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The Malay Language in Malaysia and Indonesia

The Malay Language in Malaysia and Indonesia

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Published by Raistz
The MALAY LANGUAGE in MALAYSIA and INDONESIA: from lingua franca to national language
The MALAY LANGUAGE in MALAYSIA and INDONESIA: from lingua franca to national language

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Raistz on Dec 07, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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11/07/2012

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The MALAY LANGUAGE in MALAYSIA and INDONESIA: from lingua franca to nationallanguage Asmah Haji Omar

Professor Emerita of Malay Linguistics,

University of Malaya,

Kuala Lumpur
Historical Background
 The Malay language is indigenous to Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Sumatera, and thegroup of islands south of Singapore, better known as the Riau- Lingga archipelago.
 In historicaltimes, Peninsular Malaysia was known as the Malay Peninsula, which as a non-political entity alsoconsisted of southern Thailand where Malay is still spoken as a first language by the Malay population.Transmigration , interinsular barter trading, and family as well as institutional relationships between theroyal houses of various Malay sultanates in the Malay archipelago, before the coming of the Westernpowers, had contributed to the spread of the Malay language among the peoples of insular Southeast Asia.This spread took wing towards the second half of the 20th century when national policies, particularly inIndonesia and Malaysia, instituted a single national language.

AA2EMalayhttp://hometown.aol.com/wignesh/AA2EMalay.htm (1 of 21) [4/27/2005 3:56:37 PM]
 
 The term "Malay archipelago" (the Malay nomenclature being
Gugusan Pulau-Pulau Melayu
)refers to the region comprising Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia (excepting West Irian), and thePhilippines. The claim of this region to being a Malay linguistic area (witness the French global term:
 Monde Malais
, referring to the entire "East Indies"), although Malay is not indigenous to all the islands,may have had its origins in various premises. One such premise can be attributed to the autochthoneswhose physical morphology generally conforms to that of the Malays, that is, brown skin, noses whichare not too flat nor too sharp, straight black hair, and, when compared to Caucasians, medium heightstature. The physical characteristics factor then rules out the peoples of Eastern Indonesia, particularlythose of West Irian whose languages belong to the Melanesian subfamily of the Austronesian stock,whereas Malay and the languages of the Malay archipelago belong to the Indonesian subfamily of thesame stock.
Flowering of the Malay Language in theClassical Era
 The people of the Malay archipelago in the old days could have already been aware thatlinguistically they were of one group, even if their mother tongues were not identical with one another.Similarities in certain words, and these are usually words that appear in everyday usage, could have actedas an indicator to this effect. But a more powerful indicator than this was the fact that the Malaylanguage became their vehicle of communication, be it in the trading ports as the lingua franca, on in theroyal courts and in the communication between the various royal courts, and between these and theforeign powers, such as, the English and the Dutch. From historical records of people visiting thearchipelago, e.g., the Chinese and the Arabs, we gather information that Malay was already in use as thelanguage of the Buddhist Srivijaya empire which flourished from the 7
th
to the 14
th
century A.D. andwhich had its centres of influence in Sumatera and the Malay Peninsula. From the beginnings of time to the 14
th
century, the role of Malay was not confined to being alanguage of the market place. It was already
a high language (H-language)
, functioning as the languageof governance and diplomacy, and acting as a vehicle in the spread of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.The beginning of its stupendous development which I would like to refer to as the “flowering of theMalay language”, came about with the rise of the
Melaka (Malacca) empire
in the 14
th
century, and thisempire lasted until 1511 with its conquest by the Portuguese. However, the tradition of maintaining theMalay language as an H-language was continued during the time of the
Johor-Riau empire
which rosewith the demise of Melaka as a powerful Malay sultanate. This latter day empire consisted of Johor(now a part of Malaysia), Singapore, and territories which now belong to Indonesia, i.e., the Riau-Lingga
AA2EMalayhttp://hometown.aol.com/wignesh/AA2EMalay.htm (2 of 21) [4/27/2005 3:56:37 PM]
 
archipelago and the Riau mainland which is situated on the eastern coast of Sumatera facing Malaysiaand Singapore. At the same time, the
Brunei Malay empire
(which covered the present Brunei, thepresent Malaysian territories of Sabah and Sarawak, and a large part of Indonesian Borneo, and the Suluarchipelago which now belongs to the Philippines) also played an important role in the flowering of theMalay language. The peak of this “language flowering” phenomenon was the period between the 16
th
- 17
th
centuries, as evidenced by the great number of literary products of the era, and these products are nowgenerally referred to
as classical Malay texts
. It was during the period of the rule of the Malay empiresmentioned above that Malay epistolary reached its height of sophistication in language form as well as invisual representation or format; hence the term “flowering”. A collection of letters of this period is to befound in
Annabel the Gallop, 1994.
 We do not have records of the flowering of Malay during the Srivijaya period, although itwas the language of the rulers, as attested by the 7
th
century stone inscriptions found in SouthernSumatera and the Bangka Island off its coast. The Indian influence in the
Srivijaya
period had broughtinto the region the
Pallava script
used on these stone inscriptions; other than that there is no evidence of the existence of the script . This leads us to surmise that the script never reached the common people.Furthermore, there is no record of whatever literature that was in the possession of the Malay people of the period
. The stories from the Hindu Ramayana and Mahabharata as well as those from theBuddhist Jataka were transmitted orally from generation to generation, but they were not put intowritten form until the Malays became Muslims and adopted the Arabic writing system which theyindigenised and re-named the “Jawi” script
.
The possession of a writing system, the Jawi script,can be said to be the main factor in making the flowering of the Malay language possible.

Present Situation
 Today Malay is still a common medium of interaction in the Malay archipelago. It is stillpossible to get by in the various ports, towns and villages by using Malay in interacting with the localpeople.
The lingua franca acquires the flavour of the locality in which it is spoken.
The lingua
AA2EMalayhttp://hometown.aol.com/wignesh/AA2EMalay.htm (3 of 21) [4/27/2005 3:56:38 PM]

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