About Malagasy

The Language of the Great Island

Basil Considine

Malagasy is the national language of Madagascar, belonging to the Austronesian language family. It is now considered the westernmost language in the Malayo-Polynesian subgroup of languages. It has many words and roots in common with Malay and Javanese, as well as from Bantu and Arabic (presumed from commercial contacts in the Pre-Modern period). Recent centuries have introduced a large number of loan words from English and French.

Although Malagasy exists in a diverse array of dialects, a Standard Malagasy dialect based on the Merina dialect (centered in the Central Highlands region around the capital city of Antananarivo) is taught in schools and used by the government and both public and private media. Depending on the government ministry, official documents might be in Malagasy, French, or both. Officially the constitution of the Fourth Malagasy Republic enshrines Standard Malagasy as an official language, on equal footing with French. However, in common usage the regional dialects are very strong outside of Antananarivo and its immediate environs.