The History of Malay Language

Having scanty patience to write by hand, I would rather write the duplicated form of "berkata-kata" as "berkata2"

However, it's a pity the written form "berkata2" has become part of history of Malay language...

For the sake of young Malaysians, I have included a sample of spelling system from the days of your parents. can you young ones see how much bahasa kebangsaan Malaysia has changed in just one generation?

Then imagine the chasm between Bahasa Malaysia today and the earliest written Malay 1,500 years ago. In fact, history Malay language is divided into four periods:

Old Malay ( 682 - 1500 C.E. )

Also known as Bahasa Melayu Kuno , it was written in the ancient writings of Rencong, Pallava, and Kawi. Even the Jawi script during this period was used extensively with Sanskrit.

Early Modern Malay (1500-c1850)

The prominence of Malacca which embraced Islamic faith made Malay into a language used in the spread of Islam. Malay underwent radical changes with:

a. infusion of Arabic, Persian and Hindi Vocabulary.
b. introduction of Arabic rhetorical style.
c. Changes in grammar based on oral speech.

Portuguese conquest of Malacca in 1511 and subsequent persecution of moslems contributed to the rise of Bintan and Penyengat as centres of Malay language.

The 17th century also saw the emergence of the great Romances or Hikayat as the Malays recorded their experiences, religious laws and oral literature in Jawi script. Sir Richard O. Winstedt categorized the Hikayat as Bahasa Melayu Klasik.

Late Modern Malay ( c1850 - 1957 )

Late Modern Malay incorporates loan words from Portuguese, Dutch and English. apart from Islam, it has also become a tool to proselytize Christianity as a result of translation of the bible into Malay by Dutch scholars.

On the Riau island of Penyengat, Malay scholar Raja Ali Haji complete the first pro-Arabic Malay Grammar book in Bahasa Malaysia history called Bustanul-Katibin.

It was the dawn of commercialized printing press, the publication of first Malay language newspapers in Latin and Arabic scripts.

Zainal Abidin bin Ahmad, better known as the respected Malay scholar Za'ba, codified Malay grammar into the three-volume "Pelita Bahasa Melayu" in 1941. He also modified the Jawi spelling system. It can be said that pre-independence Malay language was very much influenced by Za'ba's work.

Japanese occupation of the Malay world during World War II hastened independent movements. this led to liberation of Malaya from British colonists, yes! Sejarah kemerdekaan Malaysia and Malay language elevated to the status of Malaysian language or, the national language of Malaysia.

Contemporary Malay ( after 1957 )

Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei set up national language planning agencies in an effort to draw their versions of Malay together. They tried something called " Ejaan Melindo" but it was too impractical.

In 1959, Indonesia and Malaysia signed an agreement to standardize the Malay spelling system of both countries. Why is this necessary ? Indonesia's Romanized writing has been influenced by the Dutch whereas Malaysia, the British system. They named this unified system "Melindo", an acronym for Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Indonesia.

Some of the adjustments affecting the Malaysian language are as follows:

1. The consonant "ch" is spelled as "c"
e.g. contoh instead of chontoh
cuaca instead of chuacha
percaya instead of perchaya

2. The consonant "ng" becomes "ŋ"
e.g. sayang is written as sayaŋ
nganga is written as ŋaŋa
sangat is written as saŋat

3. The consonant "ny" becomes "ɲ "
e.g. nyanyi is written as ɲaɲi
sunyi is written as suɲi
punya is written as puɲa

4. The diphthong "ai" becomes "ay"
e.g. pandai is written as panday
sungai is written as sungay

5. The diphthong "au" becomes "aw"
e.g. pulau is written as pulaw
kalau is written as kalaw

6. The diphthong "oi" becomes "oy"
e.g. amboi is written as amboy
seroi is written as seroy

So that was Melindo spelling, a system that was never executed...

Indonesia's confrontation against Malaysia held back this project for a while in 1963. As relationship between these two countries normalized in 1966, this enabled further steps towards standardization of a common spelling system implemented in 1972.

Top of the History of Malay Language


Rencong, Sulawesi

Pallava script on Kedukan