What Languages Are Spoken In Malaysia?

Malay is the national language of Malaysia and also one of the two official languages of the country, the other being English.

The national and one of the official languages in Malaysia is Malay which also acts as the ethnic language to the majority Malay tribe. The other main Malaysian ethnic groups are the Chinese and Indians. There are other smaller tribes with their languages like the Kadazan. Malaysian people use English as an official language of education and industry, but the government also allows the use of Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil in primary schools. There are 137 languages used in different parts of Malaysia with some languages having smaller dialects while others are dialects of Chinese origin like the Yue and Min. Most youths in Malaysia are multilingual and are able to speak at least English, Malay and Mandarin with moderate fluency.

Official Languages Of Malaysia

Malay: The Official And The National Language Of Malaysia

The Malay language belongs to the Austronesian family and it is the most widely spoken language in the country with ten dialects, and the official standardized dialect being the Bahasa. Malay language has more than 20 million users in other countries like Indonesia and the Philippines. The langue gained prominence after the race riots of 1969 in Malaysia. Languages like Indonesian are a variant of the Malay language. Archaeologists found early scripts of Malay dating back to as early as 683 AD in Southern Sumatra and Bangka Island.In the 14th century, the Malay language was written in Indian script, then Arabic, and then replaced by Latin script years later in the 17th century. Experts divide the history of Malay language into five historical periods namely; Old Malay, Transitional Period Malay, the Malacca (Classical) Period Malay, Late Modern Malay, and the Modern Malay. The Sanskrit language heavily influenced by Old Malay, and during the Malacca / Classical period (1402 – 1511) the language developed quickly under Islamic literature influence which the Sultanate of Malacca led.


Malaysia has the Malaysian Standard English (MySE) also known as Manglish, which has roots from the British English but majorly used in education and less in other sectors of the country. A majority of the population (60%) can speak it though the language is on the decrease. MySE has deep Malay, Tamil, and Chinese influence. MySE is non-rhotic and classified into three categories; the acrolect (near native), mesolect (normal Malaysian English), and basilect (low knowledge).

Chinese Languages Spoken In Malaysia

Mandarin is the most widely spoken form of Chinese language in Malaysia. This language is a lingua franca among the Malaysian Chinese and widely used in Chinese schools and businesses. Other variants of Chinese include Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka, Hainanese, Hok-chew, Yue, and Min among others though most of the smaller Chinese languages are facing extinction as more people adopt Mandarin.

Indigenous Languages Of Malaysia

There are over 30 native tribes in Malaysia with their distinct ancestral language heritage including sub-dialects. Among the native languages, Kazadandusuns and Iban are the most noticeable and people in Sarawak speak the language with a strong presence in educational literature. In Sabah, the indigenous people speak Dusun and Kadazan, Bajau, Murut, Lun, Bruneian, Rungus, Bisaya, Iranun, Bawang, Sungai, Suluk, and Sama. These small languages are facing extinction because of their narrow reach. On the Malaysian peninsular, there are three major language groupings namely Negrito, Senoi, and Malayic, forming other 18 subgroups. Other indigenous languages include Semai and Thai.

Indigenous Languages Of Malaysia In Danger Of Extinction

The Malaysian population has a high number of people from different countries, regions, and cultures. All these people, including the indigenous groups, have deep cultural ties, therefore, resulting to Malaysia having many languages and cultures but, because of the small number of indigenous ethnic groups, most native languages are facing extinction as the more widely spoken migrant languages gain dominance.

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