Are Indonesian and Malay Two Separate Languages?

People often mistaken Malay as the official language used in Malaysia. In fact, it is not entirely true. Malaysian is the official language of Malaysia. It is the standardized registers of the Malay language, so as Indonesian. Then, what is Malay?

Malay is a major language of the Austronesian family spoken by more than 290 million people. It is spoken in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, as well as parts of Thailand. In Indonesia, it is referred as Bahasa Melayu and considered as one of its regional languages.

So, based on the brief explanation above, do you think Indonesian and Malay are two separate languages?

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Indonesian and Malaysian Language

To make it easier to understand, let us see this following language family of Austronesian.

  • Austronesian
  • Malayo-Polynesian
  • Malayo-Sumbawan
  • Malayic
  • Malayan
  • Malay
  • Malacca (“Riau”) Malay
  • Indonesian / Malaysian

Either Indonesian or Malaysian are a branch of the Malacca (“Riau”) Malay, which is the subgroup of Malay, and so on to the top to Austronesian.

So, in the context of Indonesian and Malaysian languages, even though both are mutually intelligible, there are some noticeable differences in vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and the source of their loanword.

This differences is the consequences of the colonization by British in Malaysia while the Dutch colonize Indonesia, and caused both of these countries absorbed different loan words in their languages.

For example the word “television”:

  • In Malaysian, it’s spelt as “televisyen” from an English word “television”
  • In Indonesia, it’s spelt as “televisi” from a Dutch word “televisie”

To this day, there are more and more differences between these two languages. Here are some simple examples for their differences in vocabularies:

  • Budak means “kids” in Malaysian. Meanwhile, in Indonesian this means “slave.”
  • In Malaysian, Polisi means “policy.” Yet in Indonesian, it means “police.”
  • Polis. In Malaysian, it means “police.” In Indonesian, it means “policy.”

You can check about “do Indonesian understand malaysian language” for more information about Indonesian Malaysian and language.

Indonesian and Malay Origins

Based from the language family of Austronesian mentioned before, likewise Malaysian it is also the standardized register of Malay, but used in Indonesia and is its official language.

For Malaysian language, it is clear that Malay itself is not that different from their official language, since they still keep most of the old vocabularies. As for Indonesian, they continuously absorb new words from either English or their local languages, mostly Javanese, or even from other languages.

Even though languages are evolving continuously, in the case of Indonesian with Malay, there are still ton of words that are similar in terms of words, structure and even meaning. For example this sentence:

  • Indonesian : Saya duduk bersama adik tapi ada rambut yang gugur
  • Malay : Saya duduk bersama adik tapi ada rambut yang gugur
  • English : I sit with my brother but there is a hair falling down.

Back to the very question of are Indonesian and Malay two separate languages, the answer is not really. Indonesian comes from the root of Malay hence it is not a separate languages. Also, as from the definition itself, Indonesian languages is the version of Malay which has been standardized.

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