Bahasa Malaysia


Nestled between the Indian and Pacific ocean, its southern tip cradling half of the legendary Strait of Malacca, the beautiful Malaysian Pennisula hosts an extraordinary array of wildlife, foods, cultures, and languages- including its national language Bahasa Malaysia. Thanks to the rich history of trade and travel surrounding South East Asia and Malaysia in particular, Bahasa Malaysia (or Melayu) is a beautiful blend of many different languages and cultures functioning now mostly as a trade language.

A Diverse Group: 

Currently, estimates state that there are about 19 million people across the countries of Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore with Bahasa Melayu as their mother tongue. Yet, the number of people that learn Bahasa Melayu as a second language goes up into the hundreds of millions as much of the population in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore rely on Bahasa Melayu for daily communication (Tanya). Depending on the state, there might be multiple common languages spoken. For example, on the island of Penang, there are four main languages, Bahasa Melayu, Tamil (a language common in southern India), Hawkin (a Chinese dialect), and English representative of the mixes of cultures and ethnic backgrounds present there. Yet a majority of life, public schooling, shopping, road signs, and newspaper are all in Bahasa Melayu. It’s the linking language (besides food) between cultures.  

One word… many prefixes:

A fun and versatile feature of Bahasa Melayu is the diverse meanings of a single word simply based of the prefixes or suffixes one may use. Bahasa Melayu has a clutch of unique prefixes like mer-, ber-, ter-, or per- and others that are a prefix suffixes combo like ker- an-. They have a varity of purposes: some turn verbs into nouns like makan (eat) to makanan (food) by adding an- while others indicate intent like jatuh (fall) to terjatuh (to accidentally fall). One word can be transformed into many: take ajar (teach) for example. It can be turned into a noun, ajaran (teachings), or into an active verb mengajar (to teach), or into a person pelajar (student), or even into the opposite meaning belajar (learn). In such a way, knowing root words can significantly contribute to a more intimate knowledge of Bahasa Melayu.

Works Cited

Tanya. Bahasa Melayu: Learning the Malay Language from Scratch. All Language Resources, 10 July 2020, Accessed 14 Jun. 2021.


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Resources for Self-Instructional Learners of Less Commonly Taught Languages Copyright © by University of Wisconsin-Madison Students in African 671 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.