History of the Malay language
Malay is a major language of the Austronesian language family. Over a period of two millennia, from a form that probably consisted of only 157 original words, Malay has undergone various stages of development that derived from different layers of foreign influences through international trade, religious expansion, colonisation and developments of new socio-political trends. The oldest form of Malay is descended from the Proto-Malayo-Polynesian language spoken by the earliest Austronesian settlers in Southeast Asia. This form would later evolved into Old Malay when Indian cultures and religions began penetrating the region. Old Malay contained some terms that exist today, but are unintelligible to modern speakers, while the modern language is already largely recognisable in written Classical Malay of 1303 CE. Malay evolved extensively into Classical Malay through the gradual influx of numerous Arabic and Persian vocabulary, when Islam made its way to the region. Initially, Classical Malay was a diverse group of dialects, reflecting the varied origins of the Malay kingdoms of Southeast Asia. One of these dialects that was developed in the literary tradition of Melaka in the 15th century, eventually became predominant. The strong influence of Melaka in international trade in the region resulted in Malay as a lingua franca in commerce and diplomacy, a status that it maintained throughout the age of the succeeding Malay sultanates, the European colonial era and the modern times. From 19th to 20th century, Malay evolved progressively through a significant grammatical improvements and lexical enrichment into a modern language with more than 800,000 phrases in various disciplines.
The Ancient Malay or Proto-Malay is the language believed to exist in prehistoric times, spoken by the early Austronesian settlers in the region. Its ancestor, the Proto-Malayo-Polynesian language that derived from Proto-Austronesian, began to break up by at least 2000 BCE as a result possibly by the southward expansion of Austronesian peoples into the Philippines, Borneo, Maluku and Sulawesi from the island of Taiwan. Proto-Malay language was spoken in Borneo at least by 1000 BCE and was, it has been argued, the ancestral language of all subsequent Malay dialects. Linguists generally agree that the homeland of the Malayic-Dayak languages is in Borneo, based on its geographic spread in the interior, its variations that are not due to contact-induced change, and its sometimes conservative character. Around the beginning of the first millennium, Malayic speakers had established settlements in the coastal regions of modern day South Central Vietnam, Tambelan, Riau Islands, Sumatra, Malay peninsula, Borneo, Luzon, Maluku Islands, Bangka-Belitung Islands and Java.
Old Malay (4th to 14th century)
The beginning of the common era saw the growing influence of Indian civilisation in the archipelago. With the penetration and proliferation of Sanskrit vocabulary and the influence of major Indian religions, Ancient Malay evolved into the Old Malay language. The oldest surviving specimen of Old Malay, the Dong Yen Chau inscription believed to be from the 4th century CE, was discovered in the northwest of Tra Kieu, near the old Champa capital of Indrapura, modern day Vietnam. This is followed by the 7th century CE Sojomerto inscription from Central Java, Kedukan Bukit Inscription from South Sumatra and several other inscriptions dating from the 7th to 10th centuries discovered in Sumatra, Malay peninsula, western Java, other islands of the Sunda archipelago, and Luzon. All these Old Malay inscriptions used either scripts of Indian origin such as Pallava, Nagari or the Indian-influenced Old Sumatran characters.
The Old Malay system is greatly influenced by Sanskrits in terms of phonemes, morphemes, vocabulary and the characteristics of scholarship, particularly when the words are closely related to Indian culture such as puja, kesatria, maharaja and raja, as well as on the Hindu-Buddhist religion such as dosa, pahala, neraka, syurga or surga (used in Indonesia), puasa, sami and biara, which lasts until today.
It is popularly claimed that the Old Malay of the Srivijayan inscriptions from South Sumatra is the ancestor of the Classical Malay. However, as noted by some linguists, the precise relationship between these two, whether ancestral or not, is problematical and remained uncertain. This is due to the existence of a number of morphological and syntactic peculiarities, and affixes which are familiar from the related Batak and Javanese languages but are not found even in the oldest manuscripts of Classical Malay. It may be the case that the language of the Srivijayan inscriptions is a close cousin rather than an ancestor of Classical Malay. Moreover, although the earliest evidence of Classical Malay had been found in the Malay peninsular from 1303, Old Malay remained in use as a written language in Sumatra right up to the end of the 14th century, evidenced from Bukit Gombak inscription dated 1357 and Tanjung Tanah manuscript of Adityavarman era (1347-1375).
Classical Malay (14th to 18th century)
The period of Classical Malay started when Islam gained its foothold in the region and the elevation of its status to a state religion. As a result of Islamisation and growth in trade with the Muslim world, this era witnessed the penetration of Arabic and Persian vocabulary as well as the integration of major Islamic cultures with local Malay culture. Earliest instances of Arabic lexicons incorporated in the pre-classical Malay written in Kawi was found in the Minyetujoh inscription dated 1380 from Acheh. Pre-Classical Malay took on a more radical form as attested in the 1303 CE Terengganu Inscription Stone and the 1468 CE Pengkalan Kempas Inscription from Malay peninsula. Both inscriptions not only serve as the evidence of Islam as a state religion, but also as the oldest surviving specimen of the dominant classical orthographic form, the Jawi script. Similar inscriptions containing various adopted Arabic terms with some of them still written the indianised scripts were also discovered in Sumatra and Borneo.
The Pre-Classical Malay evolved and reached its refined form during the golden age of the Malay empire of Melaka and its successor Johor starting from the 15th century. As a bustling port city with a diverse population of 200,000 from different nations, the largest in Southeast Asia at that time, Melaka became a melting pot of different cultures and languages. More loan words from Arab, Persian, Tamil and Chinese were absorbed and the period witnessed the flowering of Malay literature as well as professional development in royal leadership and public administration. In contrast with Old Malay, the literary themes of Melaka had expanded beyond the decorative belles-lettres and theological works, evidenced with the inclusion of accountancy, maritime laws, credit notes and trade licenses in its literary tradition. Some prominent manuscripts of this category are Undang-Undang Melaka ('Laws of Melaka') and Undang-Undang Laut Melaka (Melakan Maritime Laws). The literary tradition was further enriched with the translations of various foreign literary works such as Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah and Hikayat Amir Hamzah, and the emergence of new intellectual writings in philosophy, tasawuf, tafsir, history and many others in Malay, represented by manuscripts like Sulalatus al-Salatin and Furu' Al-Masa'il.
Melaka's success as a centre of commerce, religion, and literary output has made it an important point of cultural reference to the many influential Malay sultanates in the later centuries. This has resulted the growing importance of Classical Malay as the sole lingua franca of the region. Through inter-ethnic contact and trade, the Classical Malay spread beyond the traditional Malay speaking world and resulted in a trade language that was called Bahasa Melayu pasar ("Bazaar Malay") or Bahasa Melayu rendah ("Low Malay") as opposed to Bahasa Melayu tinggi (High Malay) of Melaka-Johor. It is generally believed that Bazaar Malay was a pidgin, perhaps influenced by contact between Malay, Chinese and non-Malay natives traders. The most important development, however, has been that pidgin Malay creolised, creating several new languages such as the Ambonese Malay, Manado Malay, Makassar Malay and Betawi language. Apart from being the primary instrument in spreading Islam and commercial activities, Malay also became a court and literary language for kingdoms beyond its traditional realm like Aceh, Banjar and Ternate and also used in diplomatic communications with the European colonial powers. This is evidenced from diplomatic letters from Sultan Abu Hayat II of Ternate to King John III of Portugal dated from 1521 to 1522, a letter from Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah of Aceh to Captain Sir Henry Middleton of the East India Company dated 1602, and a golden letter from Sultan Iskandar Muda of Aceh to King James I of England dated 1615.
The early phase of European colonisation in Southeast Asia began with the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century and the Dutch in the 17th century. This period also marked the dawn of Christianization in the region with its stronghold in Ambon, Banda and Batavia. In facilitating early missionary works, religious books and manuscripts began to be translated into Malay of which the earliest was initiated by a pious Dutch trader, Albert Ruyll in 1611. The book titled Sovrat A B C and written in Latin alphabet not only means in introducing Latin alphabet but also the basic tenets of Calvinism that includes the Ten Commandments, the faith and some prayers. This work later followed by several Bibles translated into Malay; Injil Mateus dan Markus (1638), Lukas dan Johanes (1646), Injil dan Perbuatan (1651), Kitab Kejadian (1662), Perjanjian Baru (1668) and Mazmur (1689).
The era of Classical Malay also witnessed the growing interest among foreigners in learning the Malay language for the purpose of commerce, diplomatic missions and missionary activities. Therefore, many books in the form of word-list or dictionary were written. The oldest of these was a Chinese-Malay word list compiled by the Ming officials of the Bureau of Translators during the heyday of Melaka Sultanate. The dictionary was known as Ma La Jia Guo Yi Yu (Words-list of Melaka Kingdom) and contains 482 entries categorised into 17 fields namely astronomy, geography, seasons and times, plants, birds and animals, houses and palaces, human behaviours and bodies, gold and jewelleries, social and history, colours, measurements and general words. In the 16th century, the word-list is believed still in use in China when a royal archive official Yang Lin reviewed the record in 1560 CE. In 1522, the first European-Malay word-list was compiled by an Italian explorer Antonio Pigafetta, who joined the Magellan's circumnavigation expedition. The Italian-Malay word-list by Pigafetta contains approximately 426 entries and became the main reference for the later Latin-Malay and French-Malay dictionaries.
Pre-Modern Malay (19th century)
19th century was the period of strong Western political and commercial domination in Southeast Asia. The Dutch East India Company had effectively colonised the East Indies, the British Empire held several colonies and protectorates in Malay peninsula, Sarawak and North Borneo, the French possessed part of Indo-China, the Portuguese established their outposts in Timor, while the Spaniards and later the Americans gained control over the Philippines. The Dutch and British colonists, realising the importance in understanding the local languages dan cultures particularly Malay, began establishing various centres of linguistic, literature and cultural studies in universities like Leiden and London. Thousands of Malay manuscripts as well as other historical artefacts of Malay culture were collected and studied. The use of Latin script began to expand in the fields of administration and education whereby the influence of English and Dutch literatures and languages started to penetrate and spread gradually into the Malay language.
At the same time, the technological development in printing method that enabled mass production at low prices increased the activities of authorship for general reading in the Malay language, a development that would later shifted away Malay literature from its traditional position in Malay courts. In addition, the report writing style of journalism began to bloom in the arena of Malay writing. A notable writer of this time was Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir with his famous works Hikayat Abdullah, Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah ke Kelantan and Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah ke Mekah. Abdullah's authorship marks an early stage in the transition from the classical to modern literature, taking Malay literature out of its preoccupation with folk-stories and legends into accurate historical descriptions.
Many other well known books were published such as two notable classical literary work, Sulalatus Salatin and Taj Al-Salatin. There were other famous religious books of the era which were not only published locally but also in countries like Egypt and Turkey. Among the earliest examples of Malay newspapers are Soerat Kabar Bahasa Malaijoe of Surabaya published in 1856, Bintang Timor of Padang published in 1965 and Jawi Peranakan of Singapore published in 1876. There was even a Malay newspaper published in Sri Lanka in 1869, known as Alamat Langkapuri. Earlier in 1821, the first Malay magazine was published in Melaka known as Bustan Arifin and in 1856, a Malay magazine titled Bintang Oetara was published in Amsterdam.
In education, the Malay language of Melaka-Johor was regarded as the standard language and became the medium of instruction in schools during colonial era. Starting from 1821, Malay-medium Schools were established by the British colonial government in Penang, Melaka and Singapore. These were folllowed by many others in Malay states of the peninsular. This development generated the writings of text books for schools, in addition to the publication of reference materials such as Malay dictionaries and grammar books. Apart from that, an important position was given towards the use of Malay in British administration, which requires every public servant in service to pass the special examination in Malay language as a condition for a confirmed post, as gazetted in Straits Government Gazette 1859. In Indonesia, the Dutch colonial government recognised the Melaka-Johor Malay used in Riau as High Malay and promoted it as a medium of communication between the Dutch and local population. The language was also taught in schools not only in Riau, but also East Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan and East Indonesia.
Modern Malay (20th century)
The flourishing of pre-modern Malay literature in 19th century led to the rise of intellectual movement among the locals and the emergence of new community of Malay linguists. The appreciation of language grew and various efforts were undertaken by the community to further enhance the usage of Malay as well as to improve its abilities in facing the challenging modern era. Among the efforts done was the planning of a corpus for Malay language, first initiated by Pakatan Belajar-Mengajar Pengetahuan Bahasa (Society for the Learning and Teaching of Linguistic Knowledge), established in 1888. The society that was renamed in 1935 as Pakatan Bahasa Melayu dan Persuratan Buku Diraja Johor (The Johor Royal Society of Malay language and Literary works), involved actively in arranging and compiling the guidelines for spelling, dictionaries, grammars, punctuations, letters, essays, terminologies and many others. The establishment of Sultan Idris Training College (SITC) in Tanjung Malim, Perak in 1922 intensified these efforts. In 1936, Za'ba, an outstanding Malay scholar and lecturer of SITC, produced a Malay grammar book series entitled Pelita Bahasa that modernised the structure of the Classical Malay language and became the basis for the Malay language that is in use today. The most important change was in syntax, from the classical passive form to the modern active form. In the 20th century, other improvements were also carried out by other associations, organisations, governmental institutions and congresses in various part of the region.
Writing has its unique place in the history of self-awareness and the nationalist struggle in Indonesia and Malaysia. Apart from being the main tools to spread knowledge and information, newspapers and journals like Al-Imam (1906), Panji Poestaka (1912), Lembaga Melayu (1914), Warta Malaya (1931), Poedjangga Baroe (1933) and Utusan Melayu (1939) became the main thrust in championing and shaping the fight for nationalism. Writing, whether in the form of novels, short stories, or poems, all played distinct roles in galvanising the spirit of Indonesian National Awakening and Malay nationalism.
During the first Kongres Pemuda of Indonesia held in 1926, in the Sumpah Pemuda, Malay language was proclaimed as the unifying language for the nation of Indonesia. In 1945, the language which later renamed "Bahasa Indonesia" in 1928 became the national language as enshried in the constitution of an independent Indonesia. Later in 1957, Malay language was elevated to the status of national language for the independent Federation of Malaya (later reconstituted as Malaysia in 1963). Then in 1959, Malay language also received the status of national language in Brunei, although it only ceased to become a British protectorate in 1984. When Singapore separated from Malaysia in 1965, Malay became the national language of the new republic and one of the four official languages. The emergence of these newly independent states paved the way for a broader and widespread use of Malay (or Indonesian) in government administration and education. Colleges and universities with Malay as their primary medium of instructions were introduced and bloomed as the prominent centres for researches and production of new intellectual writings in Malay. After East Timor independence, Indonesian language become one of the working languages.
The Indonesian language as the unifying language for Indonesia is relatively open to accommodate influences from other Indonesian ethnics' languages, most notably Javanese as the majority ethnic group in Indonesia, Dutch as the previous coloniser, and English as the international language. As a result, Indonesian has wider sources of loanwords, as compared to Malay used in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. It was suggested that the Indonesian language is an artificial language made official in 1928. By artificial it means that Indonesian was designed by academics rather than evolving naturally as most common languages have, to accommodate the political purpose of establishing an official unifying language of Indonesia. By borrowing heavily from numerous other languages it expresses a natural linguistic evolution; in fact, it is as natural as the next language, as demonstrated in its exceptional capacity for absorbing foreign vocabulary. This disparate evolution of Indonesian language led to a need for an institution that can facilitate co-ordination and co-operation in linguistic development among countries with Malay language as national language. The first instance of liguistic co-operation was in 1959 between Malaya and Indonesia, and this was further strengthened in 1972 when MBIM (a short form for Majlis Bahasa Indonesia-Malaysia - Language Council of Indonesia-Malaysia) was formed. MBIM later grew into MABBIM (Majlis Bahasa Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia - Language Council of Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia) in 1985 with the inclusion of Brunei as a member and Singapore as a permanent observer. Other important institution is Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka established in 1956. It is a government body responsible for co-ordinating the use of the Malay language in Malaysia and Brunei.
The dominant orthographic form of Modern Malay language that based on Roman or Latin script, the Malay alphabet, was first developed in the early 20th century. As the Malay-speaking countries were divided between two colonial administrations (the Dutch and the British), two major different spelling orthographies were developed in the Dutch East Indies and British Malaya respectively, influenced by the orthographies of their respective colonial tongues. In 1901, Van Ophuijsen Spelling System (1901-1947) became the standard orthography for Malay Language in Dutch East Indies. In the following year, the government of the Federated Malay States established an orthographic commission headed by Sir Richard James Wilkinson which later developed the "Wilkinson Spelling System" (1904-1933). These spelling systems would later succeeded by the Republican Spelling System (1947-1972) and the Za'ba Spelling System (1933-1942) respectively. During the Japanese Occupation of Malaya and Indonesia, there emerged a system which was supposed to uniformise the systems in the two countries. The system known as Fajar Asia (or 'the Dawn of Asia') appeared to use the Republican system of writing the vowels and the Malayan system of writing the consonants. This system only existed during the Occupation. In 1972, a declaration was made for a joint spelling system in both nations, known as Ejaan Rumi Baharu (New Rumi Spelling) in Malaysia and Sistem Ejaan Yang Disempurnakan (Perfected Spelling System) in Indonesia. With the introduction of this new common spelling system, all administrative documents, teaching and learning materials and all forms of written communication is based on a relatively uniform spelling system and this helps in effective and efficient communication, particularly in national administration and education.
Despite the widespread and institutionalised use of Malay alphabet, Jawi script remains as one of the two official scripts in Brunei, and is used as an alternate script in Malaysia. Day-to-day usage of Jawi is maintained in more conservative Malay-populated areas such as Pattani in Thailand and Kelantan in Malaysia. The script is used for religious and Malay cultural administration in Terengganu, Kelantan, Kedah, Perlis and Johor. The influence of the script is still present in Sulu and Marawi in the Philippines while in Indonesia, Jawi script is still widely used in Riau and Riau Island province, where road signs and government buildings signs are written in this script.
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