Malay Language Alphabets

Outside of Malaysia, "Jawi" is a nearly extinct aboriginal language of Australia. Within Malaysia, "Jawi" is the writing system of ethnic Malays that is struggling against possibility of the same fate.

For some 600 years, Jawi script has been the Malay language alphabets making it synonymous with the Malay language, Bahasa Melayu. The Jawi script differentiates Bahasa Melayu from Bahasa Malaysia, as a language belonging to the Malays. Bahasa Malaysia is the language belonging to Malaysians who may be Malay, Chinese, Indian and other tribes.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, Arabic alphabet on which Jawi script is based, has declined in use in several countries such as some constituent republics in the Soviet Union, Turkey and ...Malaysia.

This may sound ironic as Jawi script is used mainly for religious purposes and Malaysia has become more Islamized since independence. A champion of the Jawi script, the previously esteemed Jawi newspaper Utusan Melayu shrank from a daily to a weekly and finally ceased publication in January 2006 due to lack of readership. It was the only and last Jawi publication.


I am baffled by the diversity of the meaning of "jawi" in Malay, as the other meaning of this word could refer to a cow, when this cow is a calf or "anak jawi" it implies a beloved son. "Jawi" is also a tree.

William Marsden in his lengthy introduction to Malay grammar discussed in part the origin of "jawi" noted that " much diversity of opinion has existed with respect to its specific meaning and etymology."

Some of these opinions make me example is that if you add "imbuhan -i" to "Jawa" you get "Jawi". This idea is derived from Sanskrit and Persian to form adjectives by annexing "i" to the substantive, that is to say, Bengal to Bengali and Hindustan to Hindustani. Marsden quashed this conjecture easily : 1) There are no such grammar rule in the Malay world. 2) Come onlah! Does this mean that the "jawi" for "lembu" and "pokok" are of Javanese origin?

As mentioned in my other page, the first Malay-English Dictionary, Marden's quotation of Raffles presented the most feasible origin of "Jawi": " the word jahwi is the Malay term for anything mixed or crossed; as when the language of one country is written in the character of another, it is termed b'hasa jahwi or mixed langauge ...Thus the Malayu language being written in the Arabic character is termed b'hasa jahwi."


Whenever my little Malay students tell me they are having "agama" classes in school, they are in fact learning the Malay language alphabets in Jawi. Below are the names of the basic alphabets, the alphabets marked in red are distinctively Malay not found in the Arabic script. Do you notice that you should read from right to left...?

Malay Language Alphabets, the Jawi Script

ج jim ث tha ت ta ب ba ا alif
ذ zal د dal خ kha ح ha چ ca
ص sad ش shin س sin ز zai ر ra
غ ghain ع ain ظ dzo ط tho ض dad
kaf ق qaf pa ف fa ڠ nga
و wau ن nun م mim ل lam ڬ ga
ي ya ء hamzah لا lam-alif ه ha ۏ va
ڽ nya

The letters ca, pa, nga, ga, nya were eventually added to conform with the Malay syllables. Pendeta Za'ba, a prominent Malay literary figure systematized the Jawi script by producing "Daftar Ejaan Melayu Jawi-Rumi" (Jawi-Roman Spelling Register). The Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka introduced the letter "va" in the 1990's. Do you also notice that the numbers run from left to right? :-)

Malay Language Alphabets, Numerals

٠ kosong ١ satu ٢ dua ٣ tiga ٤ empat
٥ lima ٦ enam ٧ tujuh ٨ lapan ٩ sembilan
١٠ sepuluh

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