik basika tu?
Buleh dok ambe ikok?
Terengganu (Malaysia), Easternmost part of Pahang, Northeast Johor, Riau Islands (Indonesia)
Kelantan-Pattani Malay Demo nok gi mano naik gerek tuh?
Buleh kawe ikuk?
Kelantan (Malaysia), Eastern part of Southern Thailand, Northern Terengganu
Pahang Malay Awok nok kone naik sike tu?
Boleh tok kome/koi/kas/kawan/kawas ikut?
Entire Pahang (Malaysia)
Perak Malay Mike nak ke mane naik sika tu?
Teman nak ngekor buleh?
Perak (Malaysia) except the northern part of Perak
Penang Malay Hang nak pi mana naik basikal tu?
Aku ikut boleh tak?
Penang and Northern Perak (Malaysia)
Brunei Malay Kan kamana kau babiskal tu?
Bulih ku ikut?
Brunei Darussalam and Labuan
Sarawak Malay Ke sine kitak maok make basikal?
Boleh sik kamik ngekot?
Sarawak (Malaysia)
Sabah Malay Mana ko mo pigi sama itu bés(i)kal/bosikol?
Buli s(i)a ikut( ka)?
Sabah (Malaysia) and also Labuan
Pontianak Malay Mane kitak nak pergi naik sepeda tu?
Kamek bulih ikut tadak?
West Kalimantan (Indonesia)
Makassar Malay Mau ko/ki' ke/pergi mana bawa' itu sepeda (kah)?
Bisa Jeka' Ikut?
South and West Sulawesi, especially Makassar language area southern South peninsula of Sulawesi (Indonesia)
Kutai Malay Nda pegi kemana besepeda tu ?
Kawa umpat ndi ?
East Kalimantan (Indonesia)
Para-Malay languages
Minangkabau Pai kama jo kareta angin tu?
Bulih indak den ikuik?
West Sumatra, the western part of Riau and Jambi, the western coast of Aceh and North Sumatra, the northern part of Bengkulu (Indonesia), Negeri Sembilan and Kuang, Selangor (Malaysia)
Negeri Sembilan Malay Ekau nak poie mano naik basika tu?
Boleh den ikut?
Negeri Sembilan (Malaysia)
Rawa Kao nak poie mano nek basika to?
Buleh ikoiyt ko indo?
Gopeng (Malaysia)
Aboriginal Malay languages
Temuan Ajih nak pegik manak terenjai dengan mesikal tuk?
Bulih akuk ekot nyap?
Pahang, Negeri Sembilan, Selangor and Johor (Malaysia)

Word by word comparison (based on sentences above)

Language/dialect Ke Mana Kamu Mahu Pergi Dengan Basikal Itu Boleh -kah (atau tidak) Saya Ikut Extra Words
English proximate literal translation to where you want to go with bicycle that can/may or not I follow 1:to ride, 2:"question particle"
Standard Malaysian Malay (formal) ke mana kamu mahu pergi dengan basikal itu boleh kah saya ikut --
Malay language (informal) ~omitted~ mane ko nak pegi ngan basikal tu boleh ~omitted~ aku ikut --
Standard Indonesian (formal) ke mana kamu/anda(when talking to strangers) mau pergi dengan sepeda itu bisa kah saya ikut --
Indonesian (informal) ke mana lu mau ~omitted~ ~substituted with 'naik'~ sepeda tu boleh nggak ~omitted~ ikut 1:naik
Singapore Malay (formal) ke mana awak hendak pergi dengan basikal itu boleh ~omitted~ saya ikut --
Singapore Malay (informal) ~omitted~ mane ko nak gi ngan basikal tu boleh ~omitted~ aku ikut --
Johor/Selangor Malay ke mane kau nak pergi dengan basikal itu boleh ~omitted~ saye ikut --
Bengkulu Malay ~omitted~ mano kau ndak pergi kek sepedo tu bulih idak aku ikuik --
Jambi Malay ke mano kau nak pergi ~substituted with 'naek'~ sepedo tu biso dak aku ikut 1:naek
Palembang Malay ke mano kau nak pergi ~substituted with 'naek'~ sepedo tu pacak dak aku melok 1:naek
Bangka Malay ke mane ka nek pergi ~substituted with 'naek'~ ketangin tu boleh dak ku ngikut 1:naek
Belitung Malay ke mane ikam nak pergi ~substituted with 'naek'~ ketangin tu bisak ndak aku ngikut 1:naek
Banjar ka- -mana ikam/kawu handak tulak ba- sapeda tu kawa kah aku umpat -
Kedah Malay ~omitted~ mana hang nak pi ~substituted with 'naik'~ gerek tu buleh dak aku ikut 1:naik
Baling Malay ~omitted~ mano mu / dema nok gi ~substituted with 'naik'~ gerek tuh buleh dok ku / ambe ikut 1:naik
Terengganu Malay ~omitted~ mane mung nok gi ~substituted with 'naik/nge'~ basika tu buleh dok ambe ikok 1:naik/ghetek
Kelantan-Pattani Malay ~omitted~ mano demo nok gi ~substituted with 'naik/ngey'~ basika tuh buleh dok kawe turuk 1:naik
Pahang Malay ~omitted~ kone awok nok gi ~substituted with 'naik/ngan'~ sike tu boleh tok kome/koi/kas/kawan/kawas ikut 1:naik
Perak Malay ke mane mike nak ~omitted~ ~substituted with 'naik'~ sika tu buleh ~omitted~ teman ngekor 1:naik
Penang Malay ~omitted~ mana hang nak pi ~substituted with 'naik'~ basikal tu boleh tak aku ikut 1:naik
Brunei Malay ka- -mana kau ~omitted~ ~omitted~ ba- -biskal ~omitted~ bulih ~omitted~ ku ikut 2:ah
Sarawak Malay ke sine kitak maok ~omitted~ make basikal ~omitted~ boleh sik kamik ngekot --
Sabah Malay ~omitted~ mana ko mo pigi sama beskal itu buli ka sia ikut --
Pontianak Malay ~omitted~ mane kitak nak pergi ~substituted with 'naik'~ sepeda tu bulih tadak kamek ikut 1:naik
Makassar Malay ke mana Kau ko / ki' (You Want) pergi / pigi sama sepeda itu bisa kah saya / Jeka' (If I) ikut 1:naik, 2:Jeka', 3:Bawa'
Minangkabau ka- -ma kau nio pai jo kareta angin tu buliah ndak den ikuik --
Negeri Sembilan Malay ~omitted~ mano ekau nak poie ~substituted with 'naik'~ basika tu boleh ~omitted~ den ikut 1:naik
Rawa ~omitted~ mano kao nak poie ~substituted with 'nek'~ basika to buleh ko indo ~omitted~ ikoiyt 1:nek
Temuan ~omitted~ manak ajih nak pegik ~substituted with 'terenjai'~ basikal tuk bulih nyap akuk ekot --

ISO 639

In ISO 639-1 there is 'ms', ISO 639-2 there are two codes: 'may'/'msa'. In ISO 639-3, 'msa' is defined as a "macrolanguage".

Code Name Usage
btj Bacanese Malay Indonesia - Bacan
mfb Bangka Indonesia - Bangka-Belitung
- Bangkok Malay Thailand - Bangkok
bjn Banjar Indonesia and Malaysia
bve Berau Malay Indonesia - East Kalimantan (Berau regency)
kxd Brunei Main variety and co-official standard language spoken in Brunei; also spoken in the northern parts of Sarawak (city of Miri, Malaysia and the towns of Limbang and Lawas of the Limbang Division), Labuan and the western parts of Sabah (districts of Papar, Malaysia, Kuala Penyu, Beaufort, Malaysia and Sipitang) (Malaysia)
bvu Dayak Bukit Malay Indonesia
pse Central Malay Indonesia - Bengkulu
coa Cocos Islands Malay Australia - Cocos (Keeling) Islands, as well as in Sabah, Malaysia
liw Col Indonesia - Bengkulu
dup Duano Indonesia - Riau
hji Haji Indonesia - Lampung
ind Indonesian Official language of Indonesia and also a major lingua franca, also used as a working/secondary official language in East Timor
jak Jakun Malaysia - Johor and Pahang
jax Jambi Malay Indonesia - Jambi
vkk Kaur Indonesia
- Kelantan Malay Malaysia - Kelantan, also spoken in neighbouring Besut and Setiu (Terengganu).
meo Kedah Malay Malaysia - Western part of Kedah (Langkawi, Kubang Pasu, Alor Setar, Pokok Sena, Pendang, Yan, Sungai Petani, Kulim, Bandar Bharu, parts of Padang Terap), Perlis, Penang, Northern part of the state of Perak Thailand - Satun, Trang, Songkhla, Krabi, Phang Nga, Phuket, Ranong, Phattalung, Yala Myanmar - Taninthayi
- Baling Malay Malaysia - Eastern part of Kedah (Baling, Sik, Padang Terap, parts of Kulim, Kubang Pasu and Pendang), Northeastern part of the state of Perak (Hulu Perak and Larut, Matang and Selama), Yala, Pattani, Songkhla
kvr Kerinci Indonesia - Jambi (in Sungai Penuh and Kerinci Regency)
mqg Kota Bangun Kutai Malay Indonesia
kvb Kubu Indonesia
lrt Larantuka Malay Indonesia
lce Loncong Indonesia
lcf Lubu Indonesia
mly Malay (individual language) Code was retired 2008-02-18, Split into: Standard Malay [zsm], Haji [hji], Papuan Malay [pmy] and Malay (individual language) [zlm]. Note: pmy is not part of the macrolanguage.
- Perak Malay Malaysia - Perak, the main dialect spoken in the state with high concentration of native speakers in the state capital, Ipoh
zlm Malay (individual language)
- Pahang Malay Malaysia - Pahang
xmm Manado Malay Indonesia - Manado
min Minangkabau Indonesia - West Sumatra, lingua franca in the western coast of Aceh and North Sumatra, Indonesia as well as the main dialect in Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia
zmi Negeri Sembilan Malay Malaysia - Negeri Sembilan, a sub-dialect of the Minangkabau language
max North Moluccan Malay (Ternate) Indonesia
mui Musi Indonesia
orn Orang Kanaq Malaysia - Johor
ors Orang Seletar Malaysia - Johor and Singapore
mfa Pattani Malay Thailand - Pattani Province, Narathiwat Province, Yala Province
pel Pekal Indonesia
msi Sabah Malay (pidgin) Malaysia - Sabah and Labuan
zsm Malaysian/Standard Malay Standard language in Malaysia and Singapore. Co-official and national language of Brunei other than Brunei Malay
tmw Temuan Malaysia - Pahang, Selangor, Malacca, Johor and Negeri Sembilan
vkt Tenggarong Kutai Malay Indonesia
- Terengganu Malay Malaysia - Terengganu, also spoken in neighbouring Kuantan (Pahang) as well as Mersing (Johor)
urk Urak Lawoi' Thailand - Phuket and Krabi


  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Malayan". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Vehicular Malay". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Ethnologue 16 also lists Col, Haji, Kaur, Kerinci, Kubu, Lubu'.

See also

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